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).