Who’s on Deck?
Carolinas HealthCare System upgrades multi-story parking deck to achieve clarity
- By Fredrik Nilsson
- Apr 01, 2014
When nurses head home after a grueling 12-hour shift, the
last thing Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) wants them
to worry about is getting to their cars safely. The same holds
true for patients and visitors coming in and out of the busy
Morehead Medical Plaza (MMP) parking deck in Charlotte,
N.C. Hospital visits are often stressful, and CHS has made it their mission to
increase comfort and security from beginning to end.
While renovating the parking deck at MMP, CHS sought to create a video surveillance
system that would be a model of industry best practices. They strategically
deployed 150 HDTV-quality Axis cameras throughout the nine-story structure
that included placing discreet cameras inside call-for-assistance stations on every
floor and throughout the skybridge heading to the hospital.
The continuous, 24/7 video stream runs on a 3VR VisionPoint VMS video
management system housed in the adjacent hospital data center. Because the VMS
supports sophisticated analytic software, security investigators can quickly search
for forensic evidence by time of day or even by car color and license plate number.
This sophisticated surveillance technology is a huge step forward from the analog
system they previously relied on.
A Clear Need for an Upgrade
When the parking deck was first built, CHS installed a low-bid, analog system.
According to Don Wright, director of physical security for Carolinas HealthCare,
connectivity was often lost and cameras frequently went dark.
“The deck probably represented 15 to 20 percent of my service calls in past
years,” Wright said.
Image usability was another major problem.
“Crispness and clarity just weren’t available,” said Adam Adcock, systems engineer
for Carolinas HealthCare. “We might be able to tell that the vehicle was red,
but we probably couldn’t tell whether it was a Ford or a Chevy.”
And, in fields of view that included both shadow and sunlight, the analog cameras
just couldn’t deliver.
Reimagining the Quality of Surveillance
When CHS added three new levels to the Morehead parking structure, they took
the opportunity to revamp the entire surveillance system, as well. The goal was not
only to improve the clarity of video, but to ensure that the cameras were reliably
capturing the images that security investigators depended on.
“We decided it was time to take the worst of our campus and turn it into the
best,” Wright said.
With the help of SAF Technologies, a North Carolina-based security systems
company, CHS set about designing a totally new approach to surveillance.
“The layout involved placing an IDF [Intermediate Distribution Frame] network
closet on every third floor,” Adcock said. “This saved us a great deal of money on infrastructure
because we didn’t have to run long fiber pulls to each network camera.”
The new layout dispersed possible points of failure and created reasonable
service points for the system. In addition, the three-closet design would give the
physical security department the flexibility to implement changes as needed, if
CHS ever decided to make modifications to the deck configuration.
From the IDF closets, the video streams to a main distribution frame (MDF)
closet at the medical campus data center where it is stored on 3VR servers.
“Our networking folks love the low bandwidth consumption of our solution,
and our security investigation team loves the great images we get from the Axis
cameras along with the analytical data from the 3VR VMS, which allows us to
extract forensic evidence of any incident,” Adcock said.
Because the surveillance system shares the network pipeline with other hospital
data traffic, Adcock programmed the system to conserve bandwidth consumption
by having Axis cameras stream at one frame-per-second, when no motion is detected
in the field of view. When motion is detected, the frame rate is increased to
10 frames-per-second, helping the hospital save on video data storage.
Augmenting Ca ll-for-assistance Stations
Another innovation that CHS employed was embedding covert Axis network cameras
inside the emergency call stations placed throughout the parking deck.
“The stations allow anyone needing immediate assistance to speak directly to
a security communications dispatcher,” Adcock said. “The cameras let the dispatcher
see exactly who is on the line. It really helps the dispatcher better assess
the caller and the emergency.”
CHS chose the covert, HDTV-quality AXIS P1214-E Network Camera because
its discrete footprint fit well in the compact space, and the 720p resolution
delivered excellent facial details of the caller.
Keeping a Watchful Eye on Each Deck and Skybridge
For its surveillance workhorse, CHS chose the AXIS P3364-VE Fixed Dome Network
Camera. Rugged, HDTV-720p-quality, outdoor cameras cover the parking
bays, entrances and exits to each deck, and the skybridge to the main building. In
addition, CHS found the camera’s ability to process wide dynamic range (WDR)
scenes with dynamic contrast technology a bonus feature.
“We’ve installed the cameras in several locations within the parking structure
where the field of view crosses from inside the deck to the outside,” Adcock said.
“Without the WDR feature, we’d lose the image of someone walking from outside
into the deck or vice versa. It would be like they had disappeared because the lightwas so overbearing or the shadows so obscuring.”
“With our old analog cameras, we had so many washouts that anything looking
outside from under the deck was lost,” Wright said. “But, with wide dynamic
range [dynamic contrast], we can see the entire field of view throughout the day
CHS has embraced the Corridor Format capabilities of the AXIS P3364-VE
that allows video to record vertically in a 9:16 aspect ratio rather than a traditional
horizontal image. This feature is particularly well-suited for covering long rows of
cars found in a typical garage configuration.
“With our old analog cameras in horizontal format, half the picture was nothing
but wall space,” Wright said. “With our new Axis cameras in [Corridor Format],
almost the entire image is the corridor itself.”
Because of the improved coverage, CHS was able to replace every three or four
analog cameras with a single AXIS P3364-VE.
Leveraging the Best of All System Tools
Due to the seamless integration of the Axis cameras with the 3VR VisionPoint
video management system, CHS is able to fine-tune its solution on all fronts. Adcock
uses the 3VR system to control the compression format and frame rate as
well as initiate targeted searches for forensic evidence. He uses the Axis camera
tools to remotely control focus and zoom as well as optimize the balance for wide
dynamic range recording.
Using the intelligent 3VR system to manage different IP camera event triggers,
specific incidents can be logged so investigators can easily refine searches for
specific video clips by a number of parameters: timeframe, a portion of the image
frame and even a specific color.
“For instance, we can highlight the lower right-hand corner of the camera view
and search for motion activity that occurred in that area,” Wright said. “Or, if
we know someone comes into the field of view wearing a red sweatshirt, we can
program the system to search for that color in subsequent frames. This has really
drastically cut our search time.”
Taking advantage of the 3VR system’s license plate recognition analytic, CHS
positioned Axis cameras at entrances and exits to the parking deck to capture information
as vehicles stop at the gate to exit.
“We can go back and search for a particular license plate when a supposed
event occurred, or even track that license plate appearance over a longer period of
time,” Wright said. “The combination of advanced search tools and exceptional
image quality makes our investigators much more effective day by day.”
Appreciating the Pa yback from New Technology
“In this tight economy, we’re continuing to look for return on investment,” Wright
said. “Having Axis cameras that can self-diagnose [by using their internal Camera
Tampering alarm analytic] has been huge for us. We used to invest hundreds of
hours in officers making the rounds to verify that our help stations and cameras
In fact, Adcock programmed the system to send diagnostics directly to the security
director’s cellphone. So anytime—night or day—CHS needs to address an
issue in coverage, Wright can get someone out there to fix it before anyone else is
even aware. That not only improves the integrity of CHS’ surveillance coverage,
but frees security officers to focus on security tasks, rather than checking surveillance
“We are a regional healthcare facility looking to grow to a national
presence,” Wright said. “Providing the finest, state-of-theart
technologies and support for our healthcare services is our
mantra going forward.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Security Today.