San Diego Convention Center Combines Analog And Digital Technologies
San Diego Convention Center Combines Analog And Digital Technologies

May 1, 2003 12:00 PM

For more than two years, a team of designers and builders scrambled day and night to complete the $216 million renovation of the San Diego Convention Center in time for the June 2001 Biotechnology Industry Organization Convention. As concrete was being poured in one part of the facility, electrical contractors were pulling wires in another area, and the fire safety equipment was being installed in another area and the project was complete enough to host the convention.

The convention center was also well prepared this year when a convoy of television broadcasting trucks approached it just days before the NFL Super Bowl. The recently expanded 75,756-square-foot lobby area was transformed into the Official NFL Media Center. Thanks to a new, state-of-the-art security system, the expanded convention center was ready for the Super Bowl onslaught.

The 2001 expansion had nearly doubled the Convention Center's size. There is now more than 500,000 gross square feet of contiguous exhibit space on the ground level, with an additional 90,000 square feet of column-free exhibit space in the upper level Sails Pavilion ranking it the 20th largest convention center in North America. The architects for the expansion were Tucker, Sadler and Associates, in collaboration with Howard, Needles, Tammen and Bergendorf (HNTB). Turner Construction managed and built the expanded facility.

As the facility expanded, so did its security systems. Images of visitors approaching the convention center lobby are captured by Pelco SD5 Series Spectra Dome cameras discreetly mounted along the exterior railing of the building. Security personnel in the control room watch a bank of 21-inch color monitors and can view visitors' cars approaching. If necessary, personnel can also read the cars' license plates using the camera's 96-zoom capability, which is operated by a joystick on the console. Security can select and monitor any camera on the system, and control the pan and tilt from the controller. Additionally, they can choose to display the images from 16 different cameras on one screen, for "picture in picture" display.

The cameras can magnify an object up to 12x on the optical zoom, and 8x with the digital zoom. Each camera can be set for eight zones, and includes pre-set positioning, with +2 to -92 degree tilt. The speed can be varied from 0.5 to 40 degrees per second, and up to 250 degrees per second for pre-programmed pattern movements. Whoever is on duty at the bank of monitors can trigger and reset alarms, trigger a VCR recording, and operate a camera control override.
Power of the People

The security guest staff are posted at all entrances to the facility, and each entrance is covered by a camera. Trained and responsive personnel are an integral part of the center's overall security strategy. Every member of the staff is cross-trained, so on any given day you can see the same person greeting guests at the front, checking-in truck traffic at one of the 50 loading docks in the back, or keeping a close eye on the monitors in the office. Monitors are always being watched; the camera system does not sit idle. Every open space has a person and a camera covering it. Every part of the exterior has a camera, and there are house phones all over the building.

"This is the way we cover security," says Daryl Mayekawa, assistant manager, Security Guest Services for the convention center. "Coupled with the excellent intrusion alarms, fire and smoke sensors, I think we have a pretty good handle on what goes on in the building."

Pat Louette of guest services is posted at the entrance to the front driveway of the building. "His entire role is to evaluate all approaching vehicles and people," Mayekawa explains. "Our policy is, if a door is unlocked, then it needs to be staffed by a Guest Services or Security person. Our staff is trained to talk with each and every person or vehicle that approaches." They stay in touch with the office via one of the 250 handheld two-way radios. "We did the bid for the radios as the expansion was being built," says Gayle Tibbs, sales manager for BearCom System's local office. The radios have telephone capabilities, and can be tied into other agencies' systems.

"Their people were a key element in the original plans for the system," says Barry Levine, vice president of Sperry West in San Diego. "We were approached five years ago to help with their expansion plans. Camera systems had been installed in two phases and some of the equipment was inoperative. The repair costs would have been huge, and integrating new equipment would have been more costly."

With help from the Pelco representatives, Levine was able to recommend the new digital surveillance system. The cameras are capable of operating in all levels of light.

In addition, each of the eight elevators is equipped with Sperry West fixed, corner-mount Spyder cameras. The cameras are purposely designed to be visible, not covert, thus offering another level of deterrence.

The Convention Center eventually elected not to tie the old and new systems together, but to gradually replace the entire system. All of the cameras on the west end of the center are digital, while all of the cameras covering the east end are on S-VHS. Levine praises the clarity of the S-VHS cameras and monitors. The S-VHS system also provides time-lapse recording, which allows for longer recording times on each tape. A picture is recorded every second. However, in the event of an alarm situation, they can switch from time-lapse to real-time recording. The VHS tapes are kept for 31 days, then replaced completely every six months, while the digital records are stored for 21 days. The Pelco CM9760-CCI controller allows for 16 cameras per input/output peripheral, with a system maximum of 128 monitors and 976 cameras. The exact number of cameras currently on the system changes as upgrades continue.

The Convention Center does not use any card access entry devices since it is a public space with doors in use every day. "Maybe sometime in the future, they will eventually have a card access system for specific areas of the facility," Levine says.

Every door in the facility has a sensor using the Secure Net Door Alarm Monitoring System from Security System Techniques, San Diego. Each door opening is marked as an alert on the system, and will be displayed on the monitor, saved to disk, and printed on a hard copy at the printer.

Mayekawa explains that the patrol people are responsible for walking every inch of the building, all day, every day.

Throughout the building, there are 350 Siemens FP 11 smoke detectors, which are set to very early smoke detection (VESDA) specifications. There are also air duct detectors, heat detectors, and water flow detectors placed strategically throughout the facility. They all tie in to the MXL-Cerberus Pyrotronics command center, which controls lighting, captures elevators, closes fire doors, activates audible and visual evacuation signals and alerts the proper authorities.

"We had to work around the scheduling of conventions, and keep everything going," says Richard Schmidt of Power Communications Systems, the local distributor for Siemens.

In the Guest Services office, the staff can monitor all of the buildings' systems, including fire/life, electrical, lighting, and HVAC. If there is an alert on the Cerberus annunciator board, the alarm can be acknowledged and the appropriate people can be dispatched. An LED will light in the exact location on the schematic, and a graphic location will be highlighted in the schematic on the computer screen. "If someone should upset a sprinkler head, it will alert us," Mayekawa says. There are different evacuation plans for each area of the building, so that an alarm in one area does not disrupt the entire facility. If a fire alarm goes off, the strobe lights will operate, (according to ADA requirements, to alert those with impaired hearing), there will be an audible buzzing, and the siren will operate throughout the building. The alarm can be turned off by the computer for the new side or manually in the original building. "In any case," Mayekawa says, "the incident must be investigated before the alarm can be turned off."
Jo'el Roth is a San Diego-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems.

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