Jun 1, 2002 12:00 PM

As Salt Lake City's premiere venue for meetings and conventions, the Salt Palace has been accustomed to hosting large-scale gatherings.

But nothing prepared them for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

For two event-filled weeks in February, the Salt Palace staff played host to the world's media as they converged on Utah. With more than 10,000 journalists and a 5,000-member support staff, the eyes of the world truly were on this facility.

Salt Palace facilities manager Bart Allen and his staff realized long before the torch was carried into Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremonies that security needed a boost. They knew the conventional analog CCTV surveillance system then in place was not adequate for the large-scale event. They also realized they needed enhanced protection for other future events at the convention center.

Security at the Olympics demanded extensive monitoring of thousands of people ! many from foreign countries ! passing in and out of the Palace. It also required close cooperation with Federal agencies charged with ensuring the security for the Games.

"We took a back seat for a while when we found out the Secret Service was taking over the facility," Allen says. "Then Sept. 11 changed everybody's mind. So we stepped back and asked, 'What are we going to do?'"

Allen knew the Secret Service wanted its own monitoring system independent of anything the Salt Palace might have in place. "Their attitude is that this is our way and our way is the best way," Allen recalls.

The core of the Salt Palace's security system was an assortment of cameras that recorded events taking place within the 1 million-square-foot structure. Images captured by the cameras were subsequently stored on VCR tapes.

"The system was designed in the late '80s and was slowly upgraded as we expanded the building," Allen explains. "We started to repair and replace some of the older pan/tilt/zoom cameras with newer equipment."

The drawbacks of maintaining an analog system were obvious. To see a particular image recorded at a certain moment, it might mean reviewing vast amounts of tape. The answer seemed to be in switching to digital. The only challenge was the cost.

The Salt Palace and its sister facility, The South Towne Exposition Center, 20 miles away in Sandy, Utah, were already equipped with fiber-optic Category 5 and 6 cable for their Local Area Network. To meet the needs of visiting conventions, the Salt Palace had already constructed a modern system of Internet and computer connections with satellite uplinks.

"The place is heavily wired with data fiber and copper," says Jade Wilson of Proactive Network Management, the Salt Lake City-based company that handled the security upgrade. "Anywhere you go in this building and touch a wall, there's some wire nearby. You can get access to the network from nearly anywhere. That was the simplest part of the entire thing. It was much less expensive to do it that way than to run coaxial cable from point A to point B."

A digital system would ride on the facility's computer network, turning what had been expected to be a $300,000 upgrade into little more than a $35,000 expenditure, Allen says.

Additionally, the system promised to meet other requirements of a modern surveillance system for a large public facility. The first consideration was how to store the vast number of images channeled from its 365,000 square feet of exhibit space, 200,000 square feet of meeting rooms, 26 loading docks and a 1,100-car parking lot.

"They wanted to be able to store all their images on something other than tapes, and also have access to them from outside by simply pulling up the Web page [using a standard Internet browser]," Wilson says.

The installation of ten AXIS 2420 network cameras and three AXIS 2401 video servers from AXIS Communications, Sweden, created a system that could easily run on the Salt Palace's existing system. The images from the 60 other cameras already in place were also converted to digital images.

"The Salt Palace was looking for a product that was easy to install," says Fredrik Nilsson, director of business development for AXIS Communications. "Because they already had an IP network in place, it needed a product that could be installed in-house."

AXIS products offer built-in application programming interfaces which make it easier to integrate cameras and servers into existing video management systems. "The two systems were integrated seamlessly," Wilson says.

With the system in place, Allen and his security officials could monitor and control cameras from central control rooms within both the Salt Palace and South Towne and through any standard Internet connection.

"I have [monitored the cameras] from home many times," Allen says. "The police can do it. Say we have an incident in the building and they want to see what is going on before they try to come into the building. They can gain access to all of our cameras, watch what was going on, and coordinate their entrance."

Each facility is also monitored by its sister location. Personnel at South Towne, for example, can see both their own location and the Salt Palace.

Along with the AXIS cameras, Allen rounded out the system with several Pelco high-speed domes. "They integrated into the older system," he explains. "The only reason I did that was the speed of the Pelco cameras. The domes move a lot faster, but we also integrated those into the AXIS video server so we could record what was going on with those cameras on our server."

The digital system offered immediate advantages. Images could be easily manipulated with the system's software. Sections of an image could be enlarged without a technician needing to search for it, find the frame, freeze it and then extract it to a software program that can convert the scene to a digital file.

"You can go in and see exactly where the incident happened, pull it out, and zoom in on the incident within five minutes," Allen says.

Although the cameras monitor their areas continuously, they only begin to record when motion is detected. It's a feature that saves space on the 800 gB AXIS server, where images are usually retained for a week before being discarded. Material to be stored beyond one week can be archived to a separate computer.

In addition to the new cameras and servers, the Salt Palace also installed motion detectors on the building's roof to help guard air intake ducts. The system proved its mettle during the Olympics. Allen was particularly pleased to discover that his cameras captured images that were missed by the independent Secret Service system. "When they needed a couple of pictures, it was nice for them to come knocking on my door," Allen says.

In one such incident, network television personnel ran afoul of security.

"[Network employees] were trying to get by one of the security doors, and the [Secret Service] was stopping them," he recalls. "They wanted to detain them and two of the guys ran away. We videotaped them, and security was able to find out who they were."

Two weeks after the Olympics, the monitoring system again proved its worth during a convention attended by international visitors. During one meeting, a conventioneer's purse was stolen.

"We didn't capture that incident on tape, but we got a picture of a guy walking out of the ballroom carrying a purse," Allen says. "We caught him on camera and tracked him all the way to his car."

Security gave his license plate number to police, who were able to apprehend the suspect less than two hours later, and the victim's purse was returned safely.

The ability to monitor parking lots has allowed the Palace to successfully keep motorists from leaving without paying parking fees ! often by bursting through the exit gate arm. It has also generated additional revenue from vendors who attend the approximately 450 meetings and conventions every year by allowing them to purchase monitoring of their booths, rather than incur the expense of hiring a security guard.

"They can rent a LAN camera from us ! one of the AXIS cameras ! and we'll monitor their booth all night," Allen explains. "If there's motion, it'll send them an e-mail or a text message to their mobile phone. If they don't want to go that far, it'll just alert our security office if there's movement in their booth."

Allen and the staff of the Salt Palace are certain they made the right choice when it came to upgrading their security monitoring system. In an era of heightened anxiety about terrorists, building a system that meets a new standard of protection is essential.

Randy Southerland is an Atlanta-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems.

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