Wirelessly Integrating Cameras and Doors at the Hotel Northampton

Northampton, Mass., is not the kind of town where gangs of criminals run the city's downtown streets. You’re more likely to find tourists up from New York City or Boston enjoying the flourishing scene of restaurants, music venues, art galleries, historic buildings and quaint streets than you are to hear the rush of police vehicles to an incident.

The Hotel Northampton, located squarely in the city's historic area, is in the middle of this bustling tourist-friendly downtown. A favorite spot for weddings, well-traveled tourists and keen business travelers, the hotel building itself was constructed in 1927. Its adjoining Wiggins Tavern was built in 1786, then moved from Hopkinton, N.H., and rebuilt at the hotel in 1930. It does suffice to say that the hotel has a bit of history on its grounds, and according to Mansour Ghalibaf, the hotel’s general manager, it’s that older charm that draws many of the guests of the hotel.

So when he saw a need for a surveillance system at his 106-room boutique hotel, Ghalibaf was in a bit of a challenge. At one level, he needed to protect his guests and his tangible assets, but on the other side of the equation, he had unique architecture to protect.

Fortunate for Ghalibaf, when he was first starting to think of going with a high-technology security system, wireless networking was already starting to make its way into the arena.

“About five years ago I was looking at the technologies in the vendors showcase at the Massachusetts Lodging Association’s conference,” explains Ghalibaf. “I was looking into wireless Internet because of the architecture, but also because of the cost.”

With luck, Ghalibaf ran into Mehrdad Sheik, a fellow Iranian who was in the telecom/WiFi business through his company Viocen. The two shared not only a common background, but Vicoen landed the hotel’s WiFi project, bringing high-speed wireless Internet connectivity to the rooms and meeting spaces at the hotel.

A couple years later, when the WiFi project had been completed and Ghalibaf was able to return his focus to security, he picked up the phone and called Vicoen to find out if they could do his security. The answer was, “Yes.”

With 106 rooms, two restaurant/bars, six function rooms and another building that hosts luxury suites which is not part of the main building, plus a constantly coming-and-going guest population, Ghalibaf was in a unique situation. To have surveillance cameras and access control in the hallways, elevators, parking lots and in the second building, he was going to need to have lots of cabling drawn. This time, Vicoen pointed to their expertise in wireless and said they could take the project in a wireless direction.

Sheik and his partner in Viocen, Bill Mitchell, worked up a plan that would use a variety of technologies, from door position sensors to mini-domes. The key, as Ghalibaf would explain to them, is that not only did they need to preserve the architecture by not drilling through everything and pulling coax across the property, but the security also had to be discreet and not take away from the overall look of the property.

First, let’s tell a bit about Viocen itself. The company isn’t a longtime security installing company, but rather brings expertise out of the networking and telecommunications lineage, explains Mitchell.

“We took that proficiency and up-time model to the security market,” says Mitchell. “If a camera fails at midnight, and no one is watching, and an incident happens in the parking lot, then when the manager comes in the next morning, he has no archive.”

That need for constant “up-time” has pushed Sheik and Mitchell to be constant tech heads – always looking for good technology. They even strategize to find failure points of the cameras they consider installing.

“We choose our cameras for the stability of their software, and the completeness of their product line,” says Sheik. “The third component is what we call the ‘projectile test’ – something rapidly passing by the camera. We throw a keychain back and forth in the view of the camera and we won’t use it unless it captures this keychain flying across the room. You’d be surprised, but not all IP cameras are able to grab this movement.”

When Viocen came back to Ghalibaf with some ideas for the Hotel Northampton, they had a number of different technologies. There would be IP cameras across the facility, looking down the stairways that lead to rooms, in the hotel’s main public spaces, and in parking lots. For the parking lots, they went with a pole-mounted Axis camera that allowed 360-degree PTZ functions, and an auto patrol function. Standard fixed IP cameras were used in the interior spaces and some outdoors areas. The found a Toshiba camera that not only gave high resolution, but was so small it looked like a thermostat. It was perfect for the front entrance area, and because it was a megapixel model, it had mechanical pan and tilt, but the zoom was able to be digital, saving space and keeping the size of the camera down

Door position sensors were wireless, and were mounted at select locations. Being fire-exit sensors, they could also could buzz the front desk, and would also alert the night staff. Cameras and sensors protect the second building, where seven rooms are located with luxurious furnishings like plasma TVs.

Bringing all the video back together was a Milestone XProtect server system. The IP-based video can then be delivered to the front desk, but also to Ghalibaf’s office, and via the Internet to his home outside town, where Ghalibaf has a DSL connection. He finds that the remote video delivery is actually almost as good as the live video on-site at the front desk.

Both Viocen and Ghalibaf explain that having the video archived through an effective video management platform was essential to the project. Because there is not a dedicated monitoring staff, it’s often the duty of the night crew to watch the split monitor at the front desk. But since their tasks often require them to respond to guests needs, they can’t commit to full-time monitoring. The server-based recording has allowed them to easily review incidents. It’s important since the hotel often uses the surveillance video not only to catch criminals in this sleepy town, but to protect itself from liability issues.

Going network was its own challenge, says Sheik. They had an existing network in the hotel, but Sheik says “one of the traps is to share an enterprise network with a camera network, and that is generally a bad thing to do.” Instead they set up a separate network with two access points to serve the door sensors and the camera video. Sonic 12 firewalls were added to secure the entire security network. Asked whether he had any concerns that the security network might not be secure, Mitchell was quick to respond:

“It can be made as secure as 128-bit encryption,” said Mitchell. “It can be just as secure as the transfer of financial data. Obviously, if it’s not done properly, you can open the door to others, but CCTV over wireless can be made very secure.”

Now, as the project wraps up, we asked Ghalibaf if this security integration project worked well for the hotel.

“I’m very happy with the quality,” says Ghalibaf. “It is a very good investment. Just last night, the night auditor used the surveillance system and noticed a person acting weird in the elevator. We thought he might do some vandalism to the property, and we were able to watch him to make sure that didn’t happen.”

What they used…
…a partial list of technologies used in the project:

  • Axis 231D camera for auto-patrolling the parking area (360 degrees)
  • Megapixel Toshiba cameras for monitoring indoor areas of the hotels with no lights during the evening hours
  • Axis 211 cameras for general purpose outdoor viewing/recording
  • Milestone XProtect Server software for monitoring/recording
  • Visonic PowerCode wireless door transmitters for fire-exit doors
  • Sonicwall firewall router for VPN secured remote access to viewing, monitoring, and recording material
  • Dell desktop PC with 19-inch flat panel monitor
Selling to Hotels – 5 Tips:
  1. Hotels often use video not simply for asset protection, but also for liability issues and accidents. They’re often more likely to buy based on issues of slips-and-falls than actual criminal threats.
  2. Don’t forget the parking lots; these are often one of a general manager’s top safety concerns, and this is where the feeling of security often starts for a guest.
  3. Link door positions with video. Movement inside the hotel is common as people go from workout room to their rooms, to the ice machine, to the continental breakfast … but it’s who is coming in and out of the property that is a top concern.
  4. Be low-key. Your client’s hotel is supposed to feel like home to their travel-weary guests. Keep surveillance low-profile except for high-risk areas like front desks that can be targeted in robberies.
  5. Expect to be a networking partner for the hotel. Most hotels outsource many tasks, and a facility manager or hospital engineer is "often much more familiar with a hammer than a network,” explains Viocen’s Bill Mitchell.

Related Links:

Viocen, the project’s integrator: www.viocen.com
Hotel Northampton, www.hotelnorthampton.com