Smooth Sailing

Auto ferry runs a tight ship with intelligent video surveillance solution

Harsens Island is a remote island town with a population of less than 2,000, located 25 miles northeast of downtown Detroit. Each summer, Harsens Island is transformed into a vibrant vacation destination with bustling shops, bed-and-breakfast hotels and restaurants. During the winter, the island all but shuts down, save for the essential businesses and stores that remain open for the island’s full-time residents.

One of these essential businesses is Champions Auto Ferry, which provides round-the-clock transportation to and from Harsens Island across the St. Clair River.

“There’s only one way to get to Harsens Island from mainland Michigan, and it’s Champions Auto Ferry,” said David Bryson, owner of the transportation system. “Champions has been providing ferry service to island residents and visitors since 1937 when my grandfather started the business. Even the harsh winters and icy waters don’t stop us from operating.”

Challenges Both Big and Small
Champions operates four ferries, each with the capacity to transport up to 100 people or 12 automobiles. With departures as often as every 15 minutes, the volume of passengers and cars poses a challenge to track and manage, particularly during peak season. Additionally, the small staff sometimes has to quell rowdy passengers.

“We see the typical behaviors that any transportation service would see,” Bryson said. “Sometimes people simply act up or have had one too many beers and we need to address it for the comfort and security of the other passengers.”

To better monitor the number of cars being transported on the ferries, and to ensure a safe and relaxing environment for passengers, the company sought a video surveillance solution that would record transactions and activities, and serve as a reliable backup if particular incidents needed further examination or investigation.

Champions also needed a video surveillance system for another crucial reason. Because of Harsens Island’s proximity to the Canadian border, many Canadians, as well as non-Canadians seeking illegal entry into the United States, visit the island and mainland Michigan.

“There is no official port of entry into the United States close to Harsens Island,” Bryson said. “Once Champions became aware that unauthorized people could be entering the United States via our ferries, we wanted to help minimize the situation. Being able to capture the images of everyone traveling on the boats and provide this footage to the authorities, if needed, was of paramount importance to us.”

A State-of-the-Art Solution
For cameras to be installed on the boats, Champions needed an IP video surveillance solution that would run on a wireless mesh network. Bryson turned to Data Consultants, a system integrator specializing in video surveillance and wireless mesh technology.

“Champions already had a legacy surveillance system in place,” said Joshua Bylsma, a physical security consultant for Data Consultants. “It was an outdated VHS system recording with old blackand- white cameras. It had obvious drawbacks: poor image quality, unreliable VHS tapes and poor field-of-view coverage. With Champions’ 24/7 operations, we needed something that provided highresolution images in an outdoor, day/night environment.”

Data Consultants recommended the VideoIQ iCVR intelligent video surveillance camera with built-in digital recording. The iCVR is an all-in-one product that includes a state-of-the-art wide dynamic range day/night camera, an embedded DVR, powerful analytics and video management software. The camera had everything Champions was looking for in a video surveillance solution, including the ability to automatically capture critical events at the highest frame rate and quality, while continuously recording everything at a lesser quality to maximize storage. And because video is stored in the camera, network requirements are minimal.

“The minimal bandwidth and storage requirements of the iCVR made it a great choice for Champions, particularly because of their need to record 24 hours a day and operate the cameras on a wireless mesh network,” Bylsma said. “Because the iCVR stores all video at the edge and the analytics are performed at the camera itself, it was possible for Champions to have cameras on both the mainland and island while providing room for installing additional cameras and systems on the wireless network in the future.”

Data Consultants worked with Champions on the camera installation, which took about a day and a half to complete.

Grander Plans
Once the cameras were up and running, Champions was impressed with the iCVR’s powerful event-detection capabilities that instantly notify them of any potential threats, including intruders or vehicles on the property. Additionally, the iCVR allows Champions’ staff to easily find transactions or activities that took place during a specific day or time.

In the future, Champions plans to deploy a special iCVR application that automatically counts and reports to the network the number of vehicles traveling on the ferries, which will save Champions considerable time, energy and expense in their daily auditing procedures. Champions also intends to install more iCVRs on all of its ferries and on the property, providing a comprehensive surveillance solution that protects them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the entire company.

This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Security Today.

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