Security Innovation Awards Gold Medal: Taino Towers security project showcases collaborative success

Crime moves out of Harlem low-income housing complex with high-tech video surveillance solution

In 1972, one of the most ambitious government-funded, low income housing projects broke ground in East Harlem, a section of New York City. Spanning an entire city block, the Taino Towers complex boasted a four-story central building surrounded by four 35-story glass and concrete towers. The project was known as a “pilot block,” meant to serve as a new urban model for the integration of low-income housing into large cities across the United States. The complex provides 656 subsidized rental units for more than 3,000 East Harlem residents. It also includes commercial space and houses the Magic Johnson Computer Learning Center, Touro College, the Boriken Health Center and the Harlem Day Charter School.

Yet, despite the promise of “luxury living for the poor,” the planned community has been plagued by the same high incidents of crime that have dogged other subsidized housing projects. The area alone had some of the highest crime rates in all of New York City. Several analog CCTV security projects were implemented over the years in an effort to reduce crime, yet gang- and drug-related incidents continued to rise. Management struggled with several analog camera systems that had failed to deliver a clear picture of events and proved difficult to search for incident details. Since most of the crime committed at Taino Towers was initiated by non-residents, management felt that a move toward digital technology could provide a proactive solution in preventing incidents and restricting access of unwelcomed guests.

Recognizing that a more effective solution was needed, management turned to an all IP-based system.


Phasing In Digital Security

The two-phase project began in May 2011. Taino Towers executive director Maria Cruz and assistant director Manny Diaz hired IT and security integrator Plugout to deploy a state-of-the-art digital security solution. Plugout replaced the complex’s aging analog cable network and in its place deployed IP-based megapixel surveillance cameras from Axis Communications throughout the entire square block running on a Genetec video management software (VMS) platform.

In Phase I, 66 Axis IP video surveillance cameras were deployed on all outdoor corners of the city block and sidewalks, in the courtyard and playground, as well as at building entrances, lobbies, hallways, elevators and rooftops. The open platform integration features of the Axis cameras and Genetec VMS allowed Plugout to equip each building’s elevator with a wireless two-way communication alert system without adding additional hardware. Security and engineering staff receive instant alerts when the elevator emergency is activated and can use video verification to determine whether the event is a false alarm or a real emergency.

The Axis cameras integrated with Genetec’s Security Center VMS, HP servers and Cisco networking gear. With a project of this size involving multiple buildings, powering the solution proved an initial challenge. An underground Cisco private mesh fiber network and rooftop Cisco/Ubiquiti wireless mesh network that were installed on the 35th floor of each building’s roof, and Ethernet networking that was implemented within each building, equated to approximately 120,000 feet of Category 5e wiring. Phase I took six months to complete.

In Phase II, 78 additional Axis cameras were installed on the network, bringing the total camera count to 144. The exceptional clarity, processing power and high resolution of these cameras made it possible to integrate intelligent video applications, specifically the FST21 SafeRise system. The in-motion identification system is an innovative access control solution for main building entry points.

Since the FST21 SafeRise in-motion identification software was not part of the initial plan, it was launched as a pilot in October 2012. The biometric security technology ties a five-megapixel AXIS P3367 fixed dome network camera to facial recognition software in order to bar unauthorized individuals from entering the premises. SafeRise is the only system of its kind that replaces traditional key and card access control systems by utilizing residents’ facial images, height and gait for entry authentication.

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