LAX gets it

LAX Gets It

New stakeholders take surveillance technology to new heights

LAX Gets ItEarlier this year when discussing the state of the surveillance industry, Axis Communications’ North American General Manager Fredrik Nilsson was quoted as saying that some historically all-analog vertical markets have completely shifted their focus from “Why IP?” to “Which IP?” This apt sound-bite was re-quoted, re-used and retweeted by a number of people throughout the industry.

The story behind the quote originated in an internal discussion about the transportation market, specifically airports, railways and ports. With hundred- to thousand- camera systems covering vast areas and disparate facilities—coupled with the security department’s need to have high-quality video at their fingertips at all times—today’s network video solutions are the only logical and cost-effective choice.

This IP shift has had a ripple effect on the sales and installation process in the transportation surveillance market. With these massive IP-connected systems being installed across an entire organization, new surveillance stakeholders are emerging at the planning table, creating a team of decision-making experts.

It’s no longer the security department making the majority of the decisions. And, since we’re moving to all-IP technology, the IT department is heavily involved.

The new security installation at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) epitomizes this IT trend and is a model example for the industry to follow.

The Future of Flight

LAX is the sixth-busiest airport in the world—third in the United States—and is operated by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). In 2011, the airport served more than 61 million passengers and today runs upwards of 600 flights daily through almost 75 air carriers. The cargo shipped alone per year is valued at around $85 billion.

According to LAX, the airport is undergoing a $4.11 billion capital improvement program that covers everything from new high-tech gates to receive latestgeneration aircraft to upgraded retail and restaurant outlets. Enhanced security is a major part of this investment.

LAX’s existing security systems did not meet the need of law enforcement and operational staff, was technologically obsolete and, maybe most importantly from an operations perspective, were a burden to support, said Dominic Nessi, deputy executive director/chief information officer for LAWA. Therefore since 2010, LAX has been replacing three of its most critical applications to improve its physical security posture: expanded video surveillance, upgraded access control and a new badging system.

One of LAWA’s main goals with the security upgrade was to provide public safety, operations and maintenance with systems and technology that could be upgraded as needed to help them manage the entire airport efficiently and effectively. This is where the scalability benefits of IP video played a major role.

Captain, Co-pilot and the Entire Crew

But before LAWA made any technology decisions regarding the new security system, it did an extensive review to set proper expectations about wants, needs, musthaves, desires and goals. Included in these discussions were the airport director and all of the deputies representing the major operational groups at LAX.

Since the surveillance, access control and badge systems are supported by the IT group, they led the discussion and needs analysis—a trend seen across all markets for large installs as technology shifts to IP. Nessi and his team presented the IT perspective so that airport infrastructure, maintenance needs, storage, bandwidth and usage were all considered in the final decisions.

With Unisys as LAWA’s technical security advisor and assistance from the consultant firm Ross & Baruzzini, who works closely with LAWA’s Information Technology Project Management Office, LAX chose Axis Communications network cameras recording to Hewlett-Packard servers and HID Global readers for access control, which are all managed by a NICE Systems video management system (VMS).

Reaching New Heights with IP

LAX’s original surveillance system included more than 800 analog cameras recording to tape drives that were no longer being manufactured. Over the years the airport accumulated five disparate systems that eventually were made up of obsolete hardware and software. Yet, what was worse was the time and effort it took security and IT staff to locate, extract and share video evidence for investigative purposes when needed.

For LAX to tie together all these systems under one umbrella, the first step was to migrate the technology to a digital footprint controlled by NICE’s VMS and replace all storage devices with HP servers, which was a crucial step for laying the groundwork for today’s video system that grew from 800 to 1,000 cameras to today’s 3,000-plus camera system.

Moving to IP allows for this type of scalability. Now if LAX needs to add a single IP camera to cover a new checkpoint or 200 cameras to monitor a new mezzanine, it is simple for Nessi’s team to open an Ethernet port or wireless connection to the camera, which then is instantly tied into the NICE System to enable security staff, operations managers and law enforcement to perform a number of tasks.

For instance, NICE Inform can stitch together video from different cameras throughout the airport to follow a potential suspect or help parents find a lost child. NICE Situator allows operators to enter information like date, specific time or—with help from the high quality video of the IP cameras—specific pixel detail to pinpoint an incident like a stolen bag or checkpoint infraction.

Nessi also appreciates the mobility of the new system, as video can be sent securely to anyone who needs it. If the security team is searching for a suspect, a recorded video clip or single snapshot can be sent to their mobile devices in the field. If someone from operations wants to see how traffic flow is handled at the security checkpoint during a specific time of day, the video can be sent to their desktop to be analyzed.

Quality Video, Quick Maintenance

While scalability, ease of use, instant video search and the ability to easily share with system users are all favorite features of LAX’s new surveillance system, video quality is equally important. After all, as the saying goes: garbage in, garbage out.

LAX selected a mix of fixed, fixed dome and PTZ Axis network cameras to complete the most recent phase that brought the total camera count to more than 3,000. The image quality was a night-and-day comparison to the airport’s grainy analog cameras, and especially impressive with the HDTV-compliant cameras used in and outside of LAX.

In fact, video quality is proving to be as important for additional users as it is for the security department.

“Network video’s flexibility, along with today’s HDTV image quality, is allowing for many more users of the system, well beyond the traditional security subscribers,” Nessi said. “The move to IP video has made it easier for our risk management, operations and maintenance departments to become large consumers of LAX’s video system.”

The IP cameras selected also work in tandem with the VMS intelligence to improve maintenance. Nessi’s team is well-trained on troubleshooting and maintenance issues, but the IP system makes their jobs more efficient.

For instance, instead of troubleshooting devices on the security network one at a time, blanket firmware upgrades can be made from the central station to update the cameras with the latest features. Additionally, tampering alarms can be used to alert security staff if a camera is disconnected from the network, turned to face another direction or even if it goes out of focus. It does this by learning the pixels in the scene and sending an alert if those pixels change dramatically.

With the VMS and IP cameras providing increased intelligence, proactive alerts help the entire LAX team implement smarter surveillance and find uses for the video they hadn’t considered before.

The New Face(s) of Airport Installation

For large-scale surveillance systems like the ongoing project at LAX, the decision process must be a team effort. Because numerous departments at LAX share the video system, all inputs continue to be extremely valuable to get the most out of a versatile IP-connected system.

IT departments like Nessi’s are especially important to driving the project from idea to completion in today’s security market because they can act as a coordinating point for many different uses and combine the perspective of the entire organization. For example, while the security department remains a critical source of information on best practices, camera features and access control needs, required field of views and potential threat areas, the IT department’s knowledge is invaluable when it comes down to the bits and bytes of the finished product.

What used to be a typical CCTV system of a few hundred analog cameras found in airports around the world has morphed into systems comprising thousands of intelligent IP video devices. It is equivalent to connecting 3,000 more computers—that can see extremely well—to a network. If procured the right way with the adequate amount of research, IT departments should be able to treat security devices, storage arrays and service requests just as they would any other node on their network.

By leading with Nessi’s IT team, LAX and LAWA are on to something big that provides a great blueprint for airports around the world looking to upgrade their critical surveillance and security systems.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Security Today.


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