Musical Instrument Museum enjoys full symphony of benefits from its surveillance system
- By Laura Williams
- May 01, 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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,”
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,
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
“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
“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.
Laura Williams is content development editor for Security Products magazine.