Watching The Waterside

Downtown Norfolk, Virginia, has been transformed in the last 20 years. By the late 1970s, many retail establishments had left the city. While office workers populated the area during the day, after dark the empty streets were not considered safe. The waterfront area, once busy with transport-related commerce, was a silent ruin. However, in the early 1980s, the city underwent a renaissance as businesses began to return.

The Waterside Festival Marketplace, locally known as “The Waterside,” opened in 1983 and has proven to be a magnet to new hotels, office buildings and tourist attractions. More than 20 years later, the downtown Norfolk area is clean, attractive and still growing quickly. Boat cruises and ferries depart daily from the adjacent waterfront. The location is served by public transit, and covered parking is available in several garages nearby.

The Waterside, located at the mouth of the Elizabeth River on Norfolk’s downtown waterfront, encompasses numerous specialty retail stores, an international food court, plus several sit-down restaurants and night clubs under one roof, and has become a major day-to-night draw both for tourists and residents of the area.

When it was time to consider upgrading the physical security at The Waterside, General Manager Lane Brown decided to add to their existing infrastructure, and they chose video surveillance systems from Panasonic System Solutions Company.

“For us, it was a question of cost vs. value,” Brown says. “We had looked through references and found good reviews on the Internet as well. Also, Steve Wilkins, who is the Operations Manager here, and I have both had experience with Panasonic System Solutions at Military Circle, a one-million square foot shopping center also in Norfolk.”

The previous system at The Waterside included 16 cameras feeding into a DVR and another seven cameras that were connected to an older VCR. Working with Tri-Tronics Ltd., a video surveillance, electronic security and audio communications specialist based in Virginia and North Carolina, Brown added two additional 16-channel Panasonic DVRs and six additional Panasonic Super Dynamic Vandal-Proof Day/Night Color Dome Cameras to the system. “We added cameras and put some outside and into other locations in the mall that needed more coverage,” Brown says.

The DVRs provide high-resolution/high density recording with full-rate, live multi-screen resolution and an expandable disk base capacity. Featuring the supplier’s Super Dynamic technology, the dome cameras eliminate common backlighting problems that can typically impair surveillance installations. The units feature day/night operation to deliver quality images in any lighting condition and feature high-impact-resistant domes with spring-mounted lenses for demanding locations.

The Waterside’s enhanced video surveillance system is controlled with Panasonic’s Matrix Switching System to provide advanced automated camera tour switching sequences, alarm/event-triggered operations and programmable monitoring assignments. The matrix switching system is expandable to accommodate future growth, including satellite monitoring and control locations.

“One area within the mall that needs the most surveillance would be the food court,” Brown says. “During the week we sometimes have entertainment, and that location draws a much larger crowd. On the weekends, we have a late-night crowd, so it is important to monitor the door adjacent to the crosswalk where it crosses over Waterside Drive. The crowds disperse at 2 a.m.”

In addition, Brown notes that with multiple tenants bringing waste to the dumpsters, it can be useful to review surveillance data when garbage is found all over the loading dock in the morning. “We can go right over and see who did it.”

At The Waterside, surveillance data generally is archived and monitored in real-time when warranted. “We have an in-house security staff of 11 and there is somebody here 24 hours a day,” Brown says. “The building is locked down between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., when the cleaning crew comes in.”

“We can easily access the recorded video directly from the DVRs or through the matrix switcher and often use the video surveillance system to review incidents after the fact,” he adds. “We consult surveillance recordings two or three times a week to go back and investigate something to see what really happened. We can go back in time and review any cameras to see where an incident started and how it followed through. This has been useful countless times to verify what actually happened.

“For example, there was one incident in which someone was injured, and the story we were given turned out to be very inaccurate,” Brown continues. “The parents were very much up in arms and were prepared to start causing legal problems. But when we watched the recorded footage, we got a completely different story on the sequence of events.”

In addition to its primary use at The Waterside, the video surveillance system has been a helpful tool for law enforcement officials. “We have provided information to the local police department,” Brown says. “I have had police officers come over with reports they believe to be accurate. We verify and supplement their reports by accessing the video footage of an incident and reviewing it from start to finish from different camera angles.”

Tri-Tronics has been working with Brown and The Waterside for nearly 10 years. Although they helped design the system originally, Brown says that he and his staff perform their own troubleshooting when there is a problem with a connection.

The upgraded system at The Waterside also includes four new monitors.

“The new monitors will be placed into a security/information kiosk in the food court area, to give the security officer a place to be and to serve as reinforcement to visitors that there is a surveillance function in the area for their safety and security,” Brown says.