Cameras and Wireless Meet Social Networks

July 24, 2009
System-wide surveillance with some new twists

It didn’t start out as a way to be part of a crime-stopping caper for Norris Inc., a South Portland, Maine, security integrator whose surveillance system is being used to complement crime fighting efforts on the social networking site Facebook. In fact, it is happening all over the U.S. and according to Harty Norris, the company’s chairman, “This is a great push for surveillance.” In March a burglary case was cracked on Facebook, when a homeowner in Georgia returned to his domicile to find his trucks broken into with its contents missing. As the police conducted their investigation, the homeowner turned to Facebook posting information which quickly spread across the social network and lead to arrests.

In Auburn, Maine, the police department has taken the initiative and gone on record as one of the first departments to use the site to successfully apprehend criminals within days of posting information. In the last several months the Auburn Police Department’s page has been put to use for more than connecting with old friends; the site has been useful in building community awareness and connect with its citizens. Becoming a ‘fan’ of the department provides visitors with the latest bulletins, updates from the department and other useful information such as parking bans. Then, at less than three weeks old, the page helped solve a vandalism case which led to three arrests after posting the surveillance video images on Facebook. According to local reports, “The video images on Facebook showed three teenagers trashing a hotel spa; police got several tips from people who recognized the boys.” Norris was thrilled with the results adding, “Many incidents are never solved. This will be a big tool using ‘caught on video’ crimes from surveillance networks and posting them.”

The twin cities, Auburn and Lewiston, located on the Androscoggin River in Maine are beneficiaries of a city-wide surveillance system designed and installed by Norris. The project began, according to Harty Norris, with the Auburn Police Department, about three years ago using a grant provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “We provided this large wireless network designed by Jeff Hinckley, a project engineer for Norris, throughout the cities,” he said, as a result of winning the contract. Additional money was made available so the scope of the project was expanded to include area schools. The project entailed, according to Hinckley, “the installation of 250 cameras, mostly megapixel, high-resolution cameras. As a public safety issue, the residents of the area were behind the project and it is quite a system. We had all the cameras rigged up in the event of any kind of emergency at a municipal building. The Lewiston-Auburn 9-1-1 (LA 911) system is the central dispatch overseeing its use and the entire public safety entity.”

Wireless surveillance systems have made an impact on the efficiency of systems to be just about anywhere the imagination could place them, within reason, of course. “This sort of system is what everyone needed. The wireless components are more feasible and allows the system to accomplish more tasks,” added Hinckley. Features such as integration with Auburn’s new high tech emergency response vehicle that will be able to pick up the camera’s images from a remote location almost anywhere in the city, makes it an invaluable tool. The company stresses to clients its ease of operation and retrieval of information. “Since its installation, about 20 area schools hooked into the wireless mesh network that the public safety division uses,” Hinckley said. The reason for the push, he said, is the options for adding other vital services such as access control and phone systems. In fact, the system has already been utilized to temporarily, but very quickly restore many of the critical links on the city’s computer network when it went down unexpectedly last year. Norris reported that the city will be looking to soon incorporate municipal-wide access control through this same wireless mesh network.

The Auburn schools were equipped with analog cameras and Pelco DX8100 Digital Video Recorders (DVR). Each school was connected to the wireless mesh network which allowed LA911 and Auburn Police to monitor emergency events should they occur. A Pelco VMX-300 Video Management System was also integrated into the network so that map based monitoring and remote IP camera systems could be deployed at strategic sites. IP video encoders, similar to those used to upgrade the Auburn analog camera systems, were deployed at the Lewiston schools. The video of the cameras was split between the on-site school surveillance recorders and the IP encoders. The video was then “streamed” to the centralized video servers which allowed off-site archiving and access by the relevant agencies.

From the ground up

Experience counts when tackling a project of this magnitude. Harty Norris started the company with a $2,000 loan, a very young family and lots of ambition. Growing the company from an installation firm the services he provided changed along with the industry through the decades before settling on specializing in the installation and distribution of fire alarms. “I went into distributing FireLite and Notifier, then took a hard look at the business and where it was going and realized I needed to go into everything low voltage.” At the same time, Hinckley was growing his business and expertise in microwave technologies and was instrumental in providing the surveillance technology for along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. “We decided to combine our efforts, so I joined Norris, they had the sales and service in place which was a great place to bring my knowledge of wireless technology,” Hinckley explained.

While experience counts, so does having strong relationships with the municipal organizations in communities. The company is extremely progressive about its work with technology and making it fit for any organization from border patrol work to keeping a watchful eye over citizens. “We are committed to being ahead of the industry and this means knowing everything about networks—all surveillance systems are going network based,” added Hinckley.