Historic Southern City Upgrades to High-Tech Traffic Management

City of Savannah creates safe, welcoming environment for residents and visitors with IP video

Savannah, Georgia is a study in contrast. As the state’s oldest city, it was founded long before the American Revolution. Yet, beneath its cobblestoned streets lies 38 miles of fiber optic cable, evidence of a metro-region firmly rooted in modernity. Touted by national and international press as a trendy travel hot spot, nearly a million visitors per month flock to the city for music and cultural arts festivals, business summits, creative cuisine and to experience a place where southern hospitality has been raised to an art form.

Because this quaint, historic city was never designed to handle such a large influx of people and cars, managing traffic and safety through a congested maze of one-way streets was a real challenge. Attempts to redirect events at one intersection often caused a cascade of traffic jams elsewhere in the bustling downtown area. Savannah realized that they needed a force multiplier to proactively manage event traffic in real-time. Their initial foray into video-based traffic management occurred in 2004, when the city strategically installed a handful of analog cameras on buildings to help police monitor roadways during the G8 Conference.

Relying on DVR recordings, however, proved to be an awkward proposition. The next year, Savannah used Axis video encoders to stream the cameras to the city’s data center. They also added seven AXIS 213 and AXIS 214 PTZ network cameras, with wireless connections at police headquarters. The city integrated the cameras with OnSSI’s Ocularis VMS, replacing less-intuitive legacy recording software.

Every subsequent year and as budgets permit, the city adds more sophisticated Axis camera technology. Today, more than 25 Axis cameras—including a mix of AXIS Q60 PTZ Series and AXIS P33 Fixed Dome Series cameras—dot the Savannah landscape to monitor roadways and buildings, entertainment venues, parking garages, community centers, cemeteries and landfills. The majority of the cameras stream video to servers in the city’s data center while a few of the remote facilities maintain standalone servers connected to the city’s wide area network so that police can remotely access the live cameras and stored video as needed.

“We’ve found Axis cameras to be really durable and simple to set up,” said Mike DiSanza, network technician in the IT Department for the City of Savannah. “They just plug into the network via PoE switches. We like how easy they are to custom configure. Plus, you can adjust the focus and field-ofview remotely.”

The IT Department noted that with H.264 compression of the video, the city is able to use storage resources far more efficiently.

Keeping Traffic Flowing Like Dyed-Green Water From a Fountain

Each year, the city of Savannah hosts one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States, with more than a million spectators attending the parade. Axis network cameras play a key role in helping officers manage the crowds.

“We really appreciate the big picture the Axis cameras provide, especially on heavy traffic nights like St. Patrick’s Day,” said Lieutenant David Gay, special events officer of the Savannah/Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.

AXIS Q6032-E PTZ Dome Network Cameras mounted on telephone poles in key, downtown intersections give police and traffic engineers in the command center a 360-degree view of the area. As garages fill up and downtown parking becomes scarce, the police department notifies the public through social media to seek parking elsewhere.

During the celebration, police are sometimes forced to close major roadways due to surges in pedestrian traffic. Rerouting these vehicles can cause significant congestion elsewhere.

“Savannah’s layout involves a number of one-way streets which really complicates any large-scale effort to control traffic,” Gay said. “Our Axis cameras help us in real-time to understand the big picture, how rerouting vehicles at one intersection will impact traffic throughout the downtown area.”

The video allows the police and traffic departments to coordinate the timing of signal lights to accommodate the ebb and flow of pedestrians and cars, as well as when it is safe to reopen normal routes. As a result, outings to the downtown area have become more pleasant, safer experiences for residents and visitors alike.

“We actively monitor the cameras so that when we see the pedestrian surges subside, we can immediately reopen the street and alleviate the congestion,” Gay said.

Real-Time, Integrated City Security

Though the cameras were first installed for traffic management, their use has grown over the years to include public safety operations across the city. While camera access is typically restricted by the municipal department, the metropolitan police can access all city-owned cameras. The access to this real-time video helps them to synchronize their efforts when protecting city residents.

“It’s been huge asset for our SWAT team,” said Jason Pagliaro, emergency management liaison for the city of Savannah. “Having that situational awareness immediately at hand can be a real life saver.”

The video evidence can also be crucial for investigating incidents, especially if they occur in big crowds or during dynamic events. If the need arises, the police can push video from any camera to mobile devices in the field.

Interdepartmental Cooperation Yields Results

Savannah’s success with its video surveillance system is due to a collaborative effort between law enforcement, the IT department, traffic engineers and others.

“The police and traffic engineering folks pick the locations and IT coordinates the process,” said Damien Hoffman, network manager in the IT department for the city of Savannah. “We look at the network connectivity challenges, arrange permissions for camera placement and determine how to get power to the site. Then it’s just a matter of implementation and configuration. The system wouldn’t exist as it is without the close relationship between departments.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Security Today.

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