Faith in Technology
Network video ensures safe havens for Missouri parishioners and guests
- By Fredrik Nilsson
- May 01, 2010
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
NetWatch worked closely with James
River to select cameras that would
maximize the church's investment without
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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