Lighting Up Lansing

Lighting Up Lansing

Video surveillance solution provides more safety at night

Each year in Lansing, Mich., the holiday season unofficially begins with the Silver Bells Parade. On Nov. 22, 2013, approximately 80,000 people crowded this city’s streets to see the parade that ends in front of the Michigan State Capitol building with a traditional tree lighting ceremony. The crowd shouts along with the countdown from 10; the grand marshals throw a giant ornamental switch; and the tree lights are brilliantly illuminated, while a giant fireworks display lights the sky.

This year, the parade was made safer and more secure by the presence of a newly-upgraded, video surveillance system featuring Samsung IP cameras at the Michigan State Capitol, a fully-operational building that is also a National Historic Landmark maintained by the Facility Department.

“We determined that we needed additional views in order to increase security at the Capitol,” said Steve Benkovsky, executive director of the Michigan Capitol Committee, Legislative Council Facilities Agency for the state of Michigan. “Beyond that, we wanted to improve our ability to identify individuals in video.”

Integrator Marches In

Detroit-based security integrator Camtronics has a long history with the state of Michigan, having handled the original video deployment at this capitol four years earlier. The company worked with the Metro Airport, designing systems for their operation, and with the governor’s residence, during the Jennifer Granholm Administration. Their long-standing relationship was a prime reason for the selection of Camtronics as an integrator for the Lansing Tree Lighting project.

Because of the historical value of this capitol building, adding security cameras to it was a sensitive issue, according to Mark Wellman, president of Camtronics. It was important that any additions, such as the mounting of security cameras, would preserve the capitol’s historical appearance. Therefore, the building’s illumination was designed with spotlighting, making it less than ideal for identification of people at night in a security application.

“We provided all of the technical expertise for systems requirements and coverage, and helped the team at the state capital by recommending solutions that could easily be worked into certain types of architecture,” Wellman said. “At the same time, we made sure that nothing compromised the view they needed or the video recording they expected out of these cameras and their positions.” Choosing the Right Cameras

Samsung IP cameras were Camtronics’ recommendation for the deployment, rather than continuing to use cameras from the manufacturer that had been used for the original video surveillance system at this building. According to Wellman, the switch was made primarily for image quality.

“There was a high expectation for performance on these cameras,” Wellman said. “The capital and state police had very specific criteria that they were looking to fulfill, such as the ability to see at night and to clearly identify faces, especially because the lighting was designed to enhance the historic appeal of the building.”

One year earlier, a third manufacturer’s IP cameras had been put up temporarily at the building for a specific event. Wellman said that the detail was so obscured by the cameras’ inability to handle that type of lighting in the darkness, the video was rendered useless.

“They weren’t able to make out faces or details of anyone in the crowd,” Wellman said. “There was nothing but glare from the lights.”

The video quality from the Samsung cameras did not have that problem, though.

“In one instance, there is a camera looking right at one of the ornate light fixtures, and you can still clearly read the sign 20 feet behind it on the ground,” Wellman said. “In fact, out of the cameras that we have installed and looked at to potentially install, we are moving closer and closer to making Samsung our proprietary line.”

The temporary cameras were taken down after the event, and the current cameras on the capitol building will become the permanent solution.

Camtronics installed Samsung cameras: five SND-5010s; four SND-5080s; and five SNP-6200Hs on one of this capitol building’s balcony areas, maintaining Ethernet IP communications from all the new Samsung cameras back to the head end. The only analog units remaining are the original cameras that work through an encoder. Several of the cameras mounted on this building’s exterior use fiber and media converters to accommodate for distance and environmental concerns, including water leakage and chemicals.

“That’s why we suggested putting fiber in, and all of that comes back across media converters to their main switch, which was provided by the capital. We provided the server with expandable storage and the VMS platform,” Wellman said.

These Samsung cameras provide coverage on the east side of the building to view rallies and events on the front lawn.

One-of-a-Kind Mounts

This installation has numerous unique qualities. The sandstone exterior of this 143-year-old state capitol building is original, requiring great care in mounting each camera. The on-site team—Mark McEwan, maintenance mechanic; Bob McDonald, assistant facility manager; and Benkovsky—made each mount by hand.

“There was a lot of personal effort and soul put into making those mounts,” Wellman said. “In some cases, the gentlemen that made them were taking them home at night and crafting them in their garages.

“There was a need to make the cameras swivel upward, so they would be easy to maintain. They also wanted to have them anchored to the existing light brackets so there wouldn’t be any need for holes to be put into the building. So, if the cameras ever had to be removed, there would be only small holes that could easily be filled with grout.”

McEwan designed the mount that made this possible using a 1-inch-thick, 10-foot-long, galvanized pipe that had enough weight to hold the cameras up and maintain its position, even in windy conditions.

In all, it was a holiday gift of improved security that will keep giving into the future.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Security Today.

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