Grand Gaming Security

Oct. 27, 2008
Security directors Amondo Sebastian and Russ Adams are working with multiple technologies to secure the new MGM Grand at Foxwoods Casino

Today’s complex casino operations require technology that can keep pace with the constantly evolving security landscape. So when the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation decided to expand the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., they benchmarked the best in the industry, designed a future proof solution with patron safety at its core and enlisted Red Hawk, part of UTC Fire and Security, to ensure a seamless integration.
Slated to open this spring, the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Casino is a new $700 million development project that adds nearly two million square feet of space and features, including significantly increased hotel, entertainment, restaurants and gaming venues as well as enhanced corporate retreat, meeting and convention resources.
While gaming security and asset management were, of course, integral to the renovation’s goals and overall operations, the safety of patrons is what came first and foremost. Some 40,000 to 70,000 guests visit Foxwoods each day and as many as 100,000 on weekends. “Every day a small city of people comes through our doors and our utmost priority is to make them feel safe,” says Richard E. Sebastian, Tribal Council Member and former director of security at Foxwoods. “Safety is our first priority and deeply embedded in the culture here. For us, security goes beyond technology — it’s about providing good customer service and a safe work environment for our employees.”
The job of ensuring that Foxwoods remains among one of the safest casinos in the world is entrusted to Foxwoods Resort Casino executive director of security Amondo Sebastian and director of security Russ Adams, who have been with Foxwoods since the casino opened in 1992. They have had a close working relationship with the local Red Hawk (formerly ACP Engineering), since the 1994 installation of an access control system, followed by a systems expansion project six months later. In 1999, the security firm helped the casino install digital video recorders, and since then, Red Hawk has worked closely with Foxwoods on an ongoing series of projects and upgrades.

Setting the Standard
In an effort to design the new system as part of the expansion, the Foxwoods security team, led by Sebastian and Adams, acted as their own consultants initially and benchmarked the best in the industry, meeting with the Secret Service and the Capitol Police in Washington, D.C., to better understand how those entities deal with crisis situations within their own organizations.
“Russ and I worked for more than four years on the systems design,” Sebastian says. “Hundreds of hours were spent looking at the hotel section-by–section, and we held more than 30 or 40 meetings across the country with different suppliers, end-users and other security entities.”
Adams says it was important to remember the casino security department’s experiences and use them as a guide to designing a system that could handle future demands. “Throughout the design we kept asking ourselves what have we seen in the past and how can we use that knowledge to meet the security needs of this new area,” Adams says. “It took a lot of time to arrive at the final design, and we were very careful in our evaluations to ensure that the system remains at the forefront of what’s happening in the industry. Once the plan was finalized, we turned to Red Hawk’s integration team.”

One of the main obstacles of the new system was interoperability among the various suppliers, which included American Dynamics (PTZ cameras and custom-configured matrix switching system); Lenel, a UTC Fire and Security company (OnGuard access control system and alarm monitoring and video management solutions); Nice Vision (digital video recording system); Nitek (Cat 6 UTP backbone infrastructure); and Sony, Pelco and GE Security (fixed cameras). To overcome the interoperability issues, the Foxwoods team asked its vendors to customize aspects of their products to ensure the technology met all their needs. “We knew how we wanted the system to work, based on our years of experience and understanding of how casinos operate, but the challenge was getting the multiple vendors involved to provide a comprehensive solution,” Adams says. “There is nothing off-the-shelf about anything in this solution — it really is a custom project.”
With thousands of cameras and hundreds of card readers, convergence was another top concern. “Some equipment didn’t work well for some applications, so we had to test each technology for each area of the casino in order to meet specific requirements, and then make sure that each individual system worked seamlessly with the whole,” says Jerry Brocki, Red Hawk national accounts manager and lead integrator for the expansion project.

Past Lessons Bring About New Changes
Given the opportunity to design a new system from the ground up, the team at Foxwoods wanted to implement as much advanced technology as possible in order to make the security team’s job easier and more effective. “The more we could rely on technology to supplement our existing guard personnel, the more effective the overall system — especially given the sheer amount of activity happening here every day,” Adams says.
Foxwoods incorporated a number of automations in order to ensure that its new system was proactive rather then reactive. It automated the system’s video analytics to provide automatic alerts based on predefined algorithms. It also integrated HUAs (hold-up buttons) into the larger system so that, if triggered, the cameras automatically revert to a preprogrammed sequence and focus on the alarm location.
The expansion’s new command center also incorporates a number of lessons learned and the team designed out many of the frustrations they’ve encountered in the past. The new design takes into account the challenges that security officers have had in the past and seeks to equip them with better tools to enable them to perform their jobs more effectively. For example, the new user-friendly video monitoring consoles are designed for comfort and are easier to operate, which translates into improved response times.

Designing for the Future
An extensive, multi-camera analog CCTV system that includes 1,600 fixed and PTZ cameras is being installed with both Category 6 unshielded twisted pair (UTP) and fiber optic cabling in parallel — so the system is ready to make the eventual move to networked IP cameras. All 1,600 cameras flow into a central rack and then split out to the security control room. The entire system, according to Brocki, is designed around IP specifications, including footage and distances of cameras, power requirements and video transmission in an effort to prepare the system for future upgrades and new technology needs.
“The greatest challenge was designing a system that incorporated all of these different elements, but that we could ‘future proof’ for tomorrow,” Sebastian says. That, he added, took expertise from the project partners and a close working relationship with suppliers and their technologies.
With future upgrades in mind, the camera runs are powered from remote closets, or Intermediate Distribution Frames (IDFs), with no more than 300 feet home run. This is designed for the eventual deployment of IP cameras, because those types of network devices require shorter runs. Rather than coaxial cable, a single Category 6 UTP cable was deployed to each unit to power the PTZs and provide video and data. In addition, the integrator laid out a fiber optic network between the closets in a redundant design incorporating the 300-foot maximum wiring configuration from the closet to the head-end in the control room. There were 12 IDF rooms created as part of the installation, with these locations acting as cabling “hubs.”
In the command center, the video wall concept consists of two 48-inch monitors in front of each operator station, which incorporates a state-of-the-art alarm and video management system. The Lenel and Nice converged solution provides a graphical map display immediately upon alert.
The team’s decision to use analog over digital cameras came down to performance and camera options. “With digital cameras, you may have a delay on the network, but even if it’s a millisecond, it’s critical for the casino environment,” Brocki says. “When you need an overall picture, network delays are no big deal. But when you are trying to get a picture of someone’s face, it’s a lot different.”
Other design decisions were driven by the casino’s disaster recovery needs. “We included a number of redundancies in the system’s design, such as dual command centers, dual redundant AMS servers, and a back-up server for the entire system; so that one system could take over for the other in the event of an emergency,” Adams says. “We also strongly considered how much each product manufacturer spends on R&D to ensure that their technology would continue to grow with our needs.”

Deborah O’Mara is the editor of Security Dealer & Integrator magazine, a sister publication of Security Technology & Design.