TEN years ago when Melbourne’s Safecity Camera Program project was installed, public space applications of video surveillance technology were a novelty in Australia. At that time, Melbourne City Council was looking to use CCTV to provide a safer environment across a range of locations in the city centre. While the brief has not changed since then, video surveillance technology certainly has. When it was installed in 1997 the Safecity Camera Program’s CCTV system was cutting edge. A powerful Pacom 2030 switcher and keyboard combined with timelapse video recording and high resolution colour monitors gave control room operators plenty to work with. Along with the best end-to-end analogue gear available at the time, that original Safecity Camera Program system had 2 powerful elements. The first was Pelco’s just-released Spectra speed dome, a camera whose balance and functionality still serves as a benchmark for PTZs a decade later. The second key element of the Safecity Camera Program’s solution was a fibre cable plant installed in a star configuration that took advantage of council’s infrastructure to future-proof existing camera locations, arguably for the next century. It’s important not to underestimate the impact of all-fibre comms on the upgraded Safecity Camera Program installation. In 1997, with resolution capped by VHS recorder technology to about 220 horizontal lines, the Safecity Camera Program went with Fiber Options multimode fibre for 2 good reasons. The first was the potential for unamplified cable runs spinning out into kilometres. The second was a guarantee of unassailable signal integrity. While these reasons made fibre a no-brainer ten years ago, the Fiber Options cable plant hid another latent benefit – bandwidth. You need to remember that when the Safecity Camera Program system was installed in 1997, only a few long-sighted technophiles were able to perceive the industry’s networked future. Even then few could have conceived a future in which software-based management solutions offered the sort of performance some do today. Now, with that original fibre optic signal path mated to a powerful new DVTel NVMS head end, Melbourne City Council’s Safecity Camera Program solution is uniquely positioned to take advantage of its modern PTZ cameras with no need to choke performance in order to meet bandwidth restrictions imposed at the network switch. In performance terms, the DVTel-driven solution installed for Safecity Camera Program delivers 4 CIF at 25 frames per second on all inputs. Yes, that’s right. Simultaneous 4CIF viewing, recording and playback, all at 25ips and on all inputs simultaneously, over a network. This is not a huge system. There are 23 Spectra III speed domes and 4 fixed cameras in the Safecity Camera Program solution, with a further 2 speed dome cameras to be added within a month. But despite its modest size, the performance parameters of Safecity Camera Program’s installation set it above systems many times larger. Safecity Camera Program’s DVTel solution Like other high resolution, real time CCTV applications, Safecity Camera Program’s powerful analog system retained an end-to-end performance benefit that meant switching to early video management products was not going to be easy to justify. When running in networked environments many management systems are challenged by multiple triplex, high resolution, real time video streams. But in the DVTel Latitude NVMS supplied by Pacific Communications and integrated by SNP, Safecity Camera Program found a management system able to match its old system’s performance potential while far exceeding it in flexibility and functionality.The performance of the existing fibre network and Pelco Spectra IIIs is so good the upgrade at Safecity Camera Program relates entirely to the back end of the system. Video streams arrive on fibre, go through the Fiber Options multiplexer and come out onto RG-6 coaxial drop cables. These cables swing into racks of DVTel encoders where the analog video signal is converted to an IP data stream then carried into the network server to be accessed by workstations running DVTel’s Latitude Network Video Management System. Safecity Camera Program’s system functionality is built around the DVTel NVMS. While there are a range of modular components that comprise a DVTel solution, it’s the DVTel Latitude NVMS that brings all the physical components onto a graphical user interface giving operators full monitoring, recording, and analysis functionality. A neat feature at Safecity Camera Program is use of the GUI graphics package to build a street map complete with cameras icons that allows operators to skip through the cameras when chasing incidents in a highly intuitive way. Latitude NVMS also has features like virtual matrix providing camera sequences and switching of cameras to any monitors and there’s also instant replay, fast image retrieval; encryption of all the digital information and event-driven pop-up screens. While these features offer market-leading capability, the big deal with the DVTel system at Safecity Camera Program comes down to performance and here the DVTel system delivers in an environment of extreme traffic flow.Integrating control roomsCity of Melbourne’s upgrade to digital was timed to coincide with the amalgamation of 2 control rooms it had maintained in different locations for 10 years. The first control room allowed management and monitoring of the CCTV, access control and alarm systems that supports around 20 council buildings. The second control room was dedicated to the Safecity Camera Program system – the system we’re most concerned with here. Bringing these two 24-hour control rooms together in one location meant better sharing of resources and improved economies of scale as well as allowing enhanced leveraging of network assets including full UPS support. According to City of Melbourne’s Head of Security & Building Safety, Russell Lightfoot, two benefits have accrued from integrating both control rooms into a single location while ensuring the systems themselves remain separate. “The initial benefit for us is that there’s full redundancy between the two control rooms – if one fails we can use the other one to cover – Safecity Camera Program always takes precedence in these cases as it’s the more important system,” Lightfoot says. “The second benefit for the security department is the flexibility and power of the digital solution itself – it’s been a revelation,” Lightfoot explains. “We’re very happy with the way the system performs. It’s a lot easier for the operators and a lot easier on the eye.” “In the past we had a stack of monitors in the control rooms that were difficult for operators to see,” he says. “Now with the big LCDs we have total flexibility in the way screens are configured and in the event of an incident we can call up replays onto a single large screen.” Lightfoot says a huge benefit of the new digital solution from an operational point of view is the ease of searching for footage. It goes without saying that any search for images at Safecity Camera Program is governed by strict guidelines protecting privacy. Within these guidelines, however, a public surveillance system like Safecity Camera Program, installed in a major city centre, will always have a greater need for recall of images than a closed corporate solution. As Lightfoot explains, in the past control room operators had to plough through hours of torturous video tape in order to find incidents but no longer.“Thanks to the new system within a few minutes we can find what we’re looking for,” he says. Lightfoot says that a critical element for City of Melbourne is storage of video footage. “Part of the system’s protocols are that we have to retain footage for 28 days,” he says. “The RAID 5 system has been excellent – it’s far superior to the old way. We have 9 Terabytes of storage in a secure area with the entire system benefiting from the UPS backup provided by the network.“A key benefit of the upgraded Safecity Camera Program’s solution is the ability to replay an event immediately after it occurs while still monitoring live video – that’s a real strength of this solution – you can double check an incident while still keeping an eye on live video,” says Lightfoot. “It’s also made our lives a lot easier in terms of recovering information and verifying things that have happened. It’s definitely more effective and more reliable than what we had in the past. “Going digital has also meant the use of high resolution LCD monitors and Lightfoot says their image quality is significantly better and their operation much more flexible than CRTs could ever be,” Lightfoot says. According to Lightfoot, the Safecity Camera Program’s system has developed into a vital tool that within the constraints of the legislation governing its operation, is a powerful safety tool. “The system here is governed by an audit committee with very strict protocols regarding privacy – there are very strict rules controlling who gets to see images,” he says. “Within the guidelines these cameras have been a real benefit and a most effective crime prevention and safety tool.”Lightfoot says the Safecity Camera Program’s operators are very skilled with most having worked with the system for a long time – their experience enhances the system’s capability. “This experience gives them the ability to read scenes very accurately, to read body language and movements – they notice problems before they develop and this allows us to act quickly if required,” Lightfoot says. “There’s a communications link to the police, we can send vision to the police in the event of an incident and we also have a police radio so we can assist as incidents occur.” “We’re delighted with the digital system,” Lightfoot says. “We knew what we wanted with this upgrade and we got what we wanted.”Installation and commissioningInstalling and commissioning Safecity Camera Program’s DVTel system was SNP, a company with a long history in the security industry that in recent years has become a serious integration player. With a number of DVTel integrations under its belt, SNP was well positioned to handle the Safecity Camera Program’s solution. According to SNP’s Stuart Pitcher, the Safecity Camera Program’s system took about 6 weeks to build and install. “What we did was exploit the modularity of the DVTel solution to construct the system at our office as completely as it was possible to do,” Pitcher explains. “We then tested the system to ensure integrity and functionality. “We obviously don’t have dozens of cameras to plug into the system at our office but we programmed the system and got it up and running – it was basically plug and play at the point we brought it to the Safecity Camera Program’s control room.” As Pitcher explains, there was fine tuning in relation to frame rates and making sure the system was being backed up to the right place but overall he says it was a very smooth transition from the old system to the new, primarily because SNP’s technicians were able to set the system up and fully test it before taking it to site.“We had all the IP addresses right, all the encoders tested, everything was on line, the switcher was set up properly – the switcher alone has a lot of settings that need to be set up correctly before you even get started and that takes time,” Pitcher explains.“It’s like building blocks and that’s what made it possible to build the DVTel system in our office – you have a workstation or a server, you have encoders and a network switcher – it’s a very straightforward process though that doesn’t mean it wasn’t without challenges.”According to Pitcher, good relationships between the supplier Pacom, the integrator, SNP, and the customer and its consultant, were a vital element of the installation. “It was important for the supplier and service provider to work closely together on this otherwise we could not have completed the job as successfully as we have done,” Pitcher says. “SNP and Pacific Communications worked very well together.“It was critical that we were all speaking the same language – we needed to make sure we got everything right. We all sat in meetings together working with the client and the consultant to ensure that what they wanted, what they expected and what they were paying for was what they were actually getting.” Pitcher says the DVTel management solution driving the Safecity Camera Program’s system was pushed to its limits in this installation.“Obviously there are other sites with more cameras but in terms of the triplex frame rate and resolution this system is delivering there are few sites that can match Safecity Camera Program in outright performance,” Pitcher explains.“This system, in what it’s been asked to do in relation to frames per second on live, record, playback, with all this happening simultaneously across multiple inputs – it’s being pushed to the limits of current technology and beyond,” Pitcher says.“You expect that with video – it’s just so hungry for processing power when you want to do everything at the same time on all inputs. And what’s impressive is that the system was not customized – this DVTel solution is really powerful.“Because the DVTel system is so powerful you find yourself asking for progressively more and more, and expecting the system to deliver more and more – you keep pushing the limits,” Pitcher says. “With Safecity Camera Program you’ve got bandwidth, frame rate and reliability at the absolute extreme of what’s possible on a data network – that’s what integrating video surveillance systems is all about – this is the largest site I know of at this quality and at this frame rate.” Pitcher points out that high performance has to be backed up with reliability. “You can’t have a system this important falling over at any time let alone a critical time like New Year’s Eve,” he says. “The Safecity Camera Program’s system had to be bullet-proof to ensure zero failures.” According to Pitcher the biggest challenge with the installation was having the 2 systems running side by side at the same time during commissioning. “Council could not afford to lose any footage whatever. That was the biggest challenge for us as an integrator,” he says. By John AdamsEditor, Security Electronics & Networks Magazine