Secured city

How David Wardell, vice president of Operations and Public Safety for the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, helped deploy a city-wide monitoring plan that has kept the area safe


Our goal was to enable all public safety agencies - 10 in Downtown plus Fire and Rescue, designated private-sector operations within the Downtown area, and other state and federal agencies - to access, and in some cases, control, surveillance systems for interoperability in emergency response and management, event monitoring, command and control, crowd management, investigatory/evidentiary purposes and crime prevention.

Getting the Project off the Ground

The first task was to determine what surveillance systems and resources were in our project scope area, both public and private. We then needed to determine our operational concept within existing and near-term technology capabilities.

Three major vendors were brought in to assist with this project - each was briefed on our perceived concept and asked to survey the project scope area, and propose a technology solution. Each company brought in a technical team, and with the Police Department's assistance, was able to survey all major public and private surveillance systems in the Downtown area.

After this was accomplished, an independent technical contractor was brought in to evaluate and determine the most effective security solution to accomplish our objectives. It wasn't until one year later (2007), that David Wilkinson, president and CEO of the non-profit Atlanta Police Foundation, made it a priority to promote a large-scale surveillance program - and after three years, the funding started to roll in from multiple sources.

A major leader of the program included John McColl, Chair of the Atlanta Police Foundation and executive vice president of Cousins Properties - a major U.S. development company that owns many Atlanta-area buildings, including the 50-story 191 Peachtree Street Building. Craig Jones, executive vice president and chief investment officer of Cousins Properties was also instrumental in the project's inception.

After the program demonstrated its viability, the Atlanta Police Foundation was also able to secure funding from the philanthropic community in 2009 for surveillance system expansion and the build-out of a new 9-1-1 Center to support the program. The project could not have happened without strong business community leadership supporting the program.

Strategies for Implementation

Referring to the success of the other areas, and a pending major sporting event - the 2007 NCAA Basketball Final Four - coming to Downtown, it was decided collectively that Downtown Atlanta needed a surveillance system.
The program was modeled after the neighboring Midtown Blue Program of Midtown Atlanta, which included three major components: camera systems installed at designated locations/intersections (all pan/tilt/zoom); live, 24/7 monitoring staff; and dedicated off-duty mobile police to respond to any camera sightings or alerts. The Atlanta Downtown Improvement District Board of Directors agreed to a partnership with the city to fund the technology (hardware and software); assist with the monitoring support (later provided all monitoring staff); and provide dedicated, mobile police (off-duty hire) response in support of camera operations.

The operation of the program was managed by the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District's (ADID) Ambassador Force Program. The city agreed to provide funding and manage the wireless signal support for the first three years of the program. The first deployment of 13 common-area cameras were installed in a matter of three weeks with the assistance of the DID and the Police Department. The impact of that first deployment was significant by adding to our branding a "surveillance program" to promote externally and within the Downtown constituency. It had a direct impact on the perception of safety for locals and visitors.

It has been our strategy to integrate private-sector cameras where possible, and especially with the mass expansion of Web-based cameras. This has yielded the added benefit of nearly 140 cameras at little or no cost to our program.

The surveillance program became part of Operation Shield, a comprehensive crime prevention/fighting program under the administration of the Police Foundation. Additional programs rolled into the surveillance project included a radio communications network, COMNET, and the Atlanta CityWorkSite - a Web-based information sharing platform that provides electronic alerts of events and crime incidents that may impact the area.

Assembling the Security Force