Nov 1, 2001 12:00 PM

A seemingly endless flow of packages comes streaming through the Oakland, Calif., processing facility of overnight package shipper Federal Express. Throughout the day and into the night, distinctively marked trucks roll in with cargo for dispatch around the city and throughout the world by the $20 billion-per-year transportation company.

Workers move fast as boxes and packages are loaded and unloaded onto high-speed conveyors. In a shipping business that is all about time, every minute counts.

FedEx handles more than 5 million shipments a day, and the Oakland facility certainly gets its share. Many of the packages contain electronics, computer chips, pharmaceuticals and other valuable goods. Company security officials have to make sure the packages don't fall victim to the $30 billion worldwide scourge of cargo theft.

When it came to providing protection for this facility, security officials realized that certain things had to be done by people, but technology could give them an edge.

FedEx has developed a breed of processing centers known as air ground terminals. These off-airport terminals are primarily targeted to tracking operations, but also feed cargo to airport facilities. Oakland is one of the newest facilities and, at more than 300,000 sq. ft., one of the largest. Cargo flowing in through its 132 overhead doors and truck docks had to be covered by an extensive CCTV system.

"We wanted to get a system in there that would allow us to cover as much ground as possible, and we wanted to do that without putting a camera behind every door and every location where we might be sorting smaller pieces," says Greg Finch, senior manager, corporate security, for the company's Western Region.

The solution to the problem was a concept Finch had first seen several years ago as a trade show prototype. Long Island, N.Y.-based Sentry Technology Corp. had developed a continuous track system for moveable cameras and was eager to get the product into the field to demonstrate its functionality and versatility.

"We had many meetings with them about its capabilities and the fact that, if you're going to have a camera system that moves, you almost always need a camera operator who will sit in a location ! a camera room ! and operate it," recalls Finck. "That's not always something we have the luxury of generating."

Finck wanted a programmable system that could move the cameras into position to observe a particular scheduled operation. The system should also be able to observe the unscheduled opening of a door in the middle of the night.

A system that met FedEx's needs was installed in 1998, shortly before the center was fully operational. Above the bustling floor of the processing center, track-mounted cameras glide silently and swiftly back and forth, giving operators a clear and unobstructed view of all activity below. Each camera is hidden from view inside a mirrored shatterproof polycarbonate enclosure. While those below may be aware of the cameras, they can never tell exactly where the cameras are, or where they may have focused their attention.

The overall CCTV system was designed to include 22 pan-tilt-zoom dome cameras, 18 interior fixed cameras, and three SentryVision tracks ! each with two PTZ cameras for a total of 46 video sources. Three tracks totaling 750 feet in length were mounted above the loading bays to provide views inside trucks. Pelco and Silent Witness Indoor PTZ dome cameras observe doors in the warehouse area.

"SentryVision traveling CCTV helps facility operators and security staff monitor activity by moving into areas with line-of-sight obstructions that are inherent in most conventional CCTV designs," says John F. Whiteman Jr., senior vice president, sales and marketing, at Sentry Technology Corp. "By utilizing a programmable traveling carriage with two PTZ pods, an operator or manager has the increased functionality with unobstructed viewing and tracking capabilities. This solution is more economical than attempting to blanket an entire facility with multiple cameras."

Most cameras are color, and there are a few infrared models also installed for use in special tracking situations.

"If we have a special marking that we want put on a shipment in infrared crayon that can't be seen by the eye, and we want to watch that go through the system, we'll run an infrared camera in tandem with the color camera," Finck explains. "You'll be able to see what's going on with the color camera, while specifically keeping an eye on the shipment."

FedEx officials were concerned that camera locations would not provide the wide coverage the cameras needed. The tracking system was able to answer that concern.

"You have certain support posts and beams throughout the facility if you're going to hang a camera in a certain area," Finck explains. "You're pretty much relegated to hanging where feasible. With a track, on the other hand, you can actually put it behind a specific truck or [focus] on a certain area ! exactly where you need it."

The tracking system not only allows the cameras to cover the entire facility, but cameras can be deployed quickly ! up to 15 feet-per-second along their tracks.

A full complement of fixed PTZ cameras and domes was also installed in the parking lots. These units can also be controlled from the central station at the facility.

"Our perimeter cameras are dedicated primarily to making sure trucks and trailers stay where they're supposed to be and we don't have people coming over the fence," Finck says. "The inside cameras are more for compliance for security. In other words, if we need to go back and look at a camera and determine which truck a particular load was put on, we can do that."

The head-end equipment is located in the security office and is mounted in a three-bay video console. Four Pelco multiplexers and four Gyyr VCRs and monitors are rack-mounted in the console. Three 20-inch color monitors are installed with additional monitors for screening.

The CCTV can be monitored locally or through a remote video transmission system. Finck and his staff can dial up their CCTV with a system provided by Axcess/Prism. They can then operate a multiplexer that enables them the ability to scroll the cameras and operate those that are pan-tilt-zoom. With images traveling over a telephone line and operating numerous cameras, the rate of image transmission is not real-time, but the system gives the off-site viewer a good idea of what is taking place at the facility.

Security for the Oakland facility is not limited simply to CCTV. All employees use card access and everyone entering and leaving the building are checked at a pass-through magnetometer provided by Ceia. This system is able to pinpoint where metal is present on someone's body by flashing color lights along one of its columns.

A conveyor x-ray machine manufactured by EG&G Astrophysics allows all packages and bags to get similar scrutiny.

"It's a very technically-advanced x-ray, which can look for organic and inorganic substances. We can see, for example, plastic explosives or plastic guns," Finck says.

FedEx has always taken an aggressive approach to security. While FAA regulations make certain requirements, Finck says the company has traditionally worked to exceed them.

"We've always done more, for example, on the airports than the FAA requires," he explains. "At our larger airport ramps we have the same screening facility with the x-ray. The FAA does not require that, but it was something Fed Ex thought was important years ago."

Finck acknowledges that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon had an effect on the way security at FedEx is operated.

All FedEx employees and their baggage ! who ride in a cargo aircraft's jump seat ! are now hand-searched before boarding, for example.

Technology will continue to play an important role in this company's drive for security. Finck and his staff have been able to blend CCTV systems and metal detectors into an effective system guarding a busy facility.

"It's not the end all by any means," Finck says. "There are certain things at airports and these sensitive locations that can only be done by a human body walking around. The technology has allowed us to cover ! with cameras and especially with the track ! greater distances without adding manpower."

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