May 1, 2002 12:00 PM

Retail executives have come to expect double duty from security technology. An effective system must, of course, help protect customers, employees and property, but it also must contribute to productivity.

Colonial Brookwood Village, a shopping mall in Birmingham, Ala., provides a case in point. During a recent $50 million renovation, mall management installed a $120,000 CCTV system with 48 cameras routed through a 64-input, four output matrix switcher to three digital video multiplexer recorders (DVMRe's). The Kalatel division of GE Interlogix, Corvallis, Ore., supplied most of the equipment, and four cameras came from Silent Witness Enterprises Ltd., Surrey, British Columbia.

"The cameras provide very good coverage," says Barry Komisar, president of Vision Southeast Inc., a Birmingham-based security integrator who installed the system. "We cover nearly 100 percent of the common areas inside the mall, the parking decks, the escalators and elevator, and the exterior."

Two department stores, Rich's and McRae's, anchor each end of the 700,000-square-foot, two-level rectangular mall, and 75 shops operate in the interior of the mall. Customers park in a five-level parking deck located below the mall, and employees use a surface parking lot across the street.

"Brookwood serves a high-income area with a low incidence of crime," says Sam Warbington, a regional vice president with Colonial Properties Trust, the Birmingham-based owner of the property. "It isn't a mall where kids hang out. We have no Saturday night problems with teens or gangs. And we use the CCTV system almost as much for productivity as we do for security."

Eleven heavy duty Kalatel Cyberdome Select cameras monitor the parking decks; six fixed Kalatel MiniDomes watch escalator and elevator vestibules in the parking decks; 10 indoor Cyberdomes look after the mall proper; four Silent Witness cameras cover escalators located near the food court inside the mall; 10 fixed indoor Cyberdomes monitor back corridors and loading docks; and seven outdoor day/night Cyberdomes cover the perimeter of the mall, using pan/tilt/zoom mounts.

Although multiple cameras in several places require lots of wire, the heavy wire and cable requirements proved relatively easy to satisfy since Komisar installed the system during the mall renovation. Komisar says the system uses 75,000 feet of wire, including the video cables. "Everything needed to be a home run," he says.

But an odd problem arose. "The contractor installed four-inch conduit for us," Komisar says. "I never thought you could have conduit that was too big. Often, the pull-strings would wrap up inside the conduit."

Cabling routes video into the switcher in the console of the mall's security center. Minneapolis-based Winsted Corp. provided the console, which also houses five 21-inch color monitors, supplied by Samsung Opto-Electronics America Inc., Secaucus, N.J.

The switcher, in turn, routes video into three Kalatel DVMRe's, each capable of multiplexing 16 cameras.

Three of the monitors display video from 16 cameras on split screens. At the same time, each DVMRe records its video on a built-in 160-gB disk drive. According to Komisar, the system will store about three weeks of video, providing plenty of time for management to review problems and save video to a separate disk if necessary.

Like most digital video recording systems, Kalatel DVMRe's display multiple cameras on playback through a computer monitor. But the system also provides playback through a standard CCTV monitor. "The advantage of the system is flexibility," says Scott Jolma, product manager with Kalatel/GE Interlogix. "Not every security console has a PC. This system will work with a console that has only traditional video monitors."

Another difference in Kalatel's approach to digital video involves an embedded operating system. "Most of our competitors' systems rely on a PC operating system and separate software to play video," Jolma says. "Our digital recorder uses its own embedded operating system. This means that our recorders will fire up in a couple of seconds. When you start a PC-based system, you have to wait for the computer to boot up the operating system and software. Even more critical, if a PC system loses power, it may require user intervention to bring the system back on line. Our system doesn't really care. You can unplug it and plug it back in, and a couple seconds later it is running and recording."

"It's a multiplexer first and a hard drive second," Komisar adds. "I like that. I think the multiplexer is the most important part of the system, because it lets you manage the individual cameras."

Like conventional digital video recorders, the Kalatel devices also offer Ethernet capability. At Brookwood, Komisar has tied each DVMRe into the mall's computer network with IP addresses. This enables Warbington as well as the mall manager to call up stored video through their desktop computers.

The matrix switcher also routes single screen video from any camera through two additional monitors in the security console, allowing the security staff to select and monitor any camera on a full screen without interrupting the multiplexed recording.

In addition, switcher outputs feed video to 14-inch Samsung monitors located in Warbington's office and the mall manager's office. Keypads and joysticks in each office provide the ability to select cameras and operate PTZ controls.

Fifteen contract security officers from ERMC of Chattanooga, Tenn., handle physical security for Brookwood. Approximately five officers staff each of three shifts. One works the front entrance of the mall and three others patrol the property. One officer monitors video in the security center. "The CCTV helps the security staff prevent problems," Warbington says. "When they see someone acting suspiciously on a parking deck, they'll dispatch an officer. That's probably prevented several car break-ins. I believe this system is the equivalent of two extra security officers."

Assuming that security officers draw $20,000 per year, the system saves Brookwood $40,000 per year. "If you add productivity and liability savings, I think the system will pay for itself within its first year," Warbington says.

Trip-and-fall accidents frequently occur near escalators, and fixed cameras over every set of escalators enable the system to record those events for later review and analysis.

Given the low incidence of crime and liability complaints at the Brookwood mall, Warbington tends to focus his managerial attention on the productivity gains offered by the system.

Every morning just before the mall opens, for example, Warbington runs through all 48 cameras using the monitor and controls in his office. He checks the service areas, makes sure all the escalators are running, looks in on the fountains at the food court, scans the lighting, and generally satisfies himself that the mall is ready to welcome customers. "I used to walk the property every other day," he says. "But that can take 30 minutes, and I don't have time."

Warbington and the mall's manager also use the system to speed tasks during the day. Not long ago, for instance, a truck hit the guardrail on the ring road around the mall. Warbington surveyed the damage from his office by zooming in with a camera. When the contractor arrived to do repairs, Warbington showed him the problem and explained what needed to be done without having to go to the site.

The front entrance to the mall resembles the drive-through cul-de-sacs used by hotels. Brookwood has established a valet parking service for shoppers entering the mall as well as customers visiting one of four restaurants across from the mall entrance.

Throughout the day, Warbington zooms in on the valet parking area, to make sure that the valet parking staff isn't backed up. If it is, he uses a public address microphone in his office to call down and look into the problem. He's also been known to use the CCTV and public address systems to chase arriving employees out of the parking garage, which mall policy reserves for customers.

He also keeps an eye on business at the restaurants. "Last Easter, for example, the camera monitoring that area showed customers lined up into the parking lot," Warbington says.

All in all, the extensive CCTV system helps the security staff provide protection for mall patrons and employees and works to boost management productivity.

Michael Fickes is a Cockeysville, Md.-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems.

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