VMS in Action: Monitoring the Second Presidential Debate

May 15, 2013
A networked surveillance system had all of Hofstra University covered as the world watched Obama and Romney trade barbs

In the weeks leading up to the 2012 town hall-style debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, a security team that included the Secret Service, along with New York state and Nassau County police were busy installing systems to ensure the safety of the candidates and attendees. However, with just a month until the live debate, hardware and network issues troubled the installation, and a system design and correction was needed.

The second of the three presidential debates, held in a town hall meeting format at Hofstra University in Nassau County, N.Y., was less than two hours in length, but the time spent to ensure the safety of the candidates, students, volunteers and surrounding areas added up to thousands of man hours. Hofstra was informed of its nomination to host the presidential debate in 2010 and by mid 2012, the preparations had begun.

The university’s 600-acre campus includes numerous buildings and is accessible from a major highway. With such a large campus, the Secret Service, in cooperation with Nassau County Police Department, New York State Troopers and university security, were required to proactively address any possible threats. An intricate security surveillance system was determined to provide the President’s dignitary protection detail the best tools to monitor crowds, buildings and the candidates.

The Nassau County Police Department turned to systems integrator EIA Inc. to solve the technical issues plaguing the temporary security surveillance monitoring solution. The firm had less than a month to complete the integration of a 46-surveillance camera network to monitor surrounding roadways, buildings, crowds and staging areas.

“Working with the electronic surveillance squad and university security in the weeks leading up to the debate, we were able to deploy cameras on numerous buildings throughout the campus and feed them into the comprehensive surveillance network,” explains EIA vice president Glenn Taylor.

Dome and bullet cameras covered all angles surrounding the presidential debate stage, the roads leading up to Hofstra, the buildings on campus and the crowds outside of the event location. The cameras were networked through the Milestone XProtect Corporate video management software (VMS), which enabled multiple mobile viewing stations connected to 46 camera feeds before, during and after the debate that provided authorized security and law enforcement personnel clear and detailed views of the crowds and areas surrounding Hofstra University.

The Milestone solution connected the cameras through Wi-Fi over one network, so each command center and mobile user was able to view any or all cameras as needed.

Going Mobile – Ground and Air Surveillance

Each building on the Hofstra campus has its own IT network, but is controlled by the university’s parent network. To build the elaborate security network, the 46 cameras of the event’s temporary security system were fed through the already installed parent IT network points. Through a Firetide wireless mesh system and failover network, all of the buildings and associated cameras were available to the police through secure firewall access.

The entire operation was headquartered in a security operations center, with multiple mobile command centers strategically placed outside the Nassau Coliseum and in a fallback zone off campus. The deployed system included 29 Sony SNC-ER550 Full HD Rapid Dome cameras with 1080p HD, 19 Sony SNC-CH280 Network HD 1080p Bullet cameras with infrared illuminators, an Arecont Vision AV20185DN 20-megapixel panoramic IP camera and a Direct Insight Node camera.

There was no limit on camera location: they were installed on bridges, telephone poles, light poles, along the Hempstead Turnpike — everywhere. Even a helicopter flying over the event was equipped with a high-definition camera to provide another view of the surroundings.

“There were so many things going on – the helicopter in the sky recording a super-high-definition, broadcast-quality video, being pushed down through a very expensive camera, then recording it in Milestone, which presented a finished product seen in six, seven or eight viewing stations,” Taylor explains. “We were able to serve it to anyone who was involved. When I look at what we went through from a technical point of view and to have the ability to get everything up and running without a hitch...it was impressive.”

Mobile carts were constructed and rolled into the event a day in advance. The police used Milestone’s XProtect Mobile Client with Video Push for officers to use from their smartphones. Plain-clothed officers monitored the crowd from within using access to the surveillance footage.

The officers in the field were able to create additional camera views by using the Milestone Screen Recorder and web service. The police fed high definition video back through smartphones with the Milestone Screen Recorder, enabling the command center to retrieve it from a PC and run it through the VMS on the fly for live viewing during the debate.

Patrolling the Debate

With the infrared, high-definition and thermal cameras deployed, the team manned their individual posts for the arrival of President Obama and Governor Romney. Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas V. Dale was stationed in one of the mobile command centers on a three-screen setup – one screen to watch the debate live, and the others with access to the other 46 cameras.

The incident commander for the event was stationed in front of a touch screen monitor, able to access and control the camera feeds in an instant.

A few minor incidents were captured during the event — they did not pose a direct physical threat to the President and governor, but did result in arrests. One protest group was streaming live feed to its website from campus. The group was linked to a watch list for the debate and the police monitored the live feed in the command center. Another situation included the Green Party Candidate, who was removed for protesting at the debate and heading a group that blocked streets and sidewalks. The command center was able to monitor that protest and make the appropriate call when it became a disturbance.

“Many of the police officers monitoring the debate and surrounding areas were not IT guys by trade, so it was important that we had the user-friendly interface to ensure there were no user error issues

When the event concluded, the cameras were taken down, but the Nassau County Police plan to redistribute them to problem areas throughout the county. 

RESOURCES: Request more information about the companies mentioned in this article

Arecont Vision: www.securityinfowatch.com/10215742

EIA Inc.: www.securityinfowatch.com/10745861

Firetide: www.securityinfowatch.com/10215806

Milestone Systems: www.securityinfowatch.com/10214397

Sony: www.securityinfowatch.com/10215743