Surveillance Opens at Art Institute

March 8, 2009
World-renowned Chicago museum revamps security

The idea of museum security may bring to mind a strict check-in policy at the door, security cameras, security officers around every corner and of course the often prohibited public use of cameras. For the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the premier fine arts museums in the U.S., unifying all aspects of security surveillance and coverage with flexibility was critical.

Housing more than 260,000 works of art and the museum’s school, more than 1.4 million visitors walk the one million square feet of property each year. Now, as the Art Institute continues to undergo a major renovation and expansion project scheduled for completion in 2010, one year after the museum’s new Modern Wing opens, updating the museum’s current security system became even more essential in continuing to maintain property surveillance.

“It was good timing in the construction process to get as current as possible,” said Michelle Lehrman Jenness, associate vice president, Department of Protection Services, Art Institute of Chicago. “When you open up a new wing of a museum and you’re expanding more of your collection on display, it’s a good time to overview your entire operation. The museum really took that opportunity.”

Choosing the right solution
Since the actual physical expansion of the Modern Wing project started in early January 2008, systems integrator Honeywell Building Solutions (HBS), Golden Valley, Minn., has been on-site for the past year working to maintain and install the new security system. A partner with the Art Institute since the early 1980s, HBS worked to upgrade the analog system that was initially put in place. The new security surveillance system integrates Honeywell’s Digital Video Manager (DVM) with network cameras provided by Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass.

“We worked with the museum on expanding their existing system and enhancing it for the new Modern Wing,” said Liza Kapica, district general manager, Honeywell Building Solutions. “Part of that was using Honeywell Enterprise Building Integrator and Digital Video Manager. The Axis cameras were the other part of the system design and implementation. Putting the two together gives the museum the best solution.”

DVM is a component of Enterprise Buildings Integrator (EBI), a facility management platform designed to provide efficiency while reducing operating costs by integrating core building technology — HVAC, security, life safety, lighting and energy systems — and allowing operators to view and control these functions from a single workstation. Honeywell is applying these combined systems to the new Modern Wing.

“DVM is a distributed way of collecting video,” said Ken Morrisett, project manager, Honeywell Building Solutions. DVM allows users to view, record, play back and store security video clips across an existing or dedicated network. With an improved interface, users can create the views needed to suit their own operational requirements.

A global provider of IP-based network video solutions, Axis first partnered with Honeywell in 2000 after deploying a security solution at Sidney Airport, Australia, during the Olympics game period. For the Modern Wing expansion, the Art Institute is using the lower-light and megapixel capabilities of Axis network cameras, including Axis camera models: FD indoor/outdoor fixed dome network cameras; 223D indoor/outdoor pan/tilt/zoom network cameras; 233D and the 209MFD-R indoor fixed dome network camera to alert staff monitoring the museum of occurrence and to closely observe specific artworks.

“Axis network cameras are ideally suited for demanding environments such as museums,” according to Fredrik Nilsson, general manager, Axis Communications. “We are excited to work with the Art Institute to ensure it remains a premier location for art lovers in Chicago.”

For the museum, the goal is to completely update their security system to digital and to eventually have IP cameras throughout the entire facility.

“Working closely with the Art Institute, we chose Axis IP cameras over an analog/encoder solution,” said Morrisett. “One of the reasons was the MPEG-4 cameras take less bandwidth than previous encoders. These cameras reduce stress on the entire network and require less storage. This results in more cameras and retention time per server.”

Facing challenges
Despite the positive aspects of the newly updated security surveillance system at the Art Institute, the museum still faced a number of challenges throughout the expansion. With a yearly schedule that allows the museum doors to be closed to the public only three times, behind-the-scenes activity such as installing new surveillance equipment had to be accomplished quickly, efficiently and on schedule.

“Having the museum closed only three times a year is the biggest challenge for us,” said Lehrman Jenness. “We can’t be in there [the museum] with ladders above an artwork installing a surveillance camera when we have patrons viewing art in the galleries.”

The features of the Axis network cameras proved a welcome alternative to the process of stringing coaxial cable to analog cameras.

“With our older analog system, we used to run thousands of miles of coaxial cable through the complex,” explained Lehrman Jenness.“With the network cameras, now we just have to run Category 6 cable to the nearest IT closet and we’re good to go.”

Another challenge for the museum was maintaining that surveillance after visiting hours ended.
“To preserve certain types of artwork-particularly works on paper-they require low light levels. However, we still need to maintain camera coverage,” continued Lehrman Jenness.

The Axis line of network cameras deployed at the Art Institute and the VMS provided by HBS offered just that solution.

“We wanted to be able to provide a migration path that would allow the museum to use as much of the legacy equipment as possible, bringing in the new technology without having to rip all the old systems out. This was especially important with a facility like theirs,” said Kapica. “We were very excited they [Art Institute] wanted to continue partnering with Honeywell on this project. For us, it’s about bringing new solutions to the customer and showing them the different expansion capabilities for the future.”

According to Nilsson, the whole security market is driving towards a best-of-breeds solution. “A multi-vendor solution,” said Nilsson. “It is interesting for the integrators to see that if a large integrator like Honeywell is doing just that, then the time probably has come for a system to be applicable to many additional users as well.”