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Keeping Trouble Out of Shoppers’ Paradise

Massive Mall of America fortifies its security by converting its outdated video surveillance system into an advanced IP-based solution.



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The integrator finally obtained the official approval to proceed in March 2009 and began the installation on May 11. VTI assigned a dedicated project manager to serve as the coordination point for its own engineers, technicians, programmers and CTO, as well as vendor partners and the client’s IT and security staff, to coordinate the engineering and conversion of the system. The $270,000 deployment would total 120 man-hours to complete.

“Key to this process was coming up with a plan to ensure our system was never completely down, as safety and security is our main priority,” says Buegler. “Once this plan was in place, things seemed to flow smoothly. To maintain functionality during mall hours, the majority of the installation took place overnight. The cameras were cut over to the new system in sections to ensure the entire system was not down all at once.”

Encoders, Storage, VMS Selected

Axis Communications Q7406 six-channel encoders were chosen to convert the analog cameras to IP video. The hot swappable encoders’ chassis have dual power supplies and dual fans to provide fault tolerance. Pivot3’s Cloudbank was selected as the video storage system, with six servers and one management station totaling 72TB of raw storage. Finally, Genetec’s Omnicast software was installed on five virtual machines within the Cloudbank array and serves as the video management system (VMS).

Allan explains why the Axis product was specified: “The encoders were chosen for their high density capabilities in a racked environment, and their redundancy. We can get 84 channels in one chassis and the 7406 encoder blades are hot swappable. If one blade were to fail we could swap it out without the need to shut down the other 78 channels in the chassis. Each chassis has redundant power supplies, hot swappable fans and Ethernet ports.”

Redundancy was also one of the leading reasons the Pivot3 offering made the grade. According to Allan, not only are the drives redundant, but so are the power supplies, network ports, virtual machines and physical servers, known as Cloudbanks. MOA’s IT department also valued the solution being specifically designed for the purpose of video archiving and that it lent itself to being easily reconfigured.

“We have been working on a plan to double the size of this mall, and the Pivot3 combined storage and server solution provides us with the flexibility and the scalability needed to expand much more efficiently than anything else we have evaluated,” says Chris Lake-Smith, MOA’s director of IT. 

Considering that MOA typically has four to six security stations running multiple surveillance feeds at any given time, Omnicast was the VMS of choice due to the software’s scalability and multicasting capabilities. As Buegler explains, other factors played a role as well.

“The Genetec system offered all the features we were looking for in a digital recording solution,” she says. “It was already being used in our sister mall in Canada, which allowed for a seamless integration with our camera system. Genetec also offers peripheral software add-ons such as license plate recognition utilities that could easily be added to the system at a later date.”

One more note about the new equipment. Because MOA’s security operators were accustomed to using Pelco 9760 keyboards for pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) functions of the cameras, VTI engineered the system to accommodate the Pelco analog keyboards so they could control the virtual matrix.

Hiccups Are Promptly Remedied

Because the existing system was failing and the 24/7 requirements of the mall’s security department, this project’s overriding chAllange was converting the system quickly and efficiently without impacting the complex’s normal commerce, entertainment and maintenance operations. VTI Security succeeded in this mission by doing the lion’s share of engineering upfront and working with MOA staff to assist in the deployment of the systems.

However, even with the best laid plans scarcely any project of this scope is without its logistic and technological snags. How those instances are managed and resolved is what truly demonstrates the character and aptitude of those involved. In the case of the MOA project, those traits were conspicuously evident with sound reasoning, swift action, skillfulness and teamwork.

For example, there was an issue using the encoders to establish the keyboard connections for p/t/z control. The units were replaced with Axis 7401 encoders that were shipped in overnight. As Allan details, there was another issue with the encoders, this one involving the planned frame rate.

“The system was engineered for a frame rate of 24 frames per second,” he says. “The Axis encoders allowed any frame rate to be selected, but the Genetec VMS only recognized 15 frames per second and 30 frames per second at the upper end. Genetec escalated the issue internally and quickly deployed a patch to the software that allowed a variable frame rate setting to match the Axis encoders.”

A few weeks after the project was wrapped up, one of the Pivot3 Cloudbank appliances failed due to a power loss. Thanks to the safeguards put in place, Allan says it did not impact operations.

“We believe an electrician was tie-wrapping the electrical cables that feed power to the Cloudbank and accidentally pulled the two electrical plugs out of the server. The Pivot3 system quickly moved the virtual machine that runs a portion of the VMS software from the failed unit to another unit, and booted the virtual machine automatically. A portion of the video system was down for less than 3 minutes.” 

Solution a Hit, Has Room to Grow

Once up and running, the system was instantly an essential component of MOA’s security force, being used to monitor live activities, and retrieve and research archived video. VTI provided onsite training for MOA supervisors, who then passed that knowledge on to the rest of the staff. The system is monitored and operated by trained security personnel 24/7, 365 days a year.

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Article Topics
Video Surveillance · Vertical Markets · Axis Communications · Commercial Market · Cover Story · IP-based · Mall of America · Retail · All Topics

About the Author
Scott Goldfine
Scott joined SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in October 1998 and has distinguished himself by producing award-winning, exemplary work. His editorial achievements have included blockbuster articles featuring major industry executives, such as Tyco Electronic Products Group Managing Director Gerry Head; Protection One President/CEO Richard Ginsburg; former Brink’s Home Security President/CEO Peter Michel; GE Interlogix President/CEO Ken Boyda; Bosch Security Systems President/CEO Peter Ribinski; and former SecurityLink President/CEO Jim Covert. Scott, who is an NTS Certified alarm technician, has become a respected and in-demand speaker at security industry events, including presentations at the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) Annual Meeting; California Alarm Association (CAA) Summer and Winter Conferences; PSA Security Network Conference; International Security Conference and Exhibition (ISC); and Security Industry Association (SIA) Forum. Scott often acts as an ambassador to mainstream media and is a participant in several industry associations. His previous experience as a cable-TV technician/installer and running his own audio company -- along with a lifelong fascination with electronics and computers -- prepared Scott well for his current position. Since graduating in 1986 with honors from California State University, Northridge with a degree in Radio-Television- Film, his professional endeavors have encompassed magazines, radio, TV, film, records, teletext, books, the Internet and more. In 2005, Scott captured the prestigious Western Publisher Maggie Award for Best Interview/Profile Trade for "9/11 Hero Tells Tale of Loses, Lessons," his October 2004 interview with former FDNY Commander Richard Picciotto, the last man to escape the Ground Zero destruction alive.
Contact Scott Goldfine: sgoldfine@ehpub.com
View More by Scott Goldfine
Axis Communications, Commercial Market, Cover Story, IP-based, Mall of America, Retail, Videotronix Inc. VTI


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