Here Comes the Sun

Megacenter harnesses solar power to illuminate parking lot collections

Lady Gaga, the Dallas Stars, the Dallas Mavericks and parking lots might seem like strange bedfellows, unless you’re heading to the American Airlines Center to watch a concert or game. By the time the striking, high-tech facility with the signature arches in downtown Dallas celebrated its 10th anniversary in July 2011, 26 million people had gathered at the world-class facility to see their favorite athletes and entertainers.

Most of those guests and attendees of events held since then drove to the arena, so they required a safe, convenient place to park. The center obliged by providing approximately 9,000 parking spaces at eight lots and a garage within walking distance, where drivers have two payment options: buy pre-paid parking passes or pay cash. At parking rates of $10 to $30 per vehicle per event, that’s a significant revenue stream.

Fast forward to 2012. While the center had a mechanized system to count cars as they enter the garage and parking lots, it was difficult to compare the number of vehicles with the amount of revenue that arena employees collected. Joe Heinlein, American Airlines Center’s IT director, turned to perimeter security to illuminate the problem and determine whether all the cash collected was accounted for.

“We just wanted to get a better handle on what was going on in those lots,” Heinlein said. “There’s a lot of cash out there, and the parking areas are spread out. We wanted greater security for both customers and venue employees, while gaining better visibility of parking lot collections to compare vehicle counts with parking revenues.”

Heinlein called Rick Matoy, CEO of Global Security Integration, which had worked on an inside security project at the center three years ago. After researching products on the market, Matoy recommended MicroPower Technologies’ Helios solar wireless surveillance system to provide parking lot and perimeter surveillance.

Based in San Diego, Calif., MicroPower Technologies Inc. is a privately financed, solar-powered, wireless camera provider.

“I had just heard about this new product. It seemed to fit the bill for the center by providing answers to questions that I call “the weird and the wonderful,” Matoy said.

End-to-End Design

Because the peripheral parking lots for American Airlines Center are not owned by the facility, their availability can fluctuate like Dallas weather in winter. For example, Lot F won’t be available after construction begins there this summer, so it was critical to have a solution that was mobile and easily adaptable if a parking lot could no longer be used.

“Because the parking lots are covered in asphalt and cement, trenching and running cables was extremely cost prohibitive. That was one of the things we really had to take into account,” Heinlein said. “Did we want to dig up the ground? Did we want to run power? Did we want to run Ethernet to these locations, only to find out that in six months everything is going to change?”

After moving from Southern California to the Dallas area nine years ago, Matoy recognized a need for solar wireless surveillance in the deer hunting community. “Deer hunters wanted cameras with solar so they could look at deer while they were feeding, but there was nothing available,” he said.

By the time American Airlines Center contacted Matoy, there were some solar wireless perimeter security systems on the market. But he concluded that many were too complicated because they were comprised of products from different companies.

“It was much too involved,” Matoy said. “What l liked about Micropower is that they’re building everything. It’s a complete system designed to work end to end.”

“We basically go from camera to the VMS,” acknowledged Aaron Tankersley, MicroPower Technologies CEO and president. “We’re still the only company that I’m aware of that actually has an entire system that is designed at the system level and works. It’s not cobbled together from products from different companies.”

Low-power Cameras

A camera that requires a low amount of power is key to creating a successful solar wireless surveillance system, according to Tankersley.

“If you’re putting together your own solution, you can take a typical camera and add a wireless transmitter to it,” he said. “The camera is 3 to 5 watts and the wireless transmitter is 3 to 5 watts, so you’re somewhere in the 5- to 10-watt range. Our system, which has been designed from the ground up, is half a watt for camera plus the transmitter. The camera is designed to be ultra-low power.”

That allows a MicroPower camera to use a small battery and solar panel to power it. The charged battery is effective for five days, which enables the camera and system to be used in locations that have cloudy, colder weather.

“We see cameras charging in the rain with no problem,” Tankersley said. “We have seen the cameras work through December and January in Massachusetts. Dallas can have pretty severe weather, but the system works through the winter months there, as well.”

In April 2012, GSI and MicroPower began installing 13 Helios solar wireless cameras at access points around the American Airlines Center parking lots. The system includes five hubs that run the cameras and a main monitoring station in the garage, where the director of parking can keep an eye on security and revenue collection.

The system had its challenges, which included cell phone interference from thousands of guests using their mobile phones simultaneously. “When you have a camera that is 500 yards away from the building, and 25,000 people arrive at a parking lot with all their mobile phones looking for a Wi-Fi signal, you have a very challenging, noisy RF environment,” Tankersley said.

Since installing the system, American Airlines Center has seen its parking lot revenues increase. “It certainly changes behaviors when employees know there’s a possibility that their actions are being watched,” Heinlein said.

The system has also increased security for guests and employees of the center. Let the sun shine in.

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Security Today.

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