To See Or Not To See

Council on Aging incorporates innovative 'eyelids' for cameras

Privacy was an immediate concern when the Council on Aging in Marshfield, Mass., sought to install a video surveillance system. Seniors who use the community center balked at the idea of being watched as they participate in activities throughout the day. However, at night when the center is closed, video is needed to provide evidence or clues in case of a theft or break-in.

Additionally, the Council on Aging is used as an emergency center when nearby residents need a temporary haven during bad weather or other emergencies, and video surveillance at those times can help ensure safety and efficiency. An innovative solution was delivered with the integration of Panasonic cameras with privacy-protecting “eyelids” from SituCon to block camera views at times when surveillance is not critical.

Privacy and Protection Coexist

Marshfield’s Council on Aging provides a central mechanism to deliver services and activities to the town’s elder population. Recreation activities range from exercise and weight and strength training to bridge, crafts, knitting, coffee hours and educational seminars. Beyond recreation, the council also provides services such as diabetes support groups and income tax preparation.

In the coastal community about 12 miles north of Plymouth, Mass., homes are often threatened by extremely high tides and flooding, which require residents to seek refuge for several hours until the situation improves. When these residents need a place to go, the inland and geographically protected Council on Aging can be made available at a moment’s notice.

If 100 or more people gather to seek refuge in the Council on Aging building in case of an emergency, video surveillance can enable law enforcement and administrators to monitor the environment and keep tabs on any safety concerns. Availability of live video footage allows the town to staff the center in emergency situations with only two or three people rather than seven or eight, saving on costs.

In the Blink of an Eye

At the Council on Aging, four Panasonic cameras are located in the interior of the building—in a dining room, in a function room, in a hallway outside the computer lab and near the main entrance and front office.

The four indoor cameras are integrated with SituCam privacy- protecting housings that feature mechanical eyelids that open and close to limit camera views to the times when surveillance is needed. When the eyelids are closed, privacy is ensured. The integrated SituCon system can automatically open the eyelids, activate the cameras and start recording during an emergency, according to a predetermined schedule or based on an operator’s command.

Panasonic i-PRO SmartHD WV-SC384 HD network cameras provide PTZ control, auto-tracking of 720p high-definition images and full-frame 1280x960 pixel video at up to 30 images per second. The cameras are connected to Marshfield’s Milestone Systems centralized recording solution, which is accessed using a town-wide fiber-optic network. Easily controlled PTZ also enables monitoring of specific areas without placing everyone present under surveillance.

The eyelids open to provide surveillance at night according to a programmed schedule, or dispatchers can override the system and activate the cameras. Managers can activate the cameras during the day if they are needed, for example, to view an aerobics class to ensure the elderly clients remain healthy despite the exertion.

Part of the Whole

The cameras at the Council on Aging are part of a larger system that operates throughout the town of Marshfield—a system that incorporates an emergency response capability in a variety of public buildings and facilities. This SituCon Emergency Awareness Solution enables any public employee—from administrators to librarians— to signal an emergency by pushing a button worn on a lanyard around his or her neck. Within three or four seconds, these emergency buttons provide the person’s name, his or her location on a floor plan of the facility, additional critical information and real-time video of any cameras viewing the location.

At the Council on Aging, when a staff member activates an emergency button it, in turn, activates cameras and opens privacy eyelids, enabling viewing and capture of real-time video. All information is relayed automatically to police, who then have firsthand situational awareness of an event as it unfolds. The video is available on wireless networks, so it may be viewed anywhere. In addition to improving officer safety, the additional information is a force multiplier.

Several other town facilities also use the SituCon privacy eyelids, including the town hall, library, recreation center and airport. The privacy-controlled cameras are used in locations that otherwise might not be deemed appropriate places for surveillance because of privacy concerns. For example, a camera watching a meeting room might discourage open conversation. However, if a town hall meeting were to get out of control, immediate camera surveillance is available by opening the cameras’ eyelids.

Quiet operation ensures the eyelids can open without drawing attention in case of an emergency situation. Cameras also cannot be used in classrooms, nursing homes or other places where constant surveillance is not tolerated.

“We don’t need to record 24/7,” said Paul Taber, Marshfield’s police lieutenant and emergency management director. “Now we have a capability to put cameras in areas, such as office locations and day care centers, where we would not need or want surveillance during operation but might need cameras if someone breaks in at night or in an emergency situation.”

SituCon enables Marshfield to expand the locations where they use surveillance cameras without triggering privacy concerns, union issues or contractual problems.

Taber remembers when an out-of-control meeting caused a town official to push his panic button, which opened the eyelids to allow video to catch an image of those creating the disturbance as they left the building.

“Should there be a situation where police need to look inside a building before going in, such as a hostage situation, we can see what’s going on,” Taber said. “This capability is taken into account in every drill and exercise and in every emergency situation. It’s all about using your resources wisely. With the economy the way it is, we have to work smarter. Our cameras protect officers when they are walking into a potentially deadly situation.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Del V. Salvi is a freelance writer based in New York.

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