A $1.8 million TSA project designed to enhance security and improve video management at Denver International Airport (DEN) has paved the way for the airport to undertake a broader, ongoing effort to replace all of its analog closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras with newer digital technology.
The initial project, funded by TSA and designed by URS Corp., included a Genetec Omnicast Internet protocol (IP) video management system, 12 new servers, a variety of work stations/monitors and 256 digital surveillance cameras.
TSA added cameras in security checkpoint areas to allow the agency to observe passengers and its employees at baggage belts and magnetometers, explains Phillip E. Medina, DEN information technology supervisor. The ability to monitor baggage inspection areas helps TSA assess and resolve passenger claims regarding lost and stolen items, he adds.
"In essence, the TSA bought the technology, and we run it and maintain it," says Mark Nagel, DEN director of security.
The Genetec system also demonstrated the advantages of digital/Internet protocol technology to DEN security officials - specifically, superior image quality and easier sharing of video files within the airport and with outside agencies.
After the new video management platform was installed in late 2009, DEN decided to spend about $4 million of its own funds to upgrade the facility's surveillance cameras. It replaced about half of the existing 980 analog cameras with new digital models. The rest were effectively turned into digital cameras with video encoders that convert analog signals into digital streams for the new network, Medina explains. The airport also boosted overall coverage by purchasing 70 additional digital cameras, bringing its total to about 1,300 (including TSA's equipment ).
The digital conversion was about half complete in late January, Nagel reports. The scope and complexity of the process varied among different parts of the airport.
No More Tapes
DEN officials considered about a dozen different digital platforms, and narrowed the field to three before selecting Genetec's Omnicast system through a request for proposal process, recalls Medina. A key consideration: The ability to control camera access for airport partners such as TSA, the Denver Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"With the Genetec system, you can federate pockets of control and share them," Medina explains. "The TSA's cameras are an entity by themselves, and the airport's other cameras belong to the city and county of Denver. The system allows us to distribute images to other organizations. We can incorporate or cross-feed cameras from each organization, regardless of ownership."
With the old analog-camera system, DEN officials could only view security cameras at about 120 dedicated CCTV stations, each equipped with an analog monitor, keyboard and joystick. With the digital system, operators can send images to virtually anyone, and the airport currently has about 400 system users, he reports.
Airport personnel find the digital video much more convenient to work with than the VHS tapes the previous analog cameras produced. If, for instance, DEN security officials are looking for a suspicious individual within the airport, they can bookmark five minutes of an hour-long video and e-mail it to security guards, police and TSA "in the field" for instant viewing.
Genetec personnel cite scalability and a failover mechanism that prevents data loss as two other key features of the Omnicast system.
Digital technology increased the image clarity and color fidelity of DEN's system. The enhanced image quality helps officials identify situations, people and objects more easily and accurately - a capability that, in turn, speeds the airport's resolution of nonstandard operations.
The airport's new cameras, by Axis Communications, provide images with 720p or 1,080p resolution - about the same image quality as high-definition television sets, explains E. Anthony Incorvati, business development manager for Axis' transportation vertical North American market. "Comparing it (to analog images) isn't even like comparing apples and oranges," explains Incorvati. "It's more like comparing apples and bowling balls. And the network infrastructure makes it very easy to add more cameras to the system."
According to Medina, DEN uses about an equal mix of fixed-view cameras and equipment that can pan, tilt and z oom.
Incorvati says each Axis camera is essentially a computer with a lens. In addition to capturing video images, he explains, they provide processing technologies such as "wide dynamic capture," which helps overcome harsh backlighting, a feature that provides color images in low-light conditions, without external lighting.
Analytics Increase Efficiency
The cameras' ability to run sophisticated analytics against images is another notable feature. If an airport perimeter camera conveys an indistinguishable image, for instance, the system can determine if it's an animal or a human.
In other applications, motion detection technology is key, adds Medina. Rather than posting personnel to monitor cameras surveilling empty, restricted-access rooms, DEN uses equipment with motion sensors that notify security personnel if someone or something enters the camera's field of view.
"This type of analytic is important because it allows us to direct all our attention on areas that need it most, not to empty rooms where there's no activity," he adds.
Some of DEN's cameras also include Genetec AutoVu, a system that uses optical character recognition to identify and store license plate numbers. When customers lose their parking tickets, attendants can quickly search the airport's data files by license plate number to determine when a specific vehicle entered the parking lot - a feature that helps prevent revenue loss, notes Medina.
The Omnicast system's open architecture integrates with virtually all IP cameras on the market, notes Danny Peleg, Genetec's director of market development for transportation.
"(Airports) can choose the best breed of camera for their needs, and it will be compatible with our software," he explains.
The Omnicast system also enabled DEN to reduce its storage space for archive videos, thanks to tools such as multicasting and multistreaming that optimize bandwidth. In addition, DEN was able to preserve some of its initial investments, including a storage area network.
Unlike many airports, DEN opted to perform its own systems integration, rather than outsourcing the job to a third-party contractor. Very little integration work was required, explains Nagel, because URS designed the system, and the project entailed replacing an old system with a new one rather than combining the two.
Performing the integration itself allowed the airport to avoid certain problems, adds Medina: "If we relied on someone else as an integrator, it would be much more difficult for us to determine what standards and protections are needed, who would have access and so on. Doing it ourselves helped us better understand issues and the opportunities available - and at less cost, too."