Fast Cars, Faster Surveillance

Nestled among the orange groves and cattle ranches of central Florida, the small city of Sebring, which has just 10,000 citizens, seems an unlikely stage for world-class auto racing. But every year during one week in March, the city draws throngs of visitors from around the world to its Sebring International Raceway for the annual “Twelve Hours of Sebring,” a famous endurance challenge and official leg of the American Le Mans Series of races.
The race is an affair in high gear: during the four days it’s open to the public, it features not only the marquee event, but also numerous support races, Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, millions of dollars worth of cars on display in the Gallery of Legends, a full-fledged Party Zone, fireworks shows and even overnight camping.
This year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring provided 170,000 race fans and auto enthusiasts an opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with some of the fastest cars in the world (think Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche). It also provided the Orlando Police Department its first opportunity to get behind the wheel of its own newly acquired wireless video surveillance system.

Event Mesh
The Orlando PD is one of the first public safety agencies to deploy “Event Mesh,” a portable wireless mesh video surveillance architecture for securing public functions. As early as 2005, the police department started using fully distributed mesh systems developed by Firetide as the wireless backhaul for video security applications.
Event mesh enables the Orlando PD to network video cameras for flexible and scalable surveillance, to monitor a variety of unique situations. “On one day, we might need the system to secure the annual ‘4th of July in the Park’ event,” says Orlando PD Electronic Surveillance Support Team agent Jeffery Blye. “The next day, we might need more mobility so we can closely monitor crowds during the ‘National Socialist Movement of Orlando Parade.’ Event mesh allows us the flexibility to scale for both.”
As one of the early adopters of event mesh, Blye is uniquely aware of how the market has changed in just two or three years. “Not only do lower costs help us justify new acquisitions, but better integration helps us save time getting our system into the field,” Blye says.
The Firetide/Avrio Group’s Rapid Deployment Surveillance System (RDSS), which Orlando acquired in February for approximately $80,000, includes eight of Avrio’s Pole Cams (each containing a Firetide HotPort wireless mesh node and a high-end pan/tilt/zoom camera in a self-contained, weather-treated enclosure), two additional Firetide dual-radio nodes and two laptops equipped with video management software from On-Net Surveillance Systems Inc. (OnSSI). The cost of the system was covered by a grant provided by the Department of Homeland Security.
The RDSS had successfully supported the Phoenix Police Department’s widely publicized security efforts at Super Bowl XLII. The Twelve Hours of Sebring event would represent Orlando’s first application of the integrated event mesh system.
“It took less than a day to deploy the system,” Blye says. “I was able to configure all the Pole Cams in the truck in less than an hour. The rest of the time was a matter of getting a lift to elevate and position the boxes around the facility.”
Blye says he could have easily connected a variety of mobile devices — such as in-vehicle laptops — to the event mesh network, but the project required only a single, on-site desktop computer readily accessible near the paddock. The OnSSI video management application transformed the desktop into a command-and-control center. The software provides each deputy on duty — just one at a time was required — the ability to control and monitor any of the eight cameras pointed toward the vehicle paddock, the grandstands, the media center and the fueling station while monitoring and recording live streams. 

Many Hours of Surveillance, No Blowouts
Orlando’s new installation worked flawlessly. Because the network used the 4.9GHz public safety band, there was no RF interference with the many radio transmissions operating on unlicensed 2.4 and 5 GHz bands in the race area. And high-quality video feeds streamed uninterrupted for the eight days operational security was required — including staging, the public event and teardown. “Wireless connectivity provided by the system was extremely robust, highly secure and could be scaled easily,” says Mark Jules, president of Avrio Group.
The Twelve Hours of Sebring came and went without a single logged security incident. “To an outsider it may sound boring,” Jules says. “But that is exactly what public safety agencies need — reliable technology that won’t give them any surprises during a deployment.”
Blye points out that strategically placing cameras so they are easily noticeable can act as a deterrent for crime. “That’s one of the benefits of a flexible, event mesh architecture,” Blye says. “It’s easy to move things around to get the desired effect.”
Blye says he received many reports from deputies on location that people showed an active interest in the cameras and asked questions about them. “It’s important, of course, that cameras give us the best view of people,” he says. “It’s also important that people get the best view of cameras.”

The Next Lap
The Orlando PD Electronic Surveillance Support Team will continue to cover public events with its 8-camera mobile Firetide/Avrio Group RDSS, as needs arise. Officials for the City of Orlando also recently revealed plans for new fixed solutions based on the same technologies to support a larger initiative.
At the end of March, on the heels of Twelve Hours of Sebring, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Police Chief Val Demings jointly announced a new public safety surveillance program called I.R.I.S. (Innovative Response to Improve Safety). Building on previous Department of Homeland Security network efforts, and funded by a combination of public/private businesses and civic organizations, I.R.I.S. provides for the deployment of 60 fixed Firetide/Avrio wireless mesh video cameras around the city.
The mesh network will give the Orlando Police strategic views of the city that can alert officers to crimes in progress, or possibly, even before they happen. A 20- to 25-camera system will be operational as early as July, with the remaining cameras going live before the end of 2008. “The introduction of I.R.I.S. is an important moment for the safety of our community,” Dyer says. “We are entering a new era of community policing — an era in which the power of pixels can make us a safer city.”