Vicon have manufactured video management solutions for airports and ports throughout the world. For St. Paul International Airport, Minneapolis, simply wanting a high performance CCTV system wasn't enough. They wanted a system that could be expanded over an extended period of time without replacing the existing infrastructure. They found that solution in the Vicon family of video products and a business relationship that began almost 10 years ago is still going strong.
Building a better airport
As part of an ongoing airport improvement project in the early 1990s, Minneapolis International Airport embarked on a video expansion program that began with 16 cameras and has now grown to more than 800 cameras.
To do this, they called on a Minnesota security system integrator, Pro-Tec Design. "We were asked if we could provide services on their existing system of 16 cameras," recalls Tom Hagen, president of Pro-Tec Design. "The desired goal was to expand the camera security system throughout the airport facility into multiple buildings located at multiple locations throughout the 3300 acre site. They wanted to be able to expand camera security into those locations, yet have the ability to view any camera from multiple monitoring areas, regardless of where the camera was located."
"We were offered the opportunity to bring in our recommendations," Tom Hagen said. One of the performance tests was to set up live cameras to view outdoor activity at dusk. "We tested several different cameras. The selection team was viewing the camera pictures on a monitor inside one of the concourses. One particular camera produced an outstanding picture in the low-light conditions. The monitor view appeared to be from an earlier time of the day during normal daytime conditions. It was one of the Vicon cameras that was the reason they selected Vicon," Tom Hagen recalls. Another was the design of the system using a concept of distributed architecture, which at the time was quite unique.
This design allowed airport personnel to accomplish one of their main goals, which was to be able to view a camera from any viewing location, even if the camera was on the opposite side of the airport.
Another benefit was the ability to assign priorities or "seize levels" to each camera. "If we have one controller that is a higher priority, they would automatically take control of the camera over someone else who may be using it at the time," explains Tom Germundson, Security Consultant for the airport.
Expanding the Vicon system
Once the initial Vicon system was in place, the airport gradually added on, upgraded and incorporated new technologies as their needs changed.
One prime example of evolving technology was the migration from analogue VCRs to digital video recorders (DVRs). "Originally the recording was done on VCRs connected to 16-channel multiplexers," said Tom Hagen. "Now that has all been migrated into a distributed, networked architecture of digital video recorders, using ViconNet software to view live and recorded video from cameras located throughout the facility. That has been a very important and useful improvement for people who use the system. It replaced a method of finding recorded video that was so cumbersome. The new system is much, much easier to use."
Beginning about two years ago, the airport migrated from the old VCRs to Vicon's newest DVR technology, the Kollector Elite. "The move to DVRs was the airport's most recent, significant upgrade," added Tom Germundson. "We waited for the Elite so we could gain that technology."
What they gained by waiting for the technology that best fits their needs was the ability to have truly user-friendly documentation and the ability to quickly access the video information they need.
"We've had incidents where oversized vehicles have entered the parking garage and knocked the video out of the ceiling," Tom Germundson said. "We can now locate that vehicle, and when the person comes back, they get a notice that they owe x amount for damages. Finding and using video evidence on VCRs is difficult. You can't share information as easily. It's a lot more cumbersome. It's not usually worth the time, so people would avoid doing it."
The system in use
The system today features 800 plus fixed or pan-tilt-zoom cameras. Live and recorded video is available on a network of fifty-four DVRs where camera views can be pulled up by authorized personnel, in a prioritized manner.
"If we are looking for an individual, we can quickly gain access to the video information," Germundson says. "We also have a graphical user interface. We can easily find the right camera to use if an individual went down a specific concourse. We can see an incident to determine what happened. If there is damage to property, we can locate the video and see what caused it."
Of course, no system is perfect, and almost no installation goes off without a hitch. Over the years, there have been desired improvements, some of which could only be remedied as technology itself advanced. The Kollector Elites are a prime example.
The original DVRs had a 440 Gigabyte hard drive. "The ones we had originally had too little storage for our needs," said Tom Germundson. "They did not give us enough recording time. We weren't really able to fix it except as time moved on and Vicon provided larger storage capacities." The current DVRs contain a 1.2 Terabyte hard drive.
Going forward, the airport has plans to continue the expansion of their system. "We are possibly looking at things like perimeter detection, maybe incorporating software-enhanced video, which we could set up so if a person crossed a certain location in a certain direction, it would trigger an alarm."