It’s a given in Australia that councils do not install video surveillance in town centres without a lengthy process of consideration. These systems represent a substantial investment and there must be a clearly identified need for CCTV monitoring as well as an expectation of tangible social benefits.
Another key issue for councils is putting together the necessary partnerships with local police. In many successful applications, councils and state governments are responsible for funding public surveillance systems while police are responsible for day-to-day monitoring and management. In my experience, it’s a symbiosis with a powerful practical precedent.
Not surprisingly then, this is the nature of the public safety system installed in the network of bustling streets that make up central Footscray. This colourful area has a demographic that comprises multiple waves of freshly-minted Aussies from many corners of the globe.
It’s a fast-growing area with a plethora of new infrastructure initiatives mid-build. And it’s an area whose law enforcement officers are in an arm wrestle with what seem to be standard-issue challenges for any non-gentrified retail precinct in every big town’s inner ring – public drinking and drug dealing.
While Maribyrnong City Council had been thinking about installing a public safety system in Footscray for many years, it was a spike in the number and severity of such incidents, pressure from business people and the public, and the initiation of plans for serious redevelopment of the area that pushed this CCTV solution over the line.
It was decided cameras would be installed at 16 locations in the major pedestrian areas of Nicholson, Paisley and Leeds Streets.
“We are installing these cameras in response to community concerns about safety in Footscray,” Cr Sarah Carter, Mayor of the City of Maribyrnong, announced as the project began.
“Community consultation held in February gave us a strong sense of community support for this initiative and the feedback we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Consultant IPP was involved at all levels with this project right from the get-go and IPP’s Bob Firth says Maribyrnong City Council was careful to look into the research around CCTV and figure out what the system might and might not be able to do before making a decision.
“One of the things we did when we were first engaged was talk through how CCTV actually works and whether it’s a deterrent or if it’s more for collecting evidence,” he explains.
And Firth says that something interesting happened when IPP first put out the open tender.
“About 40 or 50 companies came to the briefing to express their interest but as they began to understand the nature of the project many companies self selected out of contention. This was a reflection of the difficulties the winning tenderer faced.
“It was not just coming up with an effective solution for a competitive price. There were logistical challenges including working with power companies, a tram company, Maribyrnong City Council, Victorian Police, VicRoads, VicTrack, suppliers. For many this was simply too daunting.”
Firth says IPP only had broad guidelines of what the system was expected to do.
“This was a design and build tender and we left it up to the market to come up with the best solution and this had to have minimum specifications – had to store for a minimum amount of time, had to cover certain areas and we separated areas into low, medium and high priority – there were certain areas we wanted to cover more than others – high traffic areas and high crime areas.”
Standing out front of Footscray Police station with IPP’s Bob Firth and David Xuereb of SNP we wait for Maribyrnong City Council’s representative to arrive. We’ve just had a peek at the control room in the station and checked out the network room (more on these later) and the Council rep is to accompany us on a walk-through of the retail precinct itself.
When our Council representative arrives and greets the boys, it’s obvious that Council, IPP and SNP have formed a highly committed team in the course of designing and installing the Footscray Public Safety System. As the chatter goes on it’s clear they all feel a strong sense of ownership for this system.
As we set off on a foot-tour of the Footscray solution I start to realise that while CCTV is often installed for no official reason, the Footscray Public Safety System has a definite purpose.
According to Council, the main objective of this system is to improve perceptions of safety. Figures show there is a real mismatch between perceived levels of safety and the actual levels of safety in the suburb. But there is still a real safety issue in Footscray – the reality here is that there is crime.
Other objectives of the system reduce anti-social behaviour, disrupting the street based drug trade, supporting proactive policing to ensure timely and consistent police responses and to help gather evidence to support police prosecutions of crime. It’s a concrete requirement demanding a capable solution and not surprisingly, Maribyrnong City Council has been thinking about a public safety surveillance system for some years.
Between 2003 and 2007 Council had entertained the idea and had commissioned studies but had never gone through with it. Then in 2008 Council developed a Public Drinking Strategy and one of the actions associated with this was to: “Examine recent research to assess the utility of CCTV cameras in addressing problems associated with public drinking.”
At the same time crime in Footscray escalated. There has been a drug market in Footscray for many years but the things associated with that – levels of related crime, negative perceptions of safety – all started to escalate. There were been robberies, assaults and some other more serious incidents. There is also a lot of ongoing state government investment in Footscray so it was seen as a critical moment to do something to address the issues.
In principle support was given in April 2010 and from there IPP was engaged as consultant and, after a formal process, SNP’s solution was nominated as the winning tender. Council then signed off on the model solution in December 2010.
Funding came from the Department of Planning and Community Development and Maribyrnong City Council. Total cost of the project was just under $1.1 million – DPCD put in $400,000 and Council put in the rest. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems Council got a lot of performance for its money.
As part of the long term process a public drinking law introduced in 2003 decreed the centre of Footscray as being an area people are not allowed to drink alcohol. This bylaw is enforced by the police and the CCTV allows them to keep an eye on trouble spots. Signage highlights the use of CCTV in the area.
As we walk around the shopping area you can readily see the challenges facing police. It’s a large shopping area with many lanes linking adjacent streets and carparks. Finding trouble here could prove very challenging.
Part of the fun of these site tours is getting a look at the electronic security hardware installed in the field and I can only this is one of the nicest applications I’ve seen. The 31 Axis cameras are mounted in 16 separate locations – many of the locations posing individual challenges of their own relating to install and power delivery.
The installers have done a nice job fitting all the hardware onto the poles while maintaining fields of view and sight lines for the FireTide mesh wireless. The work in the field is exemplary. With this much gear, you could excuse a bit of untidiness but the SNP boys have done extremely well in Footscray.
Footscray’s system is built around Genetec Omnicast 4.7 video management, Axis cameras and off-the-shelf servers and switches. Omnicast is the heart of system offering full monitoring, recording and replay of multiple inputs in a polished and powerful management solution.
Omnicast 4.7 is the latest version of Genetec’s IP video surveillance solution. A key with this installation is that Omnicast 4.7 makes it possible to trickle video from edge devices. Video trickling leverages the recording capabilities of the edge devices (IP cameras and encoders) by providing the ability to choose and transfer the video from the edge on demand and store it in Omnicast for long-term archiving.
This new feature allows for increased recording reliability, bandwidth usage optimization by only transferring video of interest at the right time, and the opportunity to lower costs of remote-site recording by going serverless. At Footscray, Omnicast is supporting local SD recording onboard the Axis cameras in support of a Dell storay array in the network room.
While SNP has installed a classic IP solution at Footscray, this system has a nice twist. The sparkle comes from an encrypted Firetide wireless mesh that links 31 cameras at 16 camera mounting points throughout the shopping district. It’s a given that hardwire or fibre comms infrastructure is vastly expensive especially if there’s side boring or trenching under paved public areas involved. SNP cleverly got around this with Firetide.
In terms of performance, Firetide has the stuff. Leveraging 802.11n MIMO transmitters, this mesh solution has a bandwidth of 400Mbps – plenty for the demands of a solution this size. A key aspect of Firetide is that signals travel to the rooftop node via multiple signal paths giving network redundancy as well as resistance to interference. Redundancy is the key. The way the network is designed, there are 2 parallel paths for every video input so if there’s interference on one path the signal just switches across to the other.
The nature of the system was mapped out but not constrained by the functional specification of consultant, IPP. This specification requested HD imagery and an IP backbone but IPP’s Bob Firth says the specification was fluid and left the solution open to the creativity of integrators tendering for the job.
“Council was very clear on what it wanted – it did not want us to select camera locations but instead wanted this to be market-driven,” Firth explains. “As a result, IPP put together a whole bunch of functional requirements around the system down to the point of each street area where we wanted coverage.
“Our specification said we wanted the system to be able to identify people within at least one location within that area, to be able to monitor at least 85 per cent of the area or 50 per cent of the area depending on the priority of the area – that’s how Council wanted us to do it – to spec it out functionally, not to have a camera here and here.
“Additionally, Council wanted 99.9 per cent reliability but whether the backbone was wireless or fibre they did not say – again they wanted the market to come back and propose solutions. IPP then evaluated the tender responses that came back in, according to our function specification and value for money and once it was determined which solution best met Council’s needs and budget we worked with SNP to find the design that they proposed.”
IPP specified HD video, ease of recording, ease of accessing images and multiple workstations and this guaranteed an IP solution. The system installed comprises 31 Axis cameras – 7 Axis Q6034 PTZs and 24 P1344 and P1346 fixed full body cameras. The PTZs and half fixed the cameras operate at 720p while the other half of the fixed cameras are 1080p. All inputs are displayed and recorded at their native resolutions and at 12 frames per second using H.264 compression.
The networked side of this system is handled by that Firetide mesh at remote locations with images carried to a wireless node on the roof of the Footscray Police Station. The Genetec Omnicast management solution is installed on 2 workstations in the police station control room and another in the duty room. Omnicast is a proven solution and the interface is clean and easy to navigate – it’s a good match for these Axis cameras.
Things are relatively simple in terms of network design once signals get back into the station. The CCTV network is completely separate from the police network – it’s not a subnet but stand alone. As a result, this solution is made up of surprisingly few components. Video signals captured by the wireless node are cabled down to a rack in the network room. In the vertical rack are a UPS, an off the shelf Dell storage array in a single box dishing up a chunky 24TB of storage – plenty even with HD quality recordings.
“There was no police IT involvement,” says Firth. “Police have outsourced providers and their desktops are very tightly controlled so we brought in our own workstations for this system so as to avoid their general system processes. There are workstations, a video wall in the control room and a workstation and large displays in the Watchhouse.
“However, Police IT are currently investigating the creation of an email gateway to enable images to be emailed from within our network, creating an electronic audit trail, and reducing the need for copying to CD or USB.”
IPP’s Bob Firth says that before cameras were installed each street segment was prioritised and this priority guided decisions on where cameras were going to go – in this way having an influence on the area in which the cameras needed to be installed.
“We worked out which locations would give police and council the best observation points for what they wanted to achieve. We did not specify the locations – that was up to the integrator – but we specified the general fields of view.
“In this installation we selected quite a few fixed cameras because initially the police were concerned they would not have the resources to man the system all the time,” Firth explains.
“As a result, police wanted a lot of coverage in order to get footage of as much as they possibly could all the time – that meant megapixel cameras. However, it has turned out that police use the system heaps and are always driving the PTZs and now they are saying they need more PTZs.”
Responsible for making it all happen was team leader, David Xuereb, business support manager, electronic security at SNP, as well as a number of SNP technicians. Part of the SNP team was engaged in manufacturing components in the SNP office and there were 3 SNP techs on the road. In addition, there was a separate electrical contractor whose team included a further 4 staff.
Despite the strength of the installation team, this was a challenging solution from an integrator’s point of view. Most specifications map out the nature of a video surveillance system clearly – requesting specific technologies, decreeing fundamentals, the system is more than half designed.
But the brief from Maribyrnong Council simply asked for an end-to-end solution with the winning tenderer handling system design and layout, planning, system engineering and any related civil works. The specification was deliberately loose and constituted a test in itself. Complicating matters was the imperative to negotiate use of assets owned by Yarra Trams and electrical utility, Jemena.
By nature, this was a high performance system. As a rule you’d need local switches and fibre to shunt 720p and 1080p HD video signals around the landscape. But given the modest budget, lack of existing infrastructure and the fundamental changes taking place at Footscray due to infrastructure investment, fibre was not an option.
Instead, SNP’s tender suggested installation of a high performance wireless infrastructure capable of delivering multiple transmissions of real-time HD video – that meant a mesh solution. As an additional fall back in the event of wireless failure or interference, the solution needed to offer recording at the camera. That meant an integrated SD capability as well as a system design able to handle SD failover seamlessly – that’s where Omnicast comes in.
The physical installations themselves posed challenges. Cameras at Footscray are pole-mounted on shared infrastructure and are powered directly from utility cables above. Some are located beside busy roads, others above pedestrian crossings where scissor lifts would disrupt foot traffic. There are cameras in pedestrian mall areas, cameras outside retail outlets and there are people everywhere. Not only this, there’s a huge scope of works underway in Footscray and that meant fitting in with operations that were outside control.
According to Xuereb, despite these challenges, the team did not take long to get the system completed once the design phase was concluded.
“We pretty much had the system all deployed and commissioned and operational in 3 months,” he says. “We needed to do some sweet talking of utility companies to get power on in such a short period of time so in the end it was a concerted effort between all parties. We also put in the Genetec Omnicast management system.
“From the point of view of the surveillance management solution, it was the engineering that took place prior to the installation that gave us the insight to get everything configured correctly so it just went in and worked. The engineering is always the trick.
Xuereb says the secret to this job is the wireless mesh network.
“You can buy an Axis camera and Genetec Omnicast and install them in a building very simply but getting a solid RF backbone in this environment in a short period of time is far more challenging,” he explains.
“Getting the system right was about engineering first and then adjusting and tweaking to get best performance. Conditions you don’t always see can cause unexpected problems with RF but a lot of thought went into the solution. When it comes to Firetide, we have invested a lot of time with this product – it’s a proven product.”
Another area that required special attention was recording.
“There’s some tricky archiving at Footscray because we do local recording at the camera on an SD card – the camera is known as the primary device and the server in the network room is the secondary archiver. We also have a failover archiver and failover storage as well. We trickle from the SD card in the camera to the archiver if we lose communications.”
According to IPP’s Bob Firth, once installation was complete the commissioning of the system was staged to fit in with other work going on in Footscray.
“There are some existing works going on in Leeds St near the station which involves renewing that area, putting in lighting, resurfacing the footpaths and building a new tram stop,” he explains. “Because we had cameras going in down there certain elements of our system like power supply were tied up in that project’s timeline.
“As a result we split the project in 2 and commissioned half then waited for the other half to be completed in line with broader works in the area before commissioning that. A lot of mutual co-operation was required.”
Firth explains that one of the things the team did manage to ensure was that the crews handling the renewal projects installed conduits to the system’s camera poles so that in the future it will be possible to install fibre at minimal extra cost.
“We’ve taken the opportunity to do this even though we are using wireless and overhead power – the fibre will allow us to significantly expand the capacity of the system in the future. We will continue to use wireless with fibre as the backbone. The wireless mesh is performing extremely well in this system.
“In fact, the original design had a fibre backbone running down to Leeds St and over the railway line but because a major State Government project involves partial demolition of the bridge over which our fibre would have run and the introduction of a whole new railway line we chose to wait.”
There were a number of additional challenges with this system, a primary one being serious time constraints. It may have taken a long while to come to the decision to install CCTV but once that decision was made the pressure was on to get the job done.
“The decision to install CCTV took a number of years but we needed to work much faster than that,” explains Firth. “We did not appoint SNP until the beginning of March and the system had to be completed by June 30. The installers were scrambling. As usual there were significant lead times that applied to paperwork relating to particular actions so it was a big deal getting everyone working together to make things happen in time.
“And this project required some engineering – it was not one of those projects where you go to a supplier and get some boxes, bring them to site, screw them to the wall and run cable. This was a site that actually needed genuine engineering with RF, working with the various poles, the power companies and the different bits and pieces to get the solution to work. SNP had to put in a lot of hours to design and engineer a solution that would fit the bill – they really put in a lot of effort.”
Power was another major issue. The local power utility is Jemena and given the unorthodoxy of the request – to pull power direct from unmetered cable runs – and Jemena’s tough OH&S standards, getting the company on board was no easy feat.
“The power company had a lot of processes relating to ways they required things to be done, we had to sign many liability agreements to be allowed to do what we did,” Firth explains.
“We are sharing their poles and drawing power from those poles. We have 2 different types of power – some are direct from the overhead and in others, if Council already had a supply for lighting then we’ve used that through a meter.
“The power from the overhead supplies is unmetered so we had to negotiate a unit rate of $x per month. It goes without saying that there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing by SNP and ourselves in order to get things resolved within the high pressure timeframe.
“A key breakthrough in this negotiation was when police called up and explained the situation. Essentially they said ‘this is a system we are really going to use and we’ve programmed in resources to manage the system. But if we can’t get power from the poles all those resources will be wasted’. When Jemena realised how important it was to police, they quickly got onto it.”
Firth says hardware supplies went well but because of the Japanese earthquake there were some questions over the lenses.
“Getting lenses was a bit touch and go but suppliers scrambled and moved stock around and made sure we were covered. We did hit the June 30 deadline, which was a really impressive effort from SNP and everyone else involved.”
Getting a look at the setup at Footscray Police Station was a real eye opener. As mentioned earlier, this was the first part of the system I saw and my immediate reaction was to applaud the image quality. At Footscray you really get an appreciation of the capabilities of HD cameras teamed up with HD displays.
At this point we all know the backbone is a Firetide wireless mesh but when I walked into the control room, I had no idea Footscray had gone RF. The performance of the system was so good there was no indication of wireless paths. In fact if I’d been told the system was fibre I would have believed it. My positive impressions of the system were backed up by Det Snr Sgt Brendan O’Mahoney of the Victoria Police.
“Yes, the system is awesome – we couldn’t be happier with it – it’s excellent. And we still get good colour footage from the system at night – enough to ID people depending on ambient light,” explains O’Mahoney.
“The performance is well and truly above what we expected when we started thinking about CCTV. The image quality is great – fantastic. We can get useable images at 400-500 metres – if we had something happening at that range we could still use the footage.
“Car regos we are getting clearly at 200-300 metres. The system is intuitive – very easy to operate. At night you get the colours – and depth of field is good, too, depending on ambient light.”
O’Mahoney says this solution is a great support for police on the ground.
“It absolutely helps police officers on the ground,” he says. “It certainly increases our efficiency on day-to-day duties. A few weeks ago an incident took place on a corner that I could see on the CCTV system – one of our vans was at another job, the other was over the other side of Maribyrnong.
“When a job description came over the radio I looked at the corner in question and the person was gone. This meant instead of the van driving from one side of the district to the other I could write the job off straight away. That’s a great benefit to us.”
O’Mahoney is matter of fact about regular serious incidents the system allows police to respond to more efficiently.
“The other great thing is that during night shift when our officers see groups of people come together and there’s finger pointing, pushing and shoving, they can start getting vans heading towards the incident.
“Before they arrive the altercation has developed into a proper brawl and by the time our vans get there they can assist victims and arrest the offenders. These are jobs that happen at 3am that would never normally be solved – the parties don’t know each other, you only have a rough description of persons.
“With this system we have all the evidence – we don’t even really need statements – just details of the injuries to the victim and then away we go. If it’s required, we can present video footage at court.”
According to O’Mahoney, there’s a memorandum of understanding with Council as to the overriding principles of the system – there are standard operating procedures that come under that umbrella that provides guidelines as to how police can and can’t use footage.
This covers a key capability of the system – that it allows easy export of images for authorised use by police.
“One of the requirements was that we be able to export facial images for import into the police facial recognition software – iFace,” Firth explains. “Police export files as bitmap and can run them through their database of known offenders so they can see if a suspect is already on file. This was a requirement that increases the system’s ability to streamline police investigations.”
There’s no doubt in my mind the public safety system at Footscray has made an impact and the end user – Victoria Police – has come to rely on the system to assist in all parts of its daily operations. Officers in the control room and the watch house can have immediate and high quality views of key locations across the area – seeing in seconds what it might take a patrol an hour to ascertain.
It’s obvious that the police are very happy with the system but the other group of people who are very happy with the system are local traders. They were a loud advocacy voice to Council in supporting the installation of these cameras. It’s a busy shopping area during the day and they clearly want customers to feel safe.
Has the safety system, worked, I ask our Council rep?
“We think it’s too soon to say yes at the moment,” she explains. “There are some signs of displacement of crime from areas under surveillance but this is a small amount of activity. We think it’s too soon to tell. We do have a very extensive evaluation framework and in time we will get the full picture.”
Meanwhile, Firth says police in the control room have said since that the system has gone in, if they get a report of something happening, the first response by police on patrol is to call the station and say, ‘we’ve had this report, what’s on the cameras – guide us to where the action is’.
“The first instinct is that they don’t want to waste time but want to get to the correct location as quickly as possible,” Firth says.
“Operationally the system is saving them heaps of time. The police use this CCTV system as a tool – they think of it as an extension of what they do – an arm of operations like a remote patrol capability.
“After all the work, we have a great system that everyone is happy with and that works as it should. Having HD images is a great strength of this system. You get a nice wide shot and the quality is very good – we’re very pleased with what’s been installed in Footscray,” Firth says.
My reaction walking around the streets of the suburb, with its layers of old and new and its polyglot signage is that it’s very nice to meet a proactive surveillance solution that is working with law enforcement officers to increase security and safety in a real community. Too often, systems are reactive and fail to meet the expectations of owners.
A few business owners approach to greet us as we walk about Footscray photographing the CCTV installation and they are clearly pleased with the system and happy it’s working to restrict anti-social behaviour in their suburb. An intense ownership of the system and a strong sense of engagement typify the feelings of every person I speak to here. In a very real sense, Footscray’s public safety system is a concrete expression of the will of people who care about this town.
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