Bullish on IP video

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.

"With our new system, we want a single solution for all video surveillance used throughout the campus," Rice says. "We will be using the VMS and IP cameras we select to set our standard."

Another obvious advantage to the IP migration was the ability to deploy high-resolution cameras in key areas. "We wanted to have the availability to capture megapixel images when needed, and that is very difficult to provide in a DVR environment," Rice says.

Finally, a key consideration was the IP surveillance system's ability to integrate with the University's existing GE (Casi-Rusco) access control system. By doing so, the campus would be able to start creating a total, integrated surveillance solution that brings together disparate hardware left over from legacy systems and lets all the pieces communicate, not only together, but with other security systems. Ultimately, in addition to surveillance and access control, it could be integrated with other systems, including fire and intrusion and building systems such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

For example, once smoke is detected cameras start rolling, doors unlock, digital video recorders record in high resolution and security managers are alerted via PCs, PDAs, pagers or text messages on their cell phones.

"We're trying to move into a true, open-platform program - one that is favorable to our IT department, integrates all brands of cameras on campus into a single best-in-class solution and does not limit us to one manufacturer," Rice says. "With such a system, we will be better able to help provide increased safety for our students and staff and provide a better return on our surveillance system investment, both now and in the future."

The migration process is being done in stages. Upon selection of the VMS, Rice and his team will build a platform, create storage areas and launch the software.

To standardize surveillance equipment throughout the campus, an important attribute of the VMS and all other components in the new IP system is that it integrates with university police clients. "We do not want a variety of DVRs, each with its own operating software program," Rice says. "That creates problems for the university police system. Admittedly, during migration, we will be running two systems; however, that is a big difference from running 10. In all cases, the system that is running will be transparent to the police on the ground."

Mark S. Wilson is vice president of Marketing for Infinova