Megachurch

Faith in Technology

Network video ensures safe havens for Missouri parishioners and guests

A U.S. soldier home on leave attends Sunday services in his uniform. Out of respect to the house of worship and fellow parishioners, he leaves his sidearm at home. However, as he enters the building, one of the Red Carpet Hosts—a group of 2,000 volunteer greeters and facilitators—notices the soldier's attire includes a military-issue knife.

After losing him in the sea of parishioners and guests, the volunteer immediately calls security to report the weapon. At the central monitoring station, staff scans the video footage and quickly finds images of the soldier entering the building. By piecing together stored video with live camera feeds, they track the soldier through the halls and eventually locate him in the stadium-size sanctuary. Church officials quietly approach him and ask him to remove the weapon from the premises. Chagrined at his oversight, the soldier leaves the building to stow the knife securely in his car and then returns to the prayer service.

While this incident turned out to be an honest mistake, it was proof enough to the leaders at James River Assembly that their investment in IP video surveillance was instrumental in helping administrators create a safe haven for parishioners and guests at its main building and satellite campuses.

Between the massive Ozark and smaller Springfield campuses, attendance at Sunday services generally exceeds 9,000 adults and children. Wednesday evening services draw another 2,000 attendees. For major holiday celebrations, that number can swell to more than 15,000.

As the second largest Assemblies of God Church in the United States and the largest church in Missouri, the James River Assembly and Wilsons Creek campuses originally installed an array of stand-alone analog systems throughout the buildings. But as the congregation grew into a miniature community with stadium-size auditoriums and massive parking lots, a multi-story classroom wing, gymnasiums, libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, outdoor playgrounds and a well-equipped fitness center, church officials soon realized that these discrete systems couldn't provide the coordinated surveillance such bustling centers of activity needed.

Overcoming Analog Limitations

Rather than simply discard the older technology, NetWatch, an IP surveillance provider based in Springfield, Mo., opted to network-enable legacy analog cameras with video encoders from Axis Communications so they could be used alongside more than 200 newly installed, higher-resolution Axis network cameras. The integrator chose a robust OnSSI video management system to unify the analog and network cameras, for its ease of use and scalability.

The existing fiber network and PoE capabilities simplified connection of the Axis fixed and PTZ network cameras. Some of the cameras feature day/night capabilities, which are especially useful for exterior surveillance of playgrounds and parking lots.

"The church's Ethernet network makes it easy to add and move network cameras or briefly relocate them to trouble spots as needed," said Matt Lackrone of NetWatch Inc. "This is why we recommended using a wireless network camera, equipped with motion detection."

NetWatch worked closely with James River to select cameras that would maximize the church's investment without compromising security.

"Eventually we'll be able to use fewer cameras to cover more area," said Todd Nicholson, director of IT for James River Assembly Church. "We've already put a single megapixel camera at the junction of two hallways to give us a broader, clearer field of view than the two analog cameras previously mounted in the same location."

With the increased video traffic on the network, NetWatch wisely leveraged a combination of efficient MPEG- 4 and advanced H.264 compression to allow the church to extend video archiving to up to 180 days.

"We're archiving more economically with consolidated server storage," Nicholson said. "When they were strictly relying on VCR and DVDbased legacy systems, video was only kept for a few days."

Coordinating Surveillance Between Campuses

Because the Wilsons Creek campus is located in an area that is not served by a high-bandwidth fiber network, continuously streaming video back to the main campus would have overloaded the pipeline. To compensate, NetWatch installed a local server at the satellite campus to store video and provide remote connectivity for both campuses.

Facilities managers and other authorized staff can view the video locally, and IT and operations staff at the main campus can remotely access the server to investigate questionable activity. If an alarm is triggered after hours, staff also can remotely access the video from home to determine the threat level and decide whether the situation warrants an on-site presence.

Keeping an Eye on Classroom Activity

Despite whimsical classroom names like the Butterfly Room or the Puppy Room, church officials take the safety and security of parishioners' children seriously.

"We do extensive background checks on our teachers, but parents feel more comfortable dropping their kids off when they know we have network video cameras in the classroom," said Kert Parsley, chief operations officer for James River Assembly Church.

Because the project involved so many classrooms, to keep costs down, Net-Watch network-enabled all the analog cameras already in place. In other classrooms, the integrator installed economical, fixed network cameras. NetWatch chose megapixel fixed dome network cameras for the hallways because they provided a wider, deeper field of view.

While the church expects the cameras to act as a deterrent, the staff also uses the video to investigate complaints. When a child tells a parent about an incident, the parishioners might call the church office for an explanation.

"With analog videotape, it took us hours or even days to track down an incident," Parsley said. "With network storage, we can pinpoint the event window in a couple of minutes and determine what really happened."

Converging Technology to Catch a Thief

When video games went missing from a common room last year, staff reviewed video from multiple network cameras to identify anyone who might have been in the area. They quickly narrowed their focus to a single possible culprit and easily identified the person because he had logged onto his MySpace page through the church's Wi-Fi network. They notified the local police who caught the thief and recovered the church's stolen property.

Other times, the network cameras have helped staff avert accidents on the playground or in the fitness room. "There are a lot of liability issues when you operate a fitness center," Parsley said. "We use the Axis cameras to keep horseplay to a minimum and to make sure people don't use the equipment for something other than its intended purpose."

Securing Buildings Against Trespassers

Though the campuses are used heavily on Sundays and Wednesdays, activity is minimal the rest of the week. To protect church assets when the buildings are vacant, NetWatch connected the network cameras to a sophisticated door alarm system. The exceptional clarity of the zoom enables church staff to verify that door alarms have been set properly when locking up for the night. The network cameras also help identify anyone carelessly tripping alarms when they used their card keys to enter the building. Since alarms automatically trigger a response from local police, who arrive at the scene expecting a break-in, the church is fined for false alarms.

"With the Axis network cameras, we can see who didn't follow procedures and fine the appropriate individual or the department," Parsley said. "Reviewing the video also helps the church see who needs a refresher course on how to properly disarm the alarm before starting the work day."

Temporary Surveillance for Special Events

More than 120,000 people attend James River Assembly's annual July Fourth festivities that take place in an open field about 10 miles north of the main campus. The all-day event, which includes games and activities for families, an aerial show, a stage concert and fireworks, requires months of planning; however, staff only has two weeks to set up the site.

"It's like building a mini-city in just a couple weeks' time," said Matt Lackrone. "It requires an amazing amount of electronics. Given the environment, we have to create a surveillance network that's both wired and wireless and can be monitored from multiple trailers brought onto the site."

To augment the 24/7 security patrols used at past events, NetWatch mounted several PTZ network cameras above the stage. Some 40 feet in the air, the cameras looked out at the crowd entering the grounds. Additional PTZs were mounted on the 20-foot speakers located throughout the pavilion. NetWatch also mounted an HDTV-quality fixed network cameras with an automatic day/night feature backstage to keep an eye on the expensive sound equipment.

"The PTZ cameras allow us to pan around the entire area and zoom in on every consequential tent—from concession stands and games to first aid stations," Lackrone said. "So we help the church keep an eye on the whole celebration."

Facing the Challenges

Because the James River retreat center is situated in a secluded area, its only Internet connectivity is delivered through satellite. In planning a surveillance strategy for this site, which also doubles as a summer camp for children, NetWatch will rely on wireless network technology.

"Many of the new cameras have built-in SD memory cards, so we'll be able to store recordings right in the camera," Lackrone said. "When the retreat center is active, onsite facilities and IT staff will be able to view the recordings locally. The challenge will be in creating a sufficiently robust link back to the main campus for viewing video remotely when the center is closed to visitors."

Serving a Higher Purpose

As the church fully transitions from analog to network surveillance, officials plan to use the video to enhance the resources they provide the community. Through video analytics, for example, they'll be able to count the number of people attending services, using classrooms and even working out in the fitness center.

"We think the analytics will provide us with valuable insight into where we need to channel staff and programs to best serve our community," Parsley said. "We'll also be able to use this information to guide decisions on renovations and expansion projects."

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