Case Study: Patience and Planning Pay Off at Minneapolis Airport

For the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, simply wanting a better camera system wasn't enough. They wanted a system they could build on, over an extended period of time, without replacing the existing infrastructure.

They found that system in the Vicon family of video products, and a relationship that began almost 10 years ago is still going strong.

Building a Better Airport

As part of an ongoing airport improvement project in the early 1990s, Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) embarked on a video expansion program that began with 16 cameras and has grown to more than 800 cameras today.

To do this, they called on a Minnesota security system integrator, Pro-Tec Design. "We were asked if we could provide services on their existing system of 16 cameras," recalls Tom Hagen, president of Pro-Tec Design. "The desired goal was to expand the camera security system throughout the airport facility into multiple buildings located at multiple locations throughout the 3300 acre site. They wanted to be able to expand camera security into those locations, yet have the ability to view any camera from multiple monitoring areas, regardless of where the camera was located."

"Another key requirement was to design and install a system that would permit quite a bit of expansion over time, with some assurance that each phase of expansion would build upon and preserve the investments made previously."

The airport had put together a team, consisting of representatives from the primary architectural firm, electrical engineering, airport police, airport facility development and an electrical contracting firm.

"We were offered the opportunity to bring in our recommendations," Hagen says. One of the performance tests was to set up live cameras to view outdoor activity at dusk. "We tested several different cameras. The selection team was viewing the camera pictures on a monitor inside one of the concourses. One particular camera produced an outstanding picture in the low-light conditions. The monitor view appeared to be from an earlier time of the day during normal daytime conditions. It was one of the Vicon cameras."

That was one reason they selected Vicon, Hagen recalls. Another was the design of the system using a concept of distributed architecture, which at the time was quite unique.

This design allowed airport personnel to accomplish one of their main goals, which was to be able to view a camera from any viewing location, even if the camera was on the opposite side of the airport.

Another benefit was the ability to assign priorities or "seize levels" to each camera.

"If we have one controller that is a higher priority, they would automatically take control of the camera over someone else who may be using it at the time," explains Tom Germundson, Security Consultant for the airport.

Expanding the System

Once the initial Vicon system was in place, the airport gradually added on, upgraded and incorporated new technologies as their needs changed.

One prime example of evolving technology was the migration from analog VCRs to digital video recorders (DVRs).

"Originally the recording was done on VCRs connected to 16-channel multiplexers," Hagen says. "Now that has all been migrated into a distributed, networked architecture of digital video recorders, using ViconNet software to view live and recorded video from cameras located throughout the facility. That has been a very important and useful improvement for people who use the system. It replaced a method of finding recorded video that was so cumbersome. The new system is much, much easier to use."

Beginning about two years ago, the airport migrated from the old VCRs to Vicon's newest DVR technology, the Kollector Elite. "The move to DVRs was the airport's most recent, significant upgrade," Germundson says. "We waited for the Elite so we could gain that technology," he says.

What they gained by waiting for the technology that best fits their needs was the ability to have truly user-friendly documentation and the ability to quickly access the video information they need.

"We've had incidents where oversized vehicles have entered the parking garage and knocked the video out of the ceiling," Germundson says. "We can now locate that vehicle, and when the person comes back, they get a notice that they owe X amount for damages. Finding and using video evidence on VCRs is difficult. You can't share information as easily. It's a lot more cumbersome. It's not usually worth the time, so people would avoid doing it."

The System in Use

The system today features 800 plus fixed or pan-tilt-zoom cameras. Live and recorded video is available on a network of fifty-four (54) DVRs where camera views can be pulled up by authorized personnel, in a prioritized manner.

All these components work together to make up a cohesive system that meets the unique needs of MSP Airport. In 2003, the airport served 33.2 million passengers making them the 7th busiest airport in the world. In the same year, J.D. Powers & Associates rated MSP as the third best airport in the world.

"If we are looking for an individual, we can quickly gain access to the video information," Germundson says. "We also have a graphical user interface. We can easily find the right camera to use if an individual went down a specific concourse. We can see an incident to determine what happened. If there is damage to property, we can locate the video and see what caused it."

Of course, no system is perfect, and almost no installation goes off without a hitch. Over the years, there have been desired improvements, some of which could only be remedied as technology itself advanced. The Kollector Elites are a prime example.

The original DVRs had a 440 Gigabyte hard drive. "The ones we had originally had too little storage for our needs," Germundson says. "They did not give us enough recording time. We weren't really able to fix it except as time moved on and Vicon provided larger storage capacities." The current DVRs contain a 1.2 Terabyte hard drive.

Going forward, MSP has plans to continue the expansion of their system. "We are possibly looking at things like perimeter detection, maybe incorporating software-enhanced video, which we could set up so if a person crossed a certain location in a certain direction, it would trigger an alarm," Germundson says. They are also talking to Vicon about adding additional storage capacity to some of the older Kollector Elites they have.

"The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has had the benefit of a powerful camera security system that has incorporated new innovations as they have become available as a result of progressive efforts by many people over time," Hagen says. "There is a team of people involved that have had the vision to stay ahead of the curve. That is what it takes."

For more information on MSP, visit www.mspairport.com. For more information on Vicon Industries, visit www.vicon-cctv.com.

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