Analog bodes well in metro centre garage

Every day thousands of commuters crowd into the station in Owings Mills, Md., to catch the Metro electrified train into downtown Baltimore. Owings Mills serves as the starting point for commuters, traveling from a number of surrounding counties, who park in the new nine-level Metro Centre garage before stepping onto a subway train. All day long while these commuters are miles away at work, a system of over 100 video cameras from Panasonic keeps watch over their vehicles in the Metro Centre garage, owned by Owings Mills Transit, LLC.

Providing more than 3,000 parking spaces for commuters who use the Baltimore subway operated by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), the current Metro Centre garage is the first of several structured parking garages that will serve an adjacent planned development of office, retail, residential and public buildings. The transit-oriented development (TOD) will include another 30 or so buildings on the now mostly undeveloped site. Additional traffic expected from the planned commercial development will undoubtedly keep it fully utilized. A second garage planned nearby will one day accommodate another 2,500 cars and the two sites will be linked by fiber optic cable that will enable the existing control room to manage both security systems.

“Panasonic’s corporate resources, capabilities and reputation contributed to the decision to go with their video equipment for the garage,” said Nick Sachs, asset manager for David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd., Baltimore, the property firm that manages the existing garage and is involved in the planned development. “Anytime you stack 3,000 cars together, you have security concerns, in addition to the fact that the subway system can attract crime. There will be another garage here and an entire community in the future and we knew that the vendor could handle that.”

But that wasn’t the only impetus leading to the installation. It was the fatal shooting of a teacher in a Baltimore-area mall parking garage in 2005 that raised local awareness of related security issues and led to a mandate that, with certain exceptions, all retail parking be 75 percent covered by video surveillance. The Metro Centre garage has video coverage approaching 100 percent, including the exterior, elevators, public walkways and stairwells. “Baltimore County is looking over our shoulders because they know retail is coming,” said Sachs.

Analog gets the go-ahead

Braving the cold, a challenge for installers tasked with pulling cable during the 24-month installation period were Signals Communication Systems’ lead technicians David Persing and Matthew Houser and crew. The system at Metro Centre garage is built around robust analog technology.

“We looked at all the possibilities,” said Robert W. Harry Jr., president of Signals Communication Systems Inc., based in Owings Mills. “We did several scenarios before finally deciding on the design.”

Given the physical configuration of the existing Metro Centre facility, analog proved to be the most cost-effective platform for this specific application. Installing an IP-based system would have been complicated by the maximum allowable cable length of 100 meters (328 feet) between routers using Category 5e Ethernet cables. The garage’s 200- by 600-foot dimensions and layout would have made it necessary to install a fiber optic backbone and additional equipment in order to keep cable lengths below the Ethernet maximum. With no network closets in the concrete parking structure to accommodate the additional routers and switches, it would have been necessary to install them outdoors, and “hardened” equipment that can withstand the heat, cold and humidity is more expensive.

Instead, the new system at Metro garage uses analog video cameras along with baluns and passive hubs by Vigitron to enable the video and control signals to run along the Cat 5e cables. The configuration allows video cable runs up to 1,000 feet, thus easily accommodating the garage’s dimensions. A total of 102 cameras cover the garage, including 63 vandal-resistant domes and 38 all-in-one dome cameras that provide pan-tilt-zoom functionality. Equipped with technology designed to yield high image quality including 128x dynamic range, the cameras provide crystal clear surveillance around the clock (bright lights illuminate the garage 24 hours a day). The cameras are waterproof, dustproof (meeting IP66 standards) and vandal-resistant. With future expansion of additional parking lots, adding IP video would be a consideration, according to Harry.

Always on alert

Now, security guards keep watch at the garage 24/7. Their duties include monitoring the cameras in the control room and patrolling the premises in a vehicle. They work closely with the MTA police, who frequently patrol the area and are always on call for specific incidents. The surveillance system can provide video to the MTA of any events in and around the garage. PC workstations in the control room allow operators to “burn film” from the system, either onto a CD or a USB drive. The PC accesses video through the software of the matrix switch.

The video system has been useful on multiple occasions since it was installed. Ken Voland, property manager for David S. Brown Enterprises remembers one example when someone reported the theft of a truck from the garage one evening. Video of the theft clearly showed the person who took the truck used a key fob to unlock the doors and also entered from the passenger’s side as they apparently were aware that the driver’s side door was broken.

There was also a timely display of the power of the video technology on the day MTA showed up to sign off on the new system. Cameras had captured video of an illegal drag race that had taken place on the empty upper level of the parking decks. The video even showed MTA how their officer had handled the incident, which enabled management to provide feedback to the officer.

Sidebar: Project’s Key Suppliers

From Panasonic:
• Eight 16-channel video passive hubs (located in the control room)
• Seven WJ-RT416 series DVRs
• WJ-SX650 Matrix System
• WV-ASM100 i-Pro operation and management software
• WV-CW964 pan-tilt-zoom dome cameras
• Four 42-inch plasma display monitors and eight 20-inch LCD monitors on desks
• Two WV-CU650 system controllers

Other key suppliers:
• Vigitron UTP (unshielded twisted pair) transceivers (baluns)
• Two racks in the control room hold the DVRs, the matrix switch, a Talk-A-Phone PBX system, the Vigitron passive hubs and an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and extended battery backup.
• 35 Talk-A-Phone hands-free emergency phone stations