Bullish on IP video

The University of South Florida begins the migration

Anyone who has witnessed the emergence of the University of South Florida (USF), including its Big East athletic teams, the Bulls, recognizes it as one of America's leading universities. Founded in 1956, federal funds for academic research and development increased 213 percent from 2000 to 2007. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, that makes USF the fastest-growing research university in the United States.

Security at USF is also a priority, protecting 40,000 students plus staff and assets at its main campus in Tampa, which also includes the USF Health campus. Nate Rice, USF's engineer for video surveillance, has more than 700 analog cameras - primarily fixed cameras with a handful of PTZs - plus 70-80 digital video recorders (DVRs) located throughout the grounds. The solution is an event-based one, where University police use recorded video as an investigative tool.

Infinova worked with Rice's team to perform site surveys to analyze where IP cameras could provide complete coverage at the best costs. This included undertaking vulnerability and risk assessments to ensure that cameras are placed in areas that will give USF the maximum advantage of their performance and life cycle. This also included coordinating with video monitoring system (VMS) providers so the selected VMS would integrate with the cameras. The goal was reliable, consistent coverage.

"A key factor in determining which IP cameras to use besides video quality is reliability and maintenance," Rice says.
For cameras to be reliable, they must be ruggedized. This goes beyond being simply vandal-resistant, which is always a concern on a college campus. Cameras also need to provide resistance to hot, cold, vapor, water or dust - depending on the local conditions. With a campus just north of downtown Tampa - itself on a bay - the weather can be quite hot, and frequently, there can be quite a bit of rain and heavy winds. In addition to vandal-resistance, the cameras needed to be able to handle Florida's high humidity and protection from the Gulf of Mexico's salt water mist. As a result, the campus chose cameras that met IP66 standards, which ensure that they are protected against any ingress of dust, coast salt water mist and rain.

Throughout the campus, much of the communication is via fiber, using Infinova transceivers and receivers. "Cameras can reside in several buildings - often six to eight separate units - all several hundred feet apart, but with the head-in located at one," Rice explains. "Instead of having to place a DVR with each of those cameras, we simply use existing fiber infrastructure, which saves us thousands of dollars."

Why IP?

There are several reasons why it was important for Rice and USF to begin to migrate to an IP solution. The first was that it reduced overall surveillance costs. "We have more than 200 buildings on campus, and any one of them may request surveillance coverage," Rice says. "When they do, our team visits them, analyzes their needs and designs a system. In too many cases, we end up needing only one camera, and there is no way to connect it to another head-in running fiber. All too often, that means we need to include a dedicated DVR. Even when we use a 10-port DVR, the cost of that one-camera solution is ridiculous."

With an IP camera, Rice can simply plug it into the network and allocate storage for that camera. Thus, the cost is dramatically less expensive than a single camera connected to a multi-port DVR.

Another problem was the school's network of disparate surveillance systems and technology. "We have many departments that have created their own 'big box retailer' surveillance system, with 'no-name,' do-it-yourself, residential-type cameras and DVRs. Then, they want us to service and manage it. In almost every case, we decline."

Rice adds that these disparate systems have no value campus-wide. Only those few people at that building or department have access to those systems gain the value. They cannot alert others of an incident when it happens, provide others with real-time information, nor easily provide the rest of the campus with forensic evidence.

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