Texas prisons migrate to network video

New surveillance technology increases security, safety at state correctional institutions


HP ProLiant DL320 servers are used to run the Ocularis 2.0 software, and ProLiant DL380 servers are used for recording using OnSSI's IS software and for initial temporary archives. Each NetDVR server runs 50-plus cameras, which takes a lot of processing power, so Ocularis, the "brains" of the system was assigned its own server. The storage array includes network-attached storage (NAS) [HPX160, two at each unit] and direct-attached storage [HP StorageWorks D2600 DAS Hard Drive Array and HP MSA60]. The servers and workstations are HP, and HP switches are used throughout the network rooms. Each unit has 16 servers used as network video recorders (NVRs) and one Ocularis server. The system can record continuously for 20 days, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, full streaming at all times with no motion-based recording in order to prove when things "don't happen" as well. This is a unique prison need to immediately disprove a falsely filed complaint against an officer and reduce the agency the cost of lengthy investigations. PowerDsine mid-span injectors are used to provide Power-over-Ethernet, a less expensive option than PoE switches.

STS made an extra effort to distribute video archiving across multiple servers and NAS attachments for cameras in each single pod. Therefore, cameras in the same area are archived to different storage areas to ensure continued redundant coverage. The approach merely involved extra planning up front and attention to mitigating a possible risk.
In a challenging environment like a prison unit, TDCJ officials realize that no one tool is the solution. "The video surveillance system is another means at our disposal. We'll continue to look to technology, combined with other security measures, as a way to enhance the safety and security of institutions across the state of Texas," said Livingston.

How staff use the systems

In administration at each prison, there is a senior warden and two assistant wardens who have full rights to view the system in their offices. Two majors (three at Stiles) have full rights as well on HP workstations. The senior warden has a 42-inch screen, and everyone else has 19-inch monitors on their desks. Also, a 42-inch monitor is located in an administrative conference room. If an event occurs in the unit, the conference room becomes a command center with more space for team members than a single office.

Video monitors are also located at various "pickets," which are enclosed locations protected from intrusion, where operators can control doors and have keys to certain areas. The 'line control' pickets have a 42-inch monitor and have access to everything on the system except the ability to export video. In the death row building at the Polunsky Unit, a control picket has four 20-inch monitors to push video, and in one of the pods, a 20-inch monitor has rights to view in cell cameras. Inside dormitories, each picket has four 20-inch monitors and has the master stations for the Aiphone video intercom. Ocularis provides a push event when an intercom button is pressed.

Each workstation is located within a lock box for security purposes. Operators can only access the keyboard, mouse and monitor. There is also no access to any of the network rooms, and racks are secured with locks.

Simmons tells about a missing key that an officer said he turned in but which was not recorded by the control picket. Retrieving the video showed that, when the control picket officer had answered the phone, the phone cord had knocked over a clipboard and made the key fall from the desk into a trash can. Through the video, the key was found and helped to avoid the need and expense to switch out the locks opened by the missing key.

Alford uses the system not just as a reactionary tool but as a proactive tool, monitoring traffic flow, counting and search procedures. He sees a continuing and increasing role for video in training his staff. "If I see someone violating a policy, I can download the video and take it to shift turnout and tell them 'this is not what we need to do.'" Shift turnout is a 30-minute meeting before a new shift comes to work when various issues and training are discussed.

Training uses can also extend to the 40 hours of in-service training required each year. Important points can be illustrated using video of actual events. "I can go back and show them, this is reality, and this is the event in real-time," said Alford. "You see how if this officer was over here, this wouldn't have happened." He compares the approach to a football coach meeting after a game to make adjustments to offense and defense. "It can be a positive force in learning. They are more critical of their own performance than I am."

"Holding staff accountable can sometimes be difficult," added Alford. "On a unit this size, you can't walk the whole unit. If I don't walk in a building in a day, I can still look at the video to see things I might not have seen."

Using video surveillance a 'no brainer'