Mega-mall requires mega-security
Mega-mall requires mega-security

Feb 1, 1999 12:00 PM
Carol Carey

Complex system - woven into a colorful landscape - provides state-of-the-art protection.

A security director would need eyes and ears everywhere to succeed at the daunting task of controlling crime and maintaining safety in a four-story, 1.8-million-square-foot mega-mall, brimming over with recreational, entertainment and dining facilities.

For this reason, Kevin T. Ryff, director of safety and security for the Palisades Cen- ter Mall in West Nyack, N.Y., is grateful that the New York metropolitan-area complex was designed with security in mind. Its open design with wide corridors, clear sight-lines, unobtrusive landscaping, numerous clusters of high, bright lights and skylights make the mall as uninviting to criminals as it is attractive to the public.

Opened in March 1998 but not yet fully occupied, the mall has about 200 shops, 3,000 employees, 9,000 parking spaces, a 2,200-seat food court, a 21-screen movie complex, a 63-foot Ferris wheel, a restored antique carousel and a National Hockey League-size ice skating rink. Anchor department stores include J.C. Penney, Filenes, Lord & Taylor and an impressive group of "home" stores, including Home Depot, CompUSA and Staples. Owned by EklecCo, a division of the Pyramid Companies, Syracuse, N.Y., the mall is the second largest in the state, according to spokesman Doug Snodgrass. If plans to expand the mall to 3 million square feet in a couple of years pan out, he says, Palisades Center will become the second largest mall in America.

With a warehouse design motif, the mall has floors labeled with the names of nearby stores in bright letters. High ceilings reveal utility conduits of all shapes and sizes, from wide steel cylinders to flat, see-through trays of pipes and wiring for the heating, cooling, communication and other vital functions that keep the mall humming seven days a week.

Among this plethora of pipes, wires and cables - hidden but not too hidden - audio, video and data signals carry security information from the far reaches of roofs and parking lots through the shopping hubs, food court, movie theater complex and diverse recreation sites to the security dispatch center.

It is from this dispatch center that the mall's eyes and ears keep watch, spanning out to detect door breaches in service areas and back corridors, skirmishes in parking lots and underground garages, perpetrators of credit card fraud or trouble in the recreational and shopping corridors.

Neat, locker-like rows of black boxes contain the circuitry connecting meandering cables of intercom, fire safety and security systems to several computers and a powerful Pelco CM 9760 matrix switcher. The switcher not only controls the mall's 137 interior and exterior pan/tilt/zoom and fixed cameras but also interfaces with Orion Automation Inc.'s Oasis software, a security integration system linked with a Honeywell door alarm system and an Alphacom call box system by Stentofon Communications Inc., Kansas City, Mo.

In the front of the dispatch office, operators sit before a panel of 13-inch overhead and 11-inch desk Pelco monitors to view full-screen displays of major areas in the shopping center: escalators, underground parking areas, parking decks and lots, eateries, high-volume floor areas, entrances and bus stops.

Operators use a joystick to control cameras through the Pelco switcher, pairing cameras with specific monitors, using the pan/tilt/zoom controls and choosing tours or sequences to scan the mall. Cameras also can be operated through the Oasis software, integrated with the Pelco system.

A Robot MV series of multiplexers allow operators to scroll continually through various camera locations displayed on the overhead monitors or, when necessary, to split the screens and display up to 16 camera points on one monitor, says David Haley, building systems manager.

Ryff is understandably proud of the CCTV system. "We have a larger security crew than most small municipal police departments, but nothing gets to a site as fast as a camera or a radio," he says. "Our dispatch center officers can patrol the entire complex by going from monitor to monitor. We've adjusted the cameras for optimum capability, enabling us to see down the wide corridors to an entrance door, for instance. We can follow people, such as those suspected of credit card fraud, which is our most common security problem," Ryff says.

Ryff's security team works closely with store employees, informed of a code word to use when they need immediate assistance. An employee suspecting a customer of credit card fraud can use the code to inform the dispatch center over the phone when the customer is still in the store, Ryff says.

"This has enabled us not only to send an officer immediately to the site, but also to follow the suspected perpetrator from camera to camera as he or she makes their way out of the store and through the mall," Ryff says.

The method of focusing cameras on particular sites has enabled security staff to spot skirmishes such as those between store personnel and suspected shoplifters and immediately notify local police, who also patrol the mall from a substation next to the dispatch office, he says.

Both Ryff and Haley find that using split screens is less effective than using whole screens to display segments of the mall, which is called segmenting. Notes Haley, "We found that single screen scrolling displays are more beneficial. You're seeing one camera fill the entire screen; you get more in the picture than you do with a split screen."

While cameras can be controlled directly from the Pelco control panel with the joystick, they also can be controlled through the Oasis software installed in a computer beside the central dispatch desk. Two other important foundations of the mall's security system are integrated with this software as well, the Honeywell door alarm system and the Stentofon call box system.

"We have door alarms in the back corridors, stairwells, exits from the back corridors and on doors throughout the mall," Ryff says.

"We also have emergency call boxes throughout all the parking areas, including the underground parking area. If someone activates a button on the emergency box, the camera closest to the box is programmed to pan the area," Ryff says. This is achieved through the Oasis software.

Call boxes in parking lots, decks and garages contain panic buttons, blue lights and audio interfaces. Panic buttons trigger alarms in the dispatch office. Call box locations appear on screen through the Oasis graphics package, which also allows security operators to call up pictures of call box locations. If door alarm points are involved, their locations also will appear and be available for camera interfaces as well. With maps, icons, data and camera interfaces, dispatchers can make split-second decisions such as whether to dispatch patrol officers to sites, call police or open and close doors. Call boxes are wired into a call box interface in the dispatch office, Haley says.

Serial cables connect the computer in which the software is installed to the call box system, matrix switcher and door alarm system. A serial port expander from Digiboard, Eden Prairie, Minn., adds a third port to the computer, while serial port converters give the extra boost of voltage over the standard RS-232 needed by the alarm, call box and camera systems, according to David Daxenbichler, vice president of Orion Automation Inc.

Door alarm contacts and control devices for opening and closing are wired to digitally supervised alarm input and relay output boards manufactured by Applied Digital Inc., Branson, Mo. The boards are daisy-chained together by a data loop; some have relays that allow operators to remotely open and close doors.

Daxenbichler explains how the Oasis software, which runs on a Windows NT operating system, works to integrate several security systems: "If someone kicks a door in, for instance, that would send a signal immediately to the software and an alarm would be triggered. The appropriate graphics appear and flash an icon associated with that alarm point. A wave file (a sound file) may play, sending a pre-programmed message such as, 'The front door has been violated.' This repeats until the operator acknowledges the message. The incident is stored and logged by time and date. At the same time, the operator can call a given camera to a given alarm point."

When a call box alarm is activated through the software, a similar process occurs; a security officer has the ability to view the call box location through the graphics, see an actual picture at the camera location and take appropriate action. The blue light on top of the call box provides a visual aid if the dispatcher decides to send a patrol officer to the location.

The majority of the security system wir-ing at the Palisades Center is done through copper coaxial cable, but for the longer runs - for instance, from an exterior, pan/tilt/zoom camera - fiber-optic cable is used. Lines are run through long, rectangular steel cable trays that traverse the building on the ceilings, says Haley, as well as through hard metal pipes, directly into the dispatch center.

In some cases, Haley explains, intermediate pro-cessors are used to amplify signals that must travel a long distance. "Everything monitored on our roof is run via fiber-optics because that is the farthest distance from the dispatch office," says Haley.

Through fiber-optic signal transducers, coaxial cable connects the CCTV cameras to the fiber-optic lines at one end and the fiber-optic lines to the Pelco matrix switcher in the dispatch office at the other. The transducers take light signals from the fiber-optics and convert them to an electronic signal that can be carried on coaxial cable, explains Haley. All but 10 of the cameras are color, he notes, and all are overt, with the pan/tilt/zoom cameras in continuing 360-degree motion inside a dome. In addition, 10 VCRs tape the cameras 24 hours per day.

It is not only the cameras and other security devices that never sleep, however. Security officers, including retired police officers, EMTs and bilingual personnel, are on duty around the clock. In addition to foot patrols, there are three mobile vehicles.

Ryff's background includes 24 years on the New York City Police Department, where he received specialized training in handling disasters in the Special Operations Division. He has been with Palisades Center since July 1997, where he is responsible for fire and life safety systems as well as security. The Honeywell fire alarm system is controlled from its own computer in the dispatch office. The mall has its own firehouse and fire truck. Emergency personnel can communicate through radios with mall security personnel in case of fire or other emergencies.

The prime contractor for the security system is TEC Systems, Long Island City, N.Y.

With its resident fire and police stations, a security staff of about 60 people, crime-prevention design and state-of-the art security systems, the Palisades Center Mall has added a high level of safety and security to its unique, ambitious mix of recreation and shopping.

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