Security Goes Full-Throttle

Dec. 12, 2011
Megapixel cameras capture all the details at the world's largest biker bar

If you are a motorcycle buff, then there’s a good chance you may be tuning into the latest episode of Full Throttle Salon, a quirky and bit raunchy series based on the watering hole in South Dakota that launched its latest episodes this month on truTV. Michael Ballard’s Full Throttle Saloon is billed as the world’s largest biker bar and there’s plenty that goes on during business hours at this raucous bar.

The challenge remains for a landmark biker magnet like Michael Ballard's Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis, S.D. to sort the bad apples from the good—both the bikers and the bartenders.

One way to do that is with high-quality security camera images. After all, having an image of a thief or a getaway vehicle that is a gray blur will not help the sheriff catch the bad guys. It is imperative that faces be seen and license numbers be read. For the second year running, Full Throttle used IQinVision’s HD megapixel technology to safeguard millions in assets and improve crowd control during the legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. But every year, the task of handling security becomes more complex.

Business booms and so does security

Full Throttle Saloon is not your neighborhood mom-and-pop bar. It has 300 on-site staff, flows millions of dollars in cash and has a huge parking lot and property to protect.In addition to protecting its own interests, the saloon provides critical information to law enforcement as the 71-year-old Sturgis Rally continues to grow in popularity.

“If you can’t identify the people or tie a license number to a vehicle, then what good is your system?” asked Jeff Haase, owner of Spearfish, S.D.-based Clearwater Security and Investigations. He installed a system that gives the saloon high definition overviews of staff and customer traffic patterns, cash theft mitigation and property security. Those images have to be printable for distribution when needed.

“Imagine trying to simultaneously keep an eye on 30,000 visitors and 100 bartenders,” Haase continued. “You've got to examine each transaction, follow the cash and make sure that Mr. Ballard's money goes where it’s supposed to.” The suite of indoor and outdoor cameras the saloon deployed allows them to digitally pan, tilt and zoom in so close that they can literally count each bill that is placed in the cash register.

“As the bar has grown, so has my responsibility,” Haase continued. Nine years ago, Ballard called Haase in to resolve problems with the bartenders and missing money. On top of that, profits were being drained by double- or triple-pours of costly liquor. Later, the scope of the security monitoring expanded to include just about every area of the property.

“With the IQeye cameras, we’re able to slice through the massive crowds—better than floor security staff—to isolate problems and track cash as it moves from bar locations to the onsite bank,” said Haase.

The project started small with two-megapixel cameras at the bank. There are dozens of barmaids and bartenders working every shift. Each brings a sealed money bag to the cashier’s window where the money is counted under the watchful eye of a high-resolution camera.

For the 2011 rally, the Full Throttle Saloon expanded their surveillance system by adding new IQeye Sentinel five-megapixel day/night cameras for extended range and better support in low light situations. The Sentinels are designed to cover more ground, provide more detail, and better serve the security and surveillance staff during nighttime operations.

Making it work

Two stories this summer point to the success of the system. In one, a bartender’s bag was $200 off from what she wrote on her chit. The woman insisted she had not taken any money. By reviewing the high-resolution video with her, Haase was able to see the denomination of every dollar bill, every quarter. Turns out she took in $911 but wrote $711, keeping the difference. The video clearly showed her with $911 and just as clearly showed her writing $711 on the paper. However, everyone was satisfied with the accuracy of the camera and the high-resolution photos solved the mystery.

In another more troubling case, a counterfeiter was passing bogus money at Full Throttle. The bartender was able to identify the person on the video—quick enough that Michael Ballard was able to spot the bad guy on a different camera as he left the building. The counterfeiter was quickly nabbed by security.

Such projects are right in Haase’s roundhouse. Haase, who holds a degree in criminal justice, started in business 30 years ago providing security for Sears stores, catching shoplifters. He moved up to internal employee theft monitoring, always working with cameras.

Today, when working a register theft case, he guarantees 100 percent that the case will be solved or the thefts will end.

Working for owner Michael Ballard at Full Throttle Saloon was a natural move. Don’t let Ballard's dreadlock hairstyle fool you—he is a savvy and sharp businessman.

“About four out of five businesses fail because they get stolen from and bars are close to the top of the list," noted Ballard. “This system, this level of technology, is worth the investment—it has paid for itself each year.”

The cameras monitor the large crowds at the saloon, identify threats and isolate them by deploying ground security forces quickly and accurately.

“I’ve been installing IQinVision’s cameras for five plus years,” said Haase. He confirmed he puts in a lot of research to get the best cameras for his clients. “I research things to death,” added Haase. “But when I’m done, I’m loyal to the vendor.”

Haase emphasized the need for high resolution in security applications. While the Full Throttle Saloon started out with two-megapixel cameras, they have upgraded to 3.1-megapixel and five-megapixel units. In addition, they are expanding coverage to the backstage area and other key perimeters.

System particulars and value-adds

In addition to the cameras, Haase installed a Vista Networking Solutions (VNS) server to run the system. But managing the network of cameras would be impossible without the right software, Haase pointed out. Milestone Systems’ software, which matrixes the video on the cameras, is the solution that makes it all possible. “Milestone software connects all of our surveillance cameras together, allowing us to choose what camera view we want to zoom in on,” Haase said.

Over 10 terabytes of crystal clear images are stored and can be recalled as necessary for law enforcement, internal documentation or insurance purposes. There are eight 27-inch monitors watching everything in the saloon. Some look at the overview cameras. Others provide a quad view of the bank. The doors typically are monitored on a split screen.

But it is not all about crime with the high-resolution system. Typically, Ballard will notice lines forming outside one door or another. He is able to direct personnel to move people to other entrances or to resolve a bottleneck and speed customers to revenue-generating locations. And the employees are well aware that there are cameras everywhere—cameras both protecting and watching them.

“The fear factor is pretty good,” Haase laughed, noting that it is easier to be honest when someone is watching.