Dec 1, 2001 12:00 PM

When Renee Glover took on the role of executive director at the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) in 1995, her top priorities were to stop the "warehousing" of people and to put AHA into the business of being a good landlord. As director of protective services, John Spillers knew that providing a safe and protected environment for residents is essential to creating better communities. The fifth-largest housing authority in the United States, the Atlanta Housing Authority has a mission to provide quality, affordable housing for the betterment of the Atlanta community while being a self-sustaining provider and a catalyst for community revitalization.

Two of the groups with special needs served by the AHA are the elderly and the disabled. Eighteen high-rise buildings located throughout the Atlanta metropolitan area are dedicated to serving them. "I want to reduce the risk for all residents, or as we refer to them, customers, that they may fall victim to a crime. Our elderly and disabled residents deserve as much or more protection than anyone," Spillers says.

In cooperation with the Atlanta police, Spillers has provided enhanced protection for AHA residents. Working in a security capacity at the Atlanta Olympic games prior to joining the AHA, Spillers had observed the potential of CCTV monitoring to fight crime and to create a record for police investigation and possible prosecution.

The 18 AHA sites comprise a total of 20 buildings. Spillers wanted to install a CCTV system throughout the network of buildings, integrated with on-site security and fed into a central monitoring station. "We push management to the lowest level, so decision-making and responsibility are delegated to each site," he says.

Because of the potentially sensitive nature of CCTV surveillance, Spillers and his staff conducted 18 separate negotiations about the proposed installation with each on-site building manager and a group of residents. They discussed why the system was needed and where each camera would be located. The results of this long, but vital, process are 316 cameras in the 21 buildings ! including the AHA headquarters building. On-site monitoring is conducted at a security post and in each on-site manager's office. Simultaneous monitoring takes place at the AHA command center in its downtown Atlanta offices.

In October 1998, plans were finalized for a February 2000 retrofit of all 20 residential buildings. Plans called for each site to record its own cameras onto standard VHS recorders. But even on paper, Spillers could see he needed a more robust CCTV security system ! for the analog recorders to record constantly at a high enough frame rate, security personnel would be overwhelmed in a sea of video cassettes. "From my experience at the Olympics, I knew digital [recording] was the wave of the future, and we needed a digital recording capability," Spillers says.

Though Spillers favored digital technology, a digital solution for the entire installation didn't fit the current budget. Thus, AHA would need a combined solution. Spillers looked to digital recording to provide record-on-demand from the central command center. He envisioned a system that would allow any of the more than 300 cameras to be fed into a digital recorder at any time to create a clear, superior record. "The difference in clarity between analog and digital is remarkable, the speed of picture from camera to monitor excellent, and the ease of operation with digital is simply the best," Spillers says.

While at the ASIS (American Society for International Security) convention in 1999 in Las Vegas, Spillers viewed a demonstration of Ra'anana, Israel-based NICE Systems' NiceVision digital recording system. "I observed the remote recording capabilities and the quality of the image, and I thought it would complement anything we have."

Initially, AHA installed one NiceVision recorder in the central command room, providing 24 inputs for immediate recording of any camera on demand and for any camera programmed to record for a pre-determined, specific time period. The results have been highly impressive. "We can print still images from the recordings, and that has really paid dividends for us," says Eric Kelly, CPP, deputy director of protective services. The CCTV system, with digital recording, has been effective in a number of ways. First, the protective services staff is convinced that prominent signage alerting residents and guests to CCTV surveillance is an effective deterrent. In addition, Spillers and his staff have been able to record specific areas at designated times to capture vandalism, improper resident behavior, and even crimes against residents. The image quality and 15 frames-per-second speed provided by the digital video recorder give the AHA staff evidence they need to go to the police or, in less serious cases, to speak to customers directly to demand a change in behavior.

Each building has three layers of security coverage in concert with CCTV. There are individual security posts in each building with security personnel posted at all times during weekdays and 16 hours on weekends. A resident manager is on hand eight hours a day, five days a week, and both the security professional and the manager have CCTV monitors at their locations. In addition to on-site personnel, the central command center has a minimum of four operators on duty at all times. With security personnel in each building backed up by central command, they are able to patrol more freely and can respond confidently to incidents. While providing enhanced security and a better environment for its customers, AHA has also been able to cut weekend on-site personnel.

The system works so that any authority ! post personnel, manager, or central command personnel ! can request immediate digital recording or that a specific camera record for a designated time period. Central command had occasion to use the digital recording capability recently. "Just a few weeks ago, a central command operator saw someone who had broken into his car in the parking lot here," Kelly says. "The operator immediately initiated digital recording with the NiceVision system and called the police. The police apprehended the person before they left the garage area, and we had clear pictures of who it was and the car they had broken into."

How do the residents feel about the CCTV monitoring system? Spillers explains, "Residents love the system because it's helping make their residences a better place to live. They're completely invested in making sure that the CCTV system continues in place. We do active public relations. When the system helps us catch someone doing what they shouldn't be doing, or our residents observe that problems are diminishing, or a perpetrator's been caught, word gets around."

Eli Gorovici, vice president of global sales for NiceVision has watched the Atlanta Housing installation closely and applauds its use of the technology. "In my observation, the NiceVision system is simple to operate, intuitive, and what the operators see on the monitor is exactly what they get in replay and in a printout. Thus far, their operators have experienced minimal problems with the system, and they've been pleasantly surprised at how much they can do with just a small investment of time in training," Gorovici says.

Not only is the AHA one of the largest housing authorities in the country, but it is also showing leadership when it comes to security management. "We've been asked numerous times about our security system as well as our CCTV monitoring system from other housing authorities," Spillers says. At this time, industry trends suggest a number of housing authorities are interested in replacing old and less effective security components and using that process to improve communication and the overall security environment for their residents. "We really pride ourselves in making substantial progress on many of these challenges," Spillers says. "At AHA, we want to have the best management, equipment, service, and training so that we can be an innovator in every aspect ! including security."

And down the road? "My goal is to eventually have everything fully integrated: every camera, access control, audio, alarms, etc. and whenever there is a problem it can be resolved immediately." Spillers' plans for his protective services division don't stop there. "My long-term goal is to transform security into more of a business entity ! to put us in the position to generate revenue by providing security services to other authorities or organizations and to provide more comprehensive security. If we can derive revenue from our department, we can invest back into the security function so we can protect our people and our assets even better. High-quality, high-performing equipment is part of our plan today and part of our larger plan as we go forward."

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