Modern Art Museum Saves Time, Money With Digital System Upgrade
Modern Art Museum Saves Time, Money With Digital System Upgrade

Jan 1, 2003 12:00 PM

When the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles landed its most lucrative exhibit to date, it had to enhance its protection. A camera system upgrade was just the thing.

"We had an antiquated system," says Gemma Beristain, director of facilities and security for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

The museum relied on low-resolution cameras and time-lapse recording with tapes that had to be changed and stored every 24 hours. It had a whole closet full of tapes, and when incidents occurred, the time and research involved was cumbersome.

So, when the MOCA was slated to be the only North American venue for the Andy Warhol Retrospective an exhibit worth $700 million the museum turned to Secure By Design, a dealer/installer in Long Beach, Calif., to help secure the exhibit.
More Capabilities = Better Security

Besides the obvious need to protect the exhibit, the museum needed a system that would allow monitoring outside the property and the entrances, as well as the main reception and loading dock area.

"Because we are located in downtown Los Angeles, we come across very aggressive panhandlers and transients who access public areas," Beristain explains.

It was important for the museum to be able to identify any potential problems, as well as to get a clear view of the perpetrator. In addition, security staff wanted quick access in the event of an incident.

Tim Roberts, president and CEO of Secure By Design, recommended replacing the old-fashioned multiplexer/VCR combination with a single Kollector 16-channel digital video recorder from Vicon, a change the museum happily embraced.

"One of the biggest advantages is the compression ratio, which determines the number of days that can actually be recorded on one hard drive," Roberts says. "Also, different people can now view the system on their existing network computer."

Beristain has definitely seen the difference: "We went from very low-resolution time-lapse recording to a high-tech digital camera system. The recording and storage in our system will give us up to 90 days of recording archive," he says. "We're going from a whole closet full of tapes to no storage space whatsoever, with the exception of the server.

"It's less time consuming," Beristain continues. "It's just a matter of querying for date and time, instead of spending two to three hours researching. [Since the installation] there have been several incidents that have posed questions. The Kollector has been quite reliable in replaying those incidents without major downtime."

Another advantage of the upgrade is in the software. "Special authentication software means that if you change one pixel on the picture the whole picture will crumble," Roberts says. "That makes the information admissible in court because you can prove authenticity."
Modular Design Saves Money

In addition to the functional advantages, Secure By Design also helped the museum with several cost-saving measures. First, they were able to use the existing console and reconfigure it. "It's unusual to be able to do that," Roberts says. But given that a good console can cost $15,000 to $20,000, the savings was significant.

"It was definitely a cost-savings project for us because it entitled us to use available resources instead of investing in other things in addition to our camera system," Beristain says. "That was a big advantage."

Another savings occurred in the way the cameras were set up and labeled. Because the museum changes exhibits three to four times a year, the cameras needed to be able to be changed according to the exhibit's layout.

In the past, the cameras were low-resolution, and so volatile that the museum had to call in outside contractors to change the layout for each exhibit, Beristain says.

"The camera controls for our museum galleries are modular," she explains. "Every three to four months they change perspective depending on criticality. Each camera is repositioned."

Secure By Design simplified this process using the DVRs and some labeling. "Basically, we took the different areas and associated them with their individual Vicon Kollectors," Roberts explains. "We took into account that they would be changing exhibits during the year. So we labeled all the cameras to be able to easily switch them in the back.

"Now when the museum changes to a new exhibit, they don't have to go crazy with too much extra labor," Roberts continues. "Each area has an associated Kollector assigned to it. They've been able to do it themselves. It's as simple as moving a camera where they want it, naming it and plugging it in."
The Expansion Advantage

The initial project was completed in two months. With about 70 cameras in the main building and 30 in an auxilliary building, the initial system consisted of on-site monitoring and remote site monitoring, allowing museum staff to view all the cameras from their main headquarters. The museum is currently expanding the system's capabilities.

"We're maximizing our headquarters control room and using it as a centralized communications command center," Beristain says. "Currently we have a mini-security station for each building. But we are progressing towards a centralized station."

Beristain also hopes to expand recording capability. "Our brainstorming with Secure By Design and our IS department led us to expand the recording capability to 90 days by connecting our Kollectors to our server room," Beristain says. "Now, if an incident occurs, we'd still have the images in a month or two."

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