Safe at Rest: Monitoring Texas Highways
 
Safe at Rest: Monitoring Texas Highways

Oct 1, 2003 12:00 PM
By RANDY SOUTHERLAND

For the weary traveler, rest stops give drivers an opportunity to stop, take a break and get refreshments after hours spent behind the wheel.

Keeping highway rest areas safe, clean and inviting is a major concern of Texas officials. They are often the first impression visitors get of the state and a conventional avenue for distributing brochures, maps and other messages about local and area attractions to tourists.

To ensure the proper maintenance and security of rest areas, the Texas Department of Transportation (DOT) solicited bids for a company that could maintain the facilities. Houston-based ISI was chosen to maintain 59 rest areas in the state.

With such a large coverage area, ISI officials needed a means of monitoring the rest areas for both security of visitors and cleanliness. The immediate answer was remote monitoring through CCTV.

"As we looked at the sites, we discovered that the state had already put in some camera systems that were not effective," says Randy Simpson, branch manager of the Stafford, Texas office of Tech Systems Inc., the firm retained to handle the CCTV project. "They couldn't dial up and they couldn't look at (images from) them."

ISI wanted a means for connecting to these remote locations many located a considerable distance from the nearest town or city so they could see the site and verify necessary work was being done.

The first step was to install a series of surface-mounted Pelco 200 series cameras at the sites. Some of the larger welcome centers already had Pelco Spectra 3 units installed that allowed for pan/tilt/zoom coverage of the area.

"The cameras are used as a maintenance tool that allows them to look at the site and inspect it," Simpson says. "If someone finds that the rest room needs attention, they can push a button and the system dials out and gives a report that they need attention in that restroom."

Tech Systems turned to Vision Fire and Security and its ADPRO digital CCTV security and surveillance technology, which includes video motion detection, high-speed audio and video transmission and alarm handling capabilities.

ADPRO's remote video transmission enables ISI to monitor and manage multiple remote locations from its Houston office. It also helped to overcome initial hurdles presented by the often isolated rest areas.

"The unique challenge to these locations was we had to use dial-up lines only," Simpson explains. "There are some very long runs on copper and a lot of these rest areas are built miles away in remote locations. The biggest challenge we had was getting phone lines out to them."

The ADPRO FastTrace digital video recording system was installed at each site, providing local storage of all images rather than transmitting to a central station.

ISI is now able to connect remotely to query the unit without waiting for a dated report or even see a live image. Using a simple dial-up modem, they are able to download video packets at a rate of 4 frames-per-second.

"The images are stored on-site, enabling live transmission," says Vision Fire and Security's Bob Thomas. "There's no interference between the transmission and the recording. So, if you're recording at a fairly low rate, you could be transmitting at a fairly high rate."

Another potential challenge to the system was the hot Texas weather. With many of the sites lacking air conditioning, sensitive electronic equipment could be subjected to extreme heat variations.

The ADPRO system provides temperature-monitoring capabilities that protected the equipment. "The system is able to switch on auxiliary equipment when the temperature gets quite high," Thomas says. "It can also dial back to the central station and provide a warning (when temperatures spike.)"

From its central station, ISI is able to control local cameras and how much data is transmitted by the system. With all images traveling over conventional phone lines, long distance calls could become costly. For example, the wall-mounted contact buttons are equipped with a timer so that they are limited to broadcasting one event per hour.

"That reduces the number of calls," Simpson explains.

In addition, with all the digital images stored on-site, both ISI and the DOT can search 20 to 40 days worth of materials.

"You're digitally recording so you're changing the format of what pixels change on the pictures you're actually recording," Simpson says. "It's not a continuous record it's a record-on-motion feature that ADPRO has in place, which limits the amount of hard drive used in recording images."

Local maintenance personnel can access on-site units with a remote PC or a laptop computer with Ethernet. This feature provides much faster connection and the ability to burn images to a CD for storage and transportation.

 
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