Security Goes Full-Throttle

Megapixel cameras capture all the details at the world's largest biker bar

If you are a motorcycle buff, there’s a good chance you may be tuning into the latest episode of Full Throttle Saloon, a quirky and bit raunchy series based on the watering hole in South Dakota that launched its latest episodes this month on truTV. Michael Ballard’s Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis, S.D., is billed as the world’s largest biker bar and there’s plenty that goes on during business hours at this raucous joint.

The challenge remains for this landmark hog magnet to sort the bad apples from the good—both the bikers, the bartenders and other staff.

One way to do that is with high-quality security camera images. After all, having an image of a thief or a gray blur of a getaway vehicle will not help the sheriff catch the bad guys. It is imperative that faces be seen and license numbers be read. For the second year running, Full Throttle used IQinVision’s HD megapixel technology to safeguard millions in assets and improve crowd control during the legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. But every year, the task of handling security becomes more complex.

Business booms and so does security

Full Throttle Saloon is not your neighborhood mom-and-pop bar. It has 300 on-site staff, flows millions of dollars in cash and has a huge parking lot and property to protect.In addition to protecting its own interests, the saloon provides critical information to law enforcement as the 71-year-old Sturgis Rally continues to grow in popularity.

“If you can’t identify the people or tie a license number to a vehicle, then what good is your system?” asked Jeff Haase, owner of Spearfish, S.D.-based Clearwater Security and Investigations. He installed a system that gives the saloon high definition overviews of staff and customer traffic patterns, cash theft mitigation and property security. Those images have to be printable for distribution when needed.

“Imagine trying to simultaneously keep an eye on 30,000 visitors and 100 bartenders,” Haase continued. “You’ve got to examine each transaction, follow the cash and make sure that Mr. Ballard’s money goes where it’s supposed to.” The suite of indoor and outdoor cameras the saloon deployed allows them to digitally pan, tilt and zoom in so close that they can literally count each bill that is placed in the cash register.

“As the bar has grown, so has my responsibility,” Haase continued. Nine years ago, Ballard called Haase in to resolve problems with the bartenders and missing money. On top of that, profits were being drained by double- or triple-pours of costly liquor. Later, the scope of the security monitoring expanded to include just about every area of the property.

“With the IQeye cameras, we’re able to slice through the massive crowds—better than floor security staff—to isolate problems and track cash as it moves from bar locations to the onsite bank,” said Haase.

The project started small with two-megapixel cameras at the bank. There are dozens of bartenders working every shift. Each brings a sealed money bag to the cashier’s window where the money is counted under the watchful eye of a high-resolution camera.

For the 2011 rally, the Full Throttle Saloon expanded their surveillance system by adding new IQeye Sentinel five-megapixel day-night cameras for extended range and better support in low-light situations. The Sentinel’s are designed to cover more ground, provide more detail and better serve the security and surveillance staff during night-time camera operations.


Making it work

Two stories this summer point to the success of the system. In one, a bartender’s bag was $200 off from what she wrote on her chit. The woman insisted she had not taken any money. By reviewing the high-resolution video with her, Haase was able to see the denomination of every dollar bill, every quarter. Turns out she took in $911 but wrote $711, keeping the difference. The video clearly showed her with $911 and just as clearly showed her writing $711 on the paper. However, everyone was satisfied with the accuracy of the camera and the high-resolution photos solved the mystery.

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