David Wardell of the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District discusses how he helped deploy a city-wide monitoring plan in the August 2010 issue of STE.
David Wardell, vice president of Operations and Public Safety for the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, stands atop the 50-story 191 Peachtree Street Building. The rooftop serves as one of the primary wireless signal transmitters for the Atlanta Downtown area.
Instrumental in the project were Grant Hawkins, project manager of Operation Shield, Darryl Merritt, project manager for the City of Atlanta Department of Information Technology, and Wardell.
Pan/tilt/zoom cameras were installed at many of Downtown Atlanta's major intersections, and they are monitored by the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District's (ADID) Ambassador Force Program.
Wardell says there have been little to no complaints or concerns about "big brother" watching. People have actually voiced how they feel safer seeing the signs and the cameras.
Downtown Atlanta is unique in the order of magnitude of daily population (200,000), number of properties and businesses (more than 17 million sq.ft.), entertainment and sporting special events and venues, conventioneers (5 million per year), the size of its government district and the associated activities (operations, advocacy and protests), and its critical infrastructure in such close proximity within the Downtown Improvement District's 220 blocks.
Atlanta is second only to Washington D.C. in number of federal employees. The City and County Headquarters complexes, along with the State Capitol and major offices are located within the Downtown's Government District, along with major federal facilities hosting more than 13,000 federal employees.
Downtown Atlanta has the fourth-largest convention center (Georgia World Congress Center with 2.1 million sq.ft. of exhibit space) in the country, but has the largest concentration of major special events venues clustered, including the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park and Philips Arena. Also included are the New World of Coke, the Georgia Aquarium and CNN. Downtown Atlanta draws hundreds of thousands daily for business, government, conventions, tourism and sporting events, resulting in the highest density of pedestrian traffic in the southeast on a daily basis.
With the consideration of the normal threat variables associated with the description of Downtown, combined with its core business interests and economic value, and of course, controlling crime (both actual and perceived), it became evident to those charged with ensuring the safety of our citizenry that we needed to do everything reasonably possible to be diligent in protecting our community.
As is the case with a number of large cities, Atlanta has been experiencing severe police shortages for a number of years, and is now on the path to fielding more police, but a protective multiplier was needed. The collective feeling was that surveillance cameras could provide that additional edge. Of course, convincing those financing the primary initiative that a return on investment (ROI) would be realized was a challenge. Business leaders want to see tangible results. This is not always easy when there is not a direct correlation between action and results.
The efforts were definitely worth it. We have seen a significant crime reduction in Part 1 Crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft), with the most recent snapshot revealing a 34-percent reduction. Nuisance crimes have seen a significant reduction in incidents and complaints, which directly impacts our convention and hospitality business. In short, the cameras have effectively multiplied our surveillance, intervention and response capability significantly beyond the normal challenged staffing of the police department.
Taking Advantage of Relationships
Downtown Atlanta has enjoyed tremendous relationships between the public and private sector, dating back notably to the Olympic planning period, which has carried over to today. The discussion and projects involving camera surveillance in Downtown Atlanta since the 1996 Olympics went on for at least six years. The delay was primarily due to a lack of project funding and affordable technology.
After the Olympics, public agencies and private security entities - both contract and proprietary, as well as those in the corporate world - continued to engage in a mutually supporting relationship. However, we all shared a general feeling that we were not secure enough, and not doing all that we should be to provide for a safe environment.
The first challenge was to determine what we needed to accomplish our objectives. Our initial focus was the Downtown Business District, Hospitality and Hotel Industry, Convention and Special Events areas and venues, Government District (federal, state, city and county), and other high-priority venues and facilities of interest.
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
Initially, monitoring of the cameras was performed by police officers on administrative status at the Downtown Precinct headquarters in the front reception area, which is visible when entering the facility, but also visible to pedestrians walking down the main corridor to the major special events and convention venues. This made the monitoring of surveillance apparent to the general public and visitors; however, technical training requirements and the shortage of police made it necessary for the Ambassador Force - ADID's public safety and hospitality force - to take over operations.
It was always the city's position to not take any "guns and badges" off the street to monitor cameras; but, during incident management or law enforcement active operations, police officers often engage in monitoring activity with the Ambassadors.
Additionally, public advisory signage was installed by the city in the vicinity of each camera to advise the general public of 24-hour surveillance by the police department, but also to serve as a deterrent.
Securing Community Buy-in
Once Operation Shield was implemented with a heavy marketing and public relations campaign, the city's hospitality and convention community (Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau) could market having such a capability.
When we started this project, it was a positive discriminator to have a program, and it has evolved into the current stance that it is a negative discriminator not to have a viable surveillance program. One of the unique attributes of our program is the dedicated police response.
Our efforts turned to promoting the program and allowing it to grow by integrating private-sector camera systems. Cameras monitored at the Downtown Precinct can also be simultaneously monitored at other levels of police command-and-control for event or incident management, in particular the 9-1-1 Center and the Police Joint Operations Center. In short, each department invested in their respective proprietary program and also reaped the benefits of the consolidated system's capabilities.
The business community is still strongly supportive of the program, with all still growing and expanding their programs in a mostly coordinated effort. Those facilities with Web-based camera systems offer the Downtown surveillance project an immediate resource (access and use of cameras) at no cost.
Justifying TCO and Proving ROI
With the program up and running for more than three years now, we have been able to stay in constant dialogue with state and federal authorities who recognize the viability of our program. The city has continued to use grant programs to fund the wireless signal service, and are in the process of applying other funding sources to advance the program. This comes in conjunction with the new construction and activation of a Public Safety facility and 9-1-1 Center.
We are constantly looking to outside funding sources to support the overall program, such as the Department of Homeland Security's Regional Resiliency Assessment Program (RRAP) and Urban Area Security initiative (UASI); and the police department's opportunities through city budgets, federal and state grants, and alternative resources.
With the amount of partners involved in our program, no single entity shoulders an imbalanced proportion of the program - but all partners enjoy the same benefit.
Measuring the success of the camera program by the number of arrests is not the most realistic or effective metric for proving ROI. First of all, potential perpetrators do not tell you what crimes or activity you prevented - and day-to-day arrests are often for minor offenses.
It could be compared to corporate security mitigation decisions on whether to spend $200,000 on surveillance systems to protect $5,000 worth of property. The intended impact of the security system goes much deeper - deterrence; the confidence it instills; response capability; crime prevention; and especially intervention to mitigate specific problem areas.
But the eye-opening metric is the significant crime reduction in Part 1 Crimes and nuisance crimes mentioned earlier. The reduction in crime happened at a time when crime was up across the state and police staffing was low. Although a direct correlation cannot be assigned, clearly, the surveillance has played a major role and served as a catalyst for public agencies and private security to stay engaged.
The total cost of the initial investment of the first 13 cameras, which included the infrastructure, along with the monitoring staff and dedicated police response, seems somewhat small when considering the scope and impact it has had on the law enforcement and security posture of Downtown. Not only has the monitoring system decreased crime, but there have been little to no complaints or concerns about "big brother" watching. On the contrary, people have voiced how they feel safer seeing the signs and the cameras.
Selecting Technologies and Integrators
When we first started our program, we were anxious to move fast with a proven product - the Midtown Blue Program. Midtown Blue used closed, high-end proprietary cameras with a separate wireless signal provider. For purposes of seamless integration - especially since Midtown is also in the same Atlanta Police Zone - we decided to replicate their system with the same specifications and vendors.
Over these past three years, technology advancements and cost/availability has compelled us to reevaluate our hardware, software, and infrastructure. With the surveillance technology industry being so competitive, and the scope of our project at full realization, we were besieged (naturally) by surveillance technology vendors as we expanded the program. A working group represented by the city's police department technicians, IT Department, and the Police Foundation's Project Manager for Operation Shield took on the task of determining the best technology solution to take our program through the next few threshold(s), allowing all stakeholders to be integrated and participate in the program.
Anixter was quite helpful in this effort. A relatively new approach, they basically acted as a consultant and advised us on the best technology solution to support our concept. They are compensated by the many vendors they represent, so the city receives the advice at no cost. The city is still required to put the project out to bid under their procurement rules. This business model is attractive to municipalities, where consulting dollars are almost non-existent. Of course, the working group still consulted with other companies and technologies for comparative purposes.
The next phase of the program will be funded through a federal project grant tied to the DHS Regional Resiliency Assessment Program, as well as some other smaller funding sources. This phase will provide a wireless mesh backbone to the Downtown area, providing the infrastructure to integrate existing and future cameras. This project will also accommodate the purchase and installation of a number of new cameras. This phase will eliminate the need for recurring wireless signal costs - any cameras that are added after the project will require the installer the pay for any incremental costs associated with adding the mesh nodes.
An integration project under way includes the Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead (major population density areas) systems, along with the Web-based Department of Transportation (DOT) cameras. Agencies with Web-based surveillance can be added to the footprint of coverage immediately without a significant investment. The project would also include any other interested and appropriate public or private agencies.
The program will continue to be governed by an executive committee that will include leaders from the Atlanta public and private sectors. Agencies and organizations will continue to expand and upgrade their respective systems, with the integration being a coordinated effort through our executive committee.
There have been many lessons learned in the past few years, but the most salient include:
- Never depend on a single funding source.
- It is problematic to have separate camera vendor and wireless signal provider.
- Ensure adequate bandwidth is available.
- Have projects ready to execute on order, as funding sources suddenly become available ("shovel ready").
- Camera monitoring can and should be performed by trained personnel, but not necessarily by police.
- Have an adequate operating budget for maintenance and midyear improvements, upgrades, or additions.
- Relationships are absolutely critical.
David Wardell is vice president of Operations and Public Safety for the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District. He will be a featured speaker at the upcoming Secured Cities conference in Dallas, where you can have the chance to ask him more about his challenges - just register for the conference (see page 59).