To the Clouds: Video Surveillance Gets City Nod

Oct. 6, 2011
Internet connectivity and hosting adds value for Iowa City businesses

The Downtown Association of Iowa City (DTA) partnered with Nate Van Der Weide, director and Patrick Gordon, president of PhySecure, a local systems integrator they tapped to help them protect their downtown area of six linear blocks and roughly 30 businesses. The area houses restaurants, boutiques, has a plaza with park benches, a children's play structure and a stage for weekend entertainment. The area's mixed-use district by day brings out business folks for lunch and families to shop and play and by evening offers fine dining for urban dwellers and suburban visitors who are looking to unwind and enjoy the evening.

At the corner of the downtown plaza sits the University of Iowa. So the area also is used by students, young people from the inner city and those from outlying areas who come to town to meet up and have fun. As so often happens in these areas nowadays there is some inebriation, petty crimes, wall tagging and minor drug use and occasionally a fight breaks out. But when a young woman was assaulted, the Downtown Association felt they needed to develop a plan to safeguard their citizens and to minimize nuisance behavior.

The DTA partnered with the university as both were stakeholders in the game. They agreed that video was the right tool to deter the behavior and to document offenses. They also wanted to be able to share these videos with the campus and city police for prosecution when needed. The group reached out to different service providers for ideas and bids on how to implement a system. They received various bids from different integrators for laying fiber to setting up wireless mesh networks, networking the cameras together on a single video management software solution along with the storage tools needed to save and share the videos.

The solutions varied in price with some coming in at a few hundred thousand dollars. But the group simply didn't have the money for these sorts of systems as they're all small businesses. What they really wanted was an affordable solution that they could test to see if it would even work and how it would work.

Businesses use existing ISPs/clouds

PhySecure offered them something totally different; a pilot project using each business' own Internet Service Providers (ISPs) so there was no network expense. They used Axis self-addressable high-definition cameras to provide excellent image quality. PhySecure ran these cameras on Secure-i's hosted video software platform which allows the stakeholders to access the videos through PhySecure's Web site. Nine separate cameras (facing risk areas) were placed outside business buildings around the plaza. Each camera is configured to tunnel through the businesses firewalls and stream to a remote data center. Because the video is hosted (stored in the cloud) it seamlessly brings all the video images together-tying the nine independent networks into one easy-to-use browser interface. Every user authorized to access the system is given a secure login by PhySecure and only those with access can see the images in real time or stored on PhySecure's Web site portal. The cameras have H.264 compression technology so that the large video files they produce can be reduced to a manageable and transferable size. The files can be accessed by a time, date, so they're easy to find. For some of the cameras, video footage is also stored at the edge (on a Network Attached Storage box) as well as in the cloud. NAS devices allow images to continue to stream even if there is an ISP failure. Images can be uploaded to the cloud network as soon as the power is restored. For additional security, Secure-i's platform enables PhySecure to stream video camera data at a high level of encryption, so customers can be confident that their video streams remain secure.

PhySecure was able to get the system up and running within just a couple weeks and the users were able to see immediate results. An added benefit of the system is that cameras can be moved from one area to another in the plaza or even placed elsewhere in city and can still be viewed through the same cloud platform, so the systems are expandable, movable and contractible. If a camera goes down for any reason, PhySecure receives an immediate alert and instantly addresses the problem.

Other benefits and pluses

In fact, PhySecure was able to point out to one of the company's that their cable provider had a faulty cable coming into their business. The company had complained that their ISP service would occasionally go down but the provider felt it was not their cable but something else. When PhySecure installed the camera, the lost connection alerts helped them (and the customer) justify new cabling to their facility, overall improving the company's connection for all their business needs. Before the camera was installed, the customer was unable to share with the ISP how many times the connection was dropping out. Often times, it was such a short period that they wouldn't know. But it is much more solid now.

Van Der Weide and Gordon of PhySecure both stressed that "the hosted system is what made the solution possible as it was both cost-effective and flexible, having a fixed affordable monthly fee and limited upfront costs. Without this type of technology, the association would never have been able to afford a system and they really needed to have safeguards and more protection." They also posted signs saying "the area is being monitored" which has helped deter crime as well. Since instituting the system the group has had requests from local, university, Iowa State and even out-of-state police looking for documentable evidence of crimes, right down to probation violations.

As expected, the system has brought up discussions about the pros and cons of public surveillance and privacy issues. But all involved in this project feel confident that the value out-weighs any privacy concerns.

Carol Enman is the managing director at Enman Strategic Business Initiatives-When Growth Matters, Portland, Maine.