Sound Security

Musical Instrument Museum enjoys full symphony of benefits from its surveillance system

The Musical Instrument Museum opened in April of 2010 in a brandnew, 190,000-square-foot building in the north part of Phoenix. The space houses more than 10,000 artifacts from around the globe, making good on the museum’s mission of inviting the public “to explore and experience the rich diversity of the world’s music and musical instruments.”

Founded by former Target CEO Bob Ulrich, the museum displays about half of these artifacts at any given time in galleries organized by geographic origin. The collection is not simply an assembly of aging metal and wood, however; the galleries feature wireless technology and high-resolution video screens that show off the instruments’ sound, often in their original setting.

Some exhibits also detail how the instruments work, while others follow the construction process. The “experience gallery” allows a more hands-on approach:

Visitors can bang on tuned drums and strum guitars to their hearts’ content. In addition to the typical café, courtyards and gift shop, the museum has an acoustically engineered theater that ensures each of the 299 people it seats experiences high-quality music.

The Musical Instrument Museum’s collection also has some star power to it.

The very first Steinway, built in Henry Steinway’s kitchen in Germany, is on display, as is the piano on which John Lennon composed “Imagine.” The museum’s head of operations and public safety, Justin Karim, prefers a different piece, though. “I’d have to say Eric Clapton’s guitar is my favorite,” Karim said. “It’s named ‘Brownie,’ and we have that in our artist’s gallery.”

Karim oversaw the selection and implementation of the building’s security system, which employs Genetec’s Omnicast surveillance system with more than 200 IP cameras, most of which are from Axis and Interlogix.

The building’s security needs are extensive, beginning with the artifacts themselves.

“From a security standpoint, one of the challenges we face is that very few of the instruments are behind glass,” Karim said. “It’s a unique challenge, because the instruments look so inviting.”

Another goal, of course, is protecting the artifacts from theft, and not just by outsiders -- according to Karim, one of museums’ biggest concerns is internal theft.

In terms of regulatory compliance, the museum has little to worry about, but artifacts on loan come with their own security stipulations. “Essentially, the lenders dictate the security that we have,” Karim said. “Our security in the museum has to meet or exceed the most stringent item we have in our collection. That then acts as an umbrella over the rest of the items, securing them, too.”

Jeff Worcester, project manager at Cimatec, oversaw the system’s integration and added that securing the instruments in the event of a false alarm presented an additional issue. Someone intent on stealing an artifact could easily pull the fire alarm, which would unlock all the doors, as fire codes require, and escape through an unmonitored exit. “We had to...make sure that the system wouldn’t just allow someone to leave without giving an indication to the security guard that they were going to leave,” he said.

In addition to securing the instruments, the museum needed to monitor the point-of-sale areas in the gift shop, café and the box-office-like welcome area.

Before assuming his position at the museum, Karim was executive team leader of assets protection at Target stores, so he was familiar with these more commercial security requirements. That company had just retrofitted many of its stores with the Omnicast system, which is what led him to suggest it for the Musical Instrument Museum. “I was largely impressed with its capabilities just as a software platform to be able to deploy this system on such a large scale,” he said, “and so I felt that Genetec would be the best fit for this situation as well.”

Worcester installed the Omnicast surveillance system with a setup that includes more than 200 Axis, Interlogix and Pelco IP cameras inside the building, as well as GE IP and analog PTZ cameras monitoring the parking lots and surrounding area. He also set up two control rooms. One has basic access sufficient for entry-level guards to monitor the camera feeds. The other provides access to covert surveillance strategies and alarms used primarily as counter-measures against internal theft.

The museum was able to tailor the type of cameras it installed to fit with the atmosphere in each part of the building. In the galleries, it has deployed Axis’ m3014 cameras, which have a subtle, low-profile presence that doesn’t interrupt visitors’ experience. In the outdoor walkways and in the atrium, GE rugged dome cameras alert people to the watchful eye of a surveillance system. A few of the outdoor cameras on the museum’s 10-acre site were too far from the building to be incorporated digitally, so Worcester chose to install a few analog PTZs hooked up to a Verint encoder that makes those images accessible over the IP network.

In determining camera placement, Worcester also had to take lighting into account.

The theater, which is characterized by low, inconsistent lighting, has four Pelco 1.3 megapixel Sarix fixed-dome cameras that are designed to function better in low light. Thanks to ceilings full of skylights that let in the bright Arizona sun, the galleries are filled with natural light, which illuminates the artifacts well.

“It could be much worse,” Karim said. “The cameras have a great environment to operate in.”

Banking on the minimal maintenance that the Axis cameras require, Worcester installed each one in a tile of the galleries’ suspended ceiling. When the museum changes exhibits, a staff member can just pop out the tile and move it to a more advantageous angle. “What’s great about the model that we used is that it’s pretty much a plug-and-play; you don’t have to back-focus or anything,” Worcester said.

“As a result, they don’t have to call us for focusing or really anything at all.” Karim said that the museum staff really likes the Omnicast system. Particularly useful, he said, is the ability to grant different access levels to users based on their login credentials. This allows the security department to differentiate between, say, an entry-level guard and a police officer investigating an incident.

Senior staff can even access the system remotely.

Another feature Karim praised is Omnicast’s bookmarking ability, which allows guards to click on an area of the video to plant a marker indicating the beginning or end of an incident. When a supervisor needs to review the occurrence, he or she simply pulls up a list of the bookmarks and, with a click of the mouse, pulls up the exact spot in the video. “They’re so useful that we actually reference them in our internal reports,” Karim said.

Worcester said his clients usually have similar reactions to the system.

“The customers always seem to be happy, and it’s fairly user-friendly -- anyone who’s run a Windows program before can pretty much figure out what they’re doing with it, and it gives you pretty detailed control on how to manage it, as well.”

The system has helped the Musical Instrument Museum resolve a number of incidents in the past year, the most basic of which occur on a daily basis. Visitors touch instruments at least 20 times a day, Karim estimated. Guards monitoring the cameras identify when such infractions occur and notify other guards stationed throughout the building, who can then instruct the visitors of the proper etiquette for the museum.

Not only does this protect the instruments, Karim said, but it also allows the museum to cut its staffing costs.

“Because of the effectiveness of our security control room, we were able to cut our need for security staff by one-third,” he said. When an incident occurs, “one person can be intelligently dispatched instead of having guards just statically planted in every gallery.” It has been a boon to resolving lifesafety incidents as well. “We have a lot of elderly people visit the museum,” Karim said, “so the minute we see someone kind of stumbling, then sit on a bench, we send a guard over there to see if they’re OK.”

The system also has enabled the security staff to resolve more serious incidents, such as catching and intervening in several attempted vandalism incidents and preventing unauthorized entry into employees-only areas.

In one particular incident, staff used the surveillance system to track a potential thief off the grounds and onto a bus. Security staff members then called law enforcement, directing them to the suspect using the bus identification number.

“The system is fantastic,” Karim said. “We are using Genetec to its potential.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Laura Williams is content development editor for Security Products magazine.

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