Feb 1, 2002 12:00 PM

At first mention, Gene Ornes' priority sounds simple enough: He needs to keep track of everybody who is coming and going at his parking facilities.

Ornes is the director of medical center traffic and parking at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), Nashville, Tenn. The university, which occupies 20 square blocks, has 18,000 parking spaces, 11,000 of which are at the medical center. VUMC hosts 6,000 outpatients and more than 4,500 visitors and vendors daily. Nine thousand people work or attend classes at the medical center alone, and another 16,000 faculty, staff and students are on campus every day.

Vanderbilt University recognized the importance of recording traffic flow in and out of parking garages years ago and purchased cameras and analog recorders to document vehicular activity. More recently, Randy Dichtel, president of RD&A Inc., a Nashville-based integrator and installer, introduced Ornes to the benefits of digital recording. The switch has lifted the institution's video surveillance operation to new heights and simultaneously enhanced life safety for visitors and employees. Says Ornes, "We knew that VHS was on its way out, so we were open to the next logical step."

Vanderbilt purchased approximately 100 Vicon DSP 2500s color digital cameras and two Vicon Kollector 4000 digital video recorders for two medical center parking garages. Users view live or archived vehicular activity via an Ethernet connection on a wide area network (WAN). They currently view activity over a secure, password-protected connection on the Vanderbilt University intranet. In December 2001, two additional parking garages were outfitted with Kollector 4045 digital video recorders.

The Kollector's compression technique, hybrid MPEG/wavelet, permits Ornes to store large amounts of digital information without degradation of image quality. Using individual 16-channel units and a master PC station, Ornes has built a large-scale digital recording system. VUMC's Kollectors are housed in communication closets within each garage. Unlike many institutions, the university does not maintain a central monitoring location. Alternatively, "Parking or plant operations personnel can pull up any camera location they want to right over our intranet," Ornes says. In addition, Ornes' office features a monitor dedicated to live activity at entry and exit points. "I can see if traffic is backed up or if gates are secure just by glancing across my office," he says.

Ornes also enjoys the Kollectors' speedy image retrieval time and archiving capabilities. "We're able to archive with a lot less space, and our visual enhancements are much stronger with the digital cameras. We can maintain clearer, court-acceptable images without a lot of pan/tilt/zoom camera adjustment. Digital cameras allow us to focus on what we really want to see, and they're not susceptible to light changes."

Digital technology offers Ornes a variety of operational benefits. Cameras are focused on parking garage entrances and exits; if there's an incident at an exit, for example, he can view activity on his PC and communicate a solution from his office.

With surveillance needs in mind, Dichtel recommended Vicon's high-resolution DSP 2600 digital cameras (with 460 lines of horizontal resolution) to provide the necessary quality for VUMC's optical character recognition software applications. Together, these technologies allow Ornes and his staff to identify license plate numbers upon garage entry to determine vehicle location, thus saving the costs associated with dispatching parking enforcement officers to patrol parking garages. VUMC's vehicle registration program controls where certain cars can park. If a camera captures a license plate number that is at the wrong garage, entry is denied and officers receive an alarm. If a driver does not drive into a garage in which their license plate is registered for at least a month, they will not be able to access the garage when they finally do arrive. To regain access privileges, such a driver must re-register their identity and license plate information with garage personnel.

"Parking [security] around the world is becoming a profession that depends less on human intervention and more on digital and computerized programs," Dichtel says. "Gate system controls and vehicle recognition must integrate, and the Kollector lends itself well to integration."

In addition to parking garages, cameras are also present in an open parking lot, elevator cabs, stairwells and vehicular and pedestrian entrances. Digital cameras and recorders are also located near ongoing construction projects at the university, in order to boost safety for those who must walk through temporary construction tunnels.

When presented with the opportunity to use its WAN to transmit video information, it didn't take long for VUMC to realize the enormous savings. "The university didn't have the budget for underground piping and wiring. It would have cost $1 million to $1.5 million to accommodate the building-to-building wiring for this surveillance system," says Dichtel. "By using the university's existing WAN to transmit digital information, we realized we could save a fortune because the cable was already in place."

Campus police and security officers can also view the digital images on their own PCs, saving substantial monitor-related costs. "The mission here is to get good identifying shots of the people and cars entering and leaving the facilities so that, if an incident occurs, the person can quickly be found and campus police or other appropriate people can take over," Dichtel says.

VUMC's security, plant operations and traffic and parking departments promote an annual safety fair in which its surveillance technology is displayed for all to see. Similarly, as members of Nashville's Mid-South Parking Association, Ornes and Dichtel share their successes with other parking professionals who want to know how the latest procedures and technologies can help them address their challenges.

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