The Mall of America CCTV system covers nearly 1.6 million square fee of mall plus several
The Mall of America CCTV system covers nearly 1.6 million square fee of mall plus several acres of parking lots.

Mar 1, 1997 12:00 PM
By Michael Fickes

Behind the scenes at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., a small room houses the safety center security offices. At 864 square feet, it is a very small room.

Inside, two security officers keep watch over visitors to the mall at a console that contains 14 monitors. Twelve of the monitors run in a quad view, displaying video from four cameras at once and sequencing through a total of 125 cameras. Two of the monitors allow the officers to call up any camera they want, using a joystick and buttons on the console to select monitor numbers.

Unlike some security control facilities, this one is in constant motion. The officers never rest, never stare at an unchanging screen. Their fingers fly across the controls calling up one camera after another as they peer at something in the parking lot here or at a mall entrance over there. As they cycle from camera to camera, they talk into their headsets, dispatching security officers out in the mall from one location to another.

If you watch for five minutes, you might grow dizzy as the video pops on and off the screens. If you listen, you would come to realize that the dispatchers have memorized virtually every scene covered by the 125 panning and tilting cameras in the system. Show them a scene; they will tell you where it is.

Indeed, Mall of America dispatchers must keep a mind-boggling amount of information in their heads and at their fingertips. After all, they are managing a security system designed to protect the employees and customers at the largest mall in the United States and the second largest mall in North America.

What does it mean to be the largest mall in the country? Mall of America spans a building area of 4.1 million square feet and offers leasable retail space of 2.5 million square feet. The mall houses more than 520 stores, including 25 sit-down restaurants, 27 fast-food restaurants, nine nightclubs and 14 theater screens. In the center of the mall, there is a major amusement park called Knott's Camp Snoopy. Other attractions include an 18-hole miniature golf course, an interactive laser fantasy game and a 1.2-million-gallon, walk-through aquarium.

The mall attracts 600,000 to 900,000 visitors every week and employs 12,000 people. Mall management estimates that 130 million people have visited the mall since it opened in 1992.

At the relatively tiny safety center, two security officers keep an eye out for trouble, using closed-circuit television system monitors.

A retail and entertainment center like Mall of America presents unusual security challenges. A mall is a public place, which means access cannot be restricted or controlled to any great extent. Instead, the security force must find other ways to deter and prevent trouble.

According to Cliff Boudreau, security manager for Mall of America, security patrols and a closed-circuit television system with visible cameras create a security presence that aids in deterrence, while allowing for a swift response should problems arise.

Boudreau's security staff includes 150 officers. We patrol inside and outside the mall, in cars and on bicycles, Boudreau says. Inside the mall, we divide our officers among the mall's four levels. The idea is to be highly visible and actively talking to people all the time.

Retail security begins with the goal of making customers feel safe. Twenty-five years ago, no one wanted to see a security officer patrolling any sort of property, says Gene Thompson, corporate director of security for The Macerich Company, a retail property management firm based in Santa Monica, Calif. Back then, people thought the presence of security people meant a facility wasn't safe to begin with.

The industry observer notes that even though malls are relatively safe places, crime and personal safety are issues that everyone thinks about, and many feel that malls are potentially dangerous. The concept of retail security is to provide a presence that makes people feel comfortable, he says. At many malls, including the Mall of America, the security force is polite, well-trained and professional - not the clich? of a couple of retired 70-year olds in rumpled uniforms.

Thompson goes on to say that 95 percent of the job of retail security involves maintaining a presence, which provides a visible deterrent and enables officers to provide services such as directing customers through the mall, helping them find their cars and offering first aid and even CPR when necessary. For the 5 percent of the job that involves incidents, officers must be trained in managing problems and preventing their escalation - that means spotting potential problems early and responding swiftly.

Actively managed CCTV systems play vital roles in both the service and security aspects of the job. After all, a CCTV camera can find a car as easily as it can spot an incident; it can scan a crowd for a lost child as efficiently as it can hunt for a suspect.

Nevertheless, security concerns govern the layout of a mall CCTV system. In any mall, most problems occur in the parking areas, whether inside or out. At the Mall of America, 100 Panasonic cameras monitor the facility's 15,000 parking spaces and 24 mall entrances. WV-BL204 black-and-white models cover interior spaces, while low-light WV-BL604s are used for outside parking lots and the spaces on the exposed top floor of the parking ramp.

Most of the cameras provide wide-angle coverage with pan/tilt mounts. Cameras positioned inside the garage use pre-wired Pelco PT280-24T pan/tilt mounts, while those set outside use Pelco-Harris domes, which protect the cameras from the weather without losing pan/tilt flexibility.

We cover heavily traveled common areas inside the mall with color cameras, says Doug Wiorek, security supervisor at Mall of America.

Twenty-five color cameras monitor these common areas, which include corridors, courtyards and food courts throughout the interior of the mall. That may not sound like much coverage for a facility the size of the Mall of America, but in fact it is plenty. Retail stores, restaurants and entertainment facilities lease most of a mall's interior space, and retailers provide their own security officers and systems. Mall management's responsibility stops at tenant lease lines.

Parking ramps sit on both the east and west sides of Mall of America, while 24 mall entrances circle the facility. Lengthy cabling runs from the cameras are necessary to reach the safety center.

The east ramp lies close enough to the safety center to run standard coax cabling through the built-in cabling trays that encircle the mall. Even so, the system uses American Dynamics AD1422 amplifiers on each of those cable runs to ensure signal quality.

The greater distance from the west ramp to the safety center led to the use of fiber-optic cabling to connect the west-ramp cameras. There are about 60 cameras on the west ramp, says Brian McDonald, service technician with Northwest Electronic Technology Systems Inc., the Minneapolis company that supplies equipment as well as installation and maintenance services for the Mall of America CCTV system. If we had used copper cable, it would have been RD-11, which is a half-inch in diameter, making it hard to pull. The fiber-optic cable we use handles all the cameras with a one-inch bundle. So fiber is more cost-effective and the quality of the video is better.

The west ramp requires fiber-optic transmitters and receivers at the camera locations and in the safety center. We had to bring the video signal back to the control center and also distribute a code signal to run the pan/tilts, so communications had to run both ways, McDonald says.

Fiber Options of Bohemia, N.Y., supplied the fiber-optic cabling, transmitters and receivers. The coax and fiber-optic cable runs both feed video into an American Dynamics AD2050 Matrix MegaPower II Switching System. The high-density, modular, matrix switching and control system can accommodate up to 4,096 cameras, 512 monitors and 384 keyboards. It expands in steps of 16 cameras and four monitors.

We installed the system for 192 cameras and 32 monitors, McDonald says. At that setting, Boudreau can add more than 67 cameras and 18 monitors before adding expansion cards to the switching system. A Panasonic WJ-450 quad routes signals from four cameras into each of the 12 sequencing monitors. With the matrix switching and quad system, we can program sequencing runs to cover anything from two to 64 cameras, says security manager Boudreau. For example, one of our runs covers all 40 cameras on the east parking ramp. We run through those and record the video on four VCRs.

Boudreau has set the system to sequence various tours in random patterns, which provides variety and helps prevent fatigue - an important consideration for dispatchers who must scan the sequencing and call monitors for long periods of time without allowing their concentration to drift. Backing up the CCTV system

At Mall of America, the CCTV system provides the lion's share of security coverage. Two other systems, however, do important supplementary jobs. Throughout the parking areas and mall common areas, there are 145 Dukane emergency call boxes. Customers and employees alike can use the boxes, which are generally covered by nearby cameras, to call for help or report incidents. While the security officers occasionally use the call boxes, they most often communicate with the safety center via Motorola walkie-talkies.

In addition, an Andover Controls card access system provides security for the management offices in the mall. We use a magnetic stripe card swipe at the entrances to the management area, says Dave Haselman, manager of technical services for Mall of America. The doors are alarmed and connected to the safety center through the building automation system.

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