Who’s on Deck?

Who’s on Deck?

Carolinas HealthCare System upgrades multi-story parking deck to achieve clarity

Who’s on Deck? Carolinas HealthCare System upgrades multi-story parking deck to achieve clarityWhen nurses head home after a grueling 12-hour shift, the last thing Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) wants them to worry about is getting to their cars safely. The same holds true for patients and visitors coming in and out of the busy Morehead Medical Plaza (MMP) parking deck in Charlotte, N.C. Hospital visits are often stressful, and CHS has made it their mission to increase comfort and security from beginning to end.

While renovating the parking deck at MMP, CHS sought to create a video surveillance system that would be a model of industry best practices. They strategically deployed 150 HDTV-quality Axis cameras throughout the nine-story structure that included placing discreet cameras inside call-for-assistance stations on every floor and throughout the skybridge heading to the hospital.

The continuous, 24/7 video stream runs on a 3VR VisionPoint VMS video management system housed in the adjacent hospital data center. Because the VMS supports sophisticated analytic software, security investigators can quickly search for forensic evidence by time of day or even by car color and license plate number.

This sophisticated surveillance technology is a huge step forward from the analog system they previously relied on.

A Clear Need for an Upgrade

When the parking deck was first built, CHS installed a low-bid, analog system. According to Don Wright, director of physical security for Carolinas HealthCare, connectivity was often lost and cameras frequently went dark.

“The deck probably represented 15 to 20 percent of my service calls in past years,” Wright said.

Image usability was another major problem.

“Crispness and clarity just weren’t available,” said Adam Adcock, systems engineer for Carolinas HealthCare. “We might be able to tell that the vehicle was red, but we probably couldn’t tell whether it was a Ford or a Chevy.”

And, in fields of view that included both shadow and sunlight, the analog cameras just couldn’t deliver.

Reimagining the Quality of Surveillance

When CHS added three new levels to the Morehead parking structure, they took the opportunity to revamp the entire surveillance system, as well. The goal was not only to improve the clarity of video, but to ensure that the cameras were reliably capturing the images that security investigators depended on.

“We decided it was time to take the worst of our campus and turn it into the best,” Wright said.

With the help of SAF Technologies, a North Carolina-based security systems company, CHS set about designing a totally new approach to surveillance.

“The layout involved placing an IDF [Intermediate Distribution Frame] network closet on every third floor,” Adcock said. “This saved us a great deal of money on infrastructure because we didn’t have to run long fiber pulls to each network camera.”

The new layout dispersed possible points of failure and created reasonable service points for the system. In addition, the three-closet design would give the physical security department the flexibility to implement changes as needed, if CHS ever decided to make modifications to the deck configuration.

From the IDF closets, the video streams to a main distribution frame (MDF) closet at the medical campus data center where it is stored on 3VR servers.

“Our networking folks love the low bandwidth consumption of our solution, and our security investigation team loves the great images we get from the Axis cameras along with the analytical data from the 3VR VMS, which allows us to extract forensic evidence of any incident,” Adcock said.

Because the surveillance system shares the network pipeline with other hospital data traffic, Adcock programmed the system to conserve bandwidth consumption by having Axis cameras stream at one frame-per-second, when no motion is detected in the field of view. When motion is detected, the frame rate is increased to 10 frames-per-second, helping the hospital save on video data storage.

Augmenting Ca ll-for-assistance Stations

Another innovation that CHS employed was embedding covert Axis network cameras inside the emergency call stations placed throughout the parking deck.

“The stations allow anyone needing immediate assistance to speak directly to a security communications dispatcher,” Adcock said. “The cameras let the dispatcher see exactly who is on the line. It really helps the dispatcher better assess the caller and the emergency.”

CHS chose the covert, HDTV-quality AXIS P1214-E Network Camera because its discrete footprint fit well in the compact space, and the 720p resolution delivered excellent facial details of the caller.

Keeping a Watchful Eye on Each Deck and Skybridge

For its surveillance workhorse, CHS chose the AXIS P3364-VE Fixed Dome Network Camera. Rugged, HDTV-720p-quality, outdoor cameras cover the parking bays, entrances and exits to each deck, and the skybridge to the main building. In addition, CHS found the camera’s ability to process wide dynamic range (WDR) scenes with dynamic contrast technology a bonus feature.

“We’ve installed the cameras in several locations within the parking structure where the field of view crosses from inside the deck to the outside,” Adcock said. “Without the WDR feature, we’d lose the image of someone walking from outside into the deck or vice versa. It would be like they had disappeared because the lightwas so overbearing or the shadows so obscuring.”

“With our old analog cameras, we had so many washouts that anything looking outside from under the deck was lost,” Wright said. “But, with wide dynamic range [dynamic contrast], we can see the entire field of view throughout the day and night.”

CHS has embraced the Corridor Format capabilities of the AXIS P3364-VE that allows video to record vertically in a 9:16 aspect ratio rather than a traditional horizontal image. This feature is particularly well-suited for covering long rows of cars found in a typical garage configuration.

“With our old analog cameras in horizontal format, half the picture was nothing but wall space,” Wright said. “With our new Axis cameras in [Corridor Format], almost the entire image is the corridor itself.”

Because of the improved coverage, CHS was able to replace every three or four analog cameras with a single AXIS P3364-VE.

Leveraging the Best of All System Tools

Due to the seamless integration of the Axis cameras with the 3VR VisionPoint video management system, CHS is able to fine-tune its solution on all fronts. Adcock uses the 3VR system to control the compression format and frame rate as well as initiate targeted searches for forensic evidence. He uses the Axis camera tools to remotely control focus and zoom as well as optimize the balance for wide dynamic range recording.

Using the intelligent 3VR system to manage different IP camera event triggers, specific incidents can be logged so investigators can easily refine searches for specific video clips by a number of parameters: timeframe, a portion of the image frame and even a specific color.

“For instance, we can highlight the lower right-hand corner of the camera view and search for motion activity that occurred in that area,” Wright said. “Or, if we know someone comes into the field of view wearing a red sweatshirt, we can program the system to search for that color in subsequent frames. This has really drastically cut our search time.”

Taking advantage of the 3VR system’s license plate recognition analytic, CHS positioned Axis cameras at entrances and exits to the parking deck to capture information as vehicles stop at the gate to exit.

“We can go back and search for a particular license plate when a supposed event occurred, or even track that license plate appearance over a longer period of time,” Wright said. “The combination of advanced search tools and exceptional image quality makes our investigators much more effective day by day.”

Appreciating the Pa yback from New Technology

“In this tight economy, we’re continuing to look for return on investment,” Wright said. “Having Axis cameras that can self-diagnose [by using their internal Camera Tampering alarm analytic] has been huge for us. We used to invest hundreds of hours in officers making the rounds to verify that our help stations and cameras were working.”

In fact, Adcock programmed the system to send diagnostics directly to the security director’s cellphone. So anytime—night or day—CHS needs to address an issue in coverage, Wright can get someone out there to fix it before anyone else is even aware. That not only improves the integrity of CHS’ surveillance coverage, but frees security officers to focus on security tasks, rather than checking surveillance equipment.

“We are a regional healthcare facility looking to grow to a national presence,” Wright said. “Providing the finest, state-of-theart technologies and support for our healthcare services is our mantra going forward.”

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

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