The Olympic Challenge

Securing major events more complete using distributed IP video surveillance

The major security risk at any large sporting event is people. Such gatherings not only attract fans, but also criminals, traffic chaos and potential terrorist attacks. Video surveillance is therefore a key component of the integrated security solution at these events.

Enabling multiple agencies and operators to view high-quality video from key locations and to quickly identify potential problems and incidents is fundamental to the smooth operation and security of any event. The only technology capable of reliably and cost-effectively supplying such a surveillance solution is distributed IP video.

IP Video Architecture
Choosing the correct IP video architecture is fundamental to a surveillance system that has to monitor huge areas with multiple remote sites and offer multi-agency access at any location. And just because a surveillance system is based on digital network technology, it doesn’t mean the architecture is suitable.

The scale of the problem can be seen from the system deployed at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

There were 63 command centers with 1,250 operators monitoring 47 venues spread out over an area of 100 square miles. Operators worked for many different agencies, each with their own interest in the video feeds. Law enforcement, emergency services, military, traffic management, coast guard and local security all required, to some degree, access to all or part of the system, and every operator had to be given unique access rights to particular components. This provided a high degree of redundancy, ensuring control could be transferred to any of the other centers should any command center become inoperative.

It is clear from the Athens example that a truly distributed IP video system is required.

So what is meant by a distributed system? One way to explain a distributed system is to look at the alternative -- a system that is centralized.

Many IP network surveillance systems are based on centralized architectures, and they have some major drawbacks for large mission-critical applications. In these types of systems a central control room houses the overall site database on a central server and video recording servers. Every camera and workstation in each remote location must regularly, and in some cases continuously, communicate with the central office in order to check for changes and updates in the site database. This includes checking for valid licenses or storing and recording alarm data.

A centralized architecture has four major drawbacks:

Cost. All users continuously communicate with the central office. On a LAN that means buying expensive high-end switches, and on a wide-area network it means using up precious bandwidth.

Reliability and resilience. What happens when the WAN or LAN breaks? Remote users can be left stranded with no access to the live and recorded video from cameras that are actually located locally to them on a working LAN.

Single point of failure. What happens if the server hosting the site database fails? All users of the system rely on access to the site database -- for example, to get login credentials verified or license permissions checked.

If the site database server fails, the whole security management system goes down.

Scalability. As more cameras and users get added to each remote site and as more remote sites get added to the network, everything gets congested. The local LANs, WAN links and central server all get congested coping with increasing levels of traffic while checking for site database changes, valid licensing and storing recordings and alarms.

So for large sites, such as the Athens Olympics, the system needed to be distributed. In a distributed architecture each remote video management workstation keeps a copy of the overall site database. Configuration data does not change very frequently. This means the information can be synchronized between the central server and the remote workstations, either according to a managed schedule or on-demand when a change happens.

In the event that the central server, a LAN switch or the WAN fails, users at workstations can continue to work using their locally cached site database.

Similarly, rather than continuously streaming recording and alarm data back from the remote sites to the central site across the WAN, it is much better to keep the data locally on the LAN. One or more local NVRs at each remote site can reduce traffic across the WAN and allow users at the remote sites to access recordings and alarms even when the WAN is not available.

Dual streaming also can be deployed by the cameras, enabling a low-resolution stream to be transmitted for live viewing and a high-resolution stream for recording. This way, evidential forensic quality video is available for post-event analysis. Being able to distribute NVRs to the edge of each network improves redundancy and resilience.

Wide Area Surveillance
The ability to deliver high-quality video over very large distances is again a fundamental requirement for an Olympic-caliber surveillance system. The issues with long-distance transmission of video are network bandwidth and latency. If too much bandwidth is required to deliver the video, then a costly network infrastructure is required. This will also lead to high-latency, such as a delay in the video transmission. This makes it difficult for operators to smoothly control camera PTZ movement remotely over large distances.

The key to overcoming this is to deploy the best compression technology. There can be significant differences between vendors’ IP video solutions, which often comes down to how well the MPEG-4 or H.264 compression standards are implemented. The data rates from different manufacturers’ cameras can vary significantly -- as much as 5 or 6 times higher -- even when comparing cameras implementing H.264. This not only has an impact on network bandwidth, but also on NVR disk storage.

This issue becomes even more important when considering megapixel HD video. HD cameras can provide much greater detail, allowing faces and license plates to be easily identified. They also offer a larger field of view, enabling a single HD camera to replace a number of standard-definition cameras.

As part of a major upgrade program and in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Canada Border Services Agency installed 500 HD IP cameras, the largest HD IP video system to be deployed at the time, to monitor its customs operation on U.S.-Canadian border crossings and at Vancouver Airport.

Using wireless Ethernet bridges and low bandwidth transmission of video to extended networks in areas that would be costly or impossible to reach with network cabling is an established solution, particularly in widearea surveillance applications.

Multi-Vendor Integration
Video surveillance is often the system most used by operators working in an integrated environment, so it’s important that the IP video solution be able to offer excellent alarm-handling features and a seamless interface to integrate third-party security systems across IP networks.

In preparation for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality located in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa installed an integrated security solution. The metro area is home to more than 1.3 million people, covers an area of 2000 km, and includes the towns of Uitenhage and Despatch, together with Port Elizabeth, which was a host city for the competition.

The integrated security system includes surveillance, access control, intruder detection, perimeter security and fire detection.

The systems are fully integrated across a 1 GB LAN running on a fiber backbone, with wireless network links for more remote sites.

The system also provides services such as IP telephony and intercoms.

Integration of various systems across an IP network provides the user with powerful tools for managing the security environment.

Alarms from one system can trigger an action in another. For example, an access control alarm from an illegal door entry can cause the nearest camera to be panned to a preset position and the video feed automatically displayed to the operator.

Often, traditional analog surveillance systems in satellite venues or existing transport infrastructures already exist and budgets aren’t available to upgrade these systems to IP video. However, the flexibility of IP video allows these systems to be easily interfaced to the wider surveillance system, creating a hybrid solution.

Analytics and Alarms
The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, deployed a 500-camera distributed IP video system for its surveillance. As with any large monitoring project, it was important to provide tools that allowed operators to prioritize and manage the many hundreds of video feeds they were responsible for.

In Turin, video analytics were used to automate the low-level scene monitoring functions, freeing the operators to monitor higher risk areas. This could simply have been motion detection or more advanced functions, such as virtual tripwires, abandoned object detection, congestion detection or counterflow monitoring.

The analytics were processed in real time at the edge of the network in the IP transmitter modules that were connected to the analog cameras. When the analytics function triggered an alarm, the security management software automatically alerted the operator and displayed the appropriate camera feed on a spot monitor.

Alarms from other third-party systems also can act in the same way as analytics, automatically triggering actions in the security management software. This cause-and- effect allows the system to operate in what is known as a “black” or “dark” screen monitoring mode, where video is displayed only on alarm. The result is quicker incident response and a more overall efficient surveillance operation.

Regeneration
Regeneration is an important issue for any modern games. Re-using the investment in new sporting venues, athletes’ accommodations and transport, and regenerating the local area, is a key outcome for the organizers.

The IP video system has its part to play in this, due to its flexibility. A distributed network surveillance system allows any component -- video management workstation, camera or NVR -- to be located on any part of the network. This also means that it is easy to change the configuration of the system after the games as use of the facilities changes.

Local authorities also can expand on the systems left behind after the event to further enhance security in their area, as was the case in Stuttgart, Germany, following the 2006 Soccer World Cup.

Using an IP video solution, Stuttgart extended its existing analog surveillance infrastructure to provide central monitoring for the city’s transport network in a 20-mile radius around the existing football stadium.

The surveillance inside the stadium also was updated to IP video to provide a totally integrated solution that delivered continuous high-quality, full-frame-rate video to several control centers around the city. After the World Cup, Stuttgart expanded the system further by adding additional cameras to the network for the monitoring of tunnels, roads and pedestrian areas.

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Security Products.

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