Minnesotas Mall of America (MOA) is the Midwests No. 1 tourist destination, generating 40 million annual visitors. More than a half-billion people have visited MOA since its doors opened in 1992.On any given day, it is the states third largest city in population.
As one of the world's largest retail destinations, Mall of America (MOA) in Bloomington, Minn., is a world unto itself. Known as the city within a city, MOA spans four miles of storefronts, employs 13,000 people, and hosts 40 million visitors and 350 special events each year. Ensuring this unique environment is as pleasant and safe as possible is of the highest priority. That monumental task has been made easier thanks to a new IP-based video surveillance system.
Minneapolis-based VTI Security was brought in to design and deploy a solution that would improve the quality, speed and reliability of MOA's dated and failing video surveillance system. The new system would need to cover 4.2-million square feet of enclosed common-area space, including a 7-acre indoor amusement park and 1.2-million-gallon aquarium.
"The system needed to record at 24 images per second when required on all cameras, and have complete fault tolerance," says Rick Allan, CTO for VTI Security. "It also needed to serve as a virtual matrix switcher for the existing analog cameras."
Collaborating on a project with origins stretching back four years, the integrator worked alongside the mall's IT department, security staff and technicians to convert a mix of 300 Pelco and Bosch cameras from analog to encoded IP video. The job afforded minimal downtime and limited geographic space for the conversion of equipment.
VTI Takes Training to Heart
With satellite offices in Milwaukee, Denver, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Amarillo, Texas, VTI Security specializes in the design, installation and support of large-scale, commercial, integrated security projects. One of the company's recent installations, for example, included more than 1,500 cameras, 1,000 access points and fully integrated audio systems, all managed from a central command center.
Founded 29 years ago, VTI Security's staff of more than 100 technicians, software engineers, and call center and back-office personnel support in excess of 5,000 client sites and respond to 9,000 customer service requests annually. A member of SecurityNet's network of locally owned integrators, VTI manages more than 600 projects a year ranging in size from $2 million to $2,500.
According to Senior Account Manager Jerry Klapak, VTI Security's continuing success in the face of a bleak economy has much to do with pursuing new vertical markets and keeping up with converging technology.
"We've seen growth in the energy vertical markets and others associated with homeland security," he says. "A primary challange faced by all integrators is staying current on the training and certifications required in the converged marketplace. We made substantial investments in Network+, Cisco certification and other network-related training for our technicians. As a result, our business has been stable and we have not experienced any workforce reductions."
When the opportunity surfaced to upgrade MOA's video system, VTI Security was well positioned to earn the business as it was already the facility's access control provider. However, VTI not only had to formally submit a bid and compete with other integrators on the surveillance piece but even had to vie with MOA's own IT department on the servers and storage components.
"In the end we provided the lowest total cost of ownership and best value," says Klapak. "Although we assisted Mall of America's security department in evaluations and system comparisons, they were a very technically savvy group with a high level of expectations for the system's performance."
Emergency Operations Captain Heidi Buegler - a 10-year veteran of the Mall of America Security Department whose responsibilities include MOA's emergency plans, security dispatch area (staff and equipment), parking personnel and parental escort program - has established a strong partnership with VTI. She holds the integrator's technical know-how in high regard.
"Mall of America has worked with VTI on several other projects," she says. "Due to their reputation and ongoing training, as well as through the product demonstrations they provide security and public safety professionals, they have shown themselves to be a company that stays current with ever-changing technology."
4 Years Spent Evaluating Options
Four years were logged researching the best surveillance solution, during nearly three of which VTI Security assisted MOA's security staff in planning and evaluating the project.
"The mall's security staff played a critical role in the evaluation of the video software and hardware," says Allan. "We did onsite testing of encoders, cameras and software platforms. Together with the mall's IT department, we also looked at multiple options and manufacturers for the servers and storage systems."
The end user's target list of upgraded video surveillance system capabilities included: higher resolution; higher frame rate; quick retrieval of archived data; user-friendly software interface; robust searching functionality; retention reliability; more versatile media output/exporting options; and in general a fully digital system compatible with newer technology such as IP cameras and analytics.
"Several digital recording solutions were researched and demoed on Mall of America property prior to a final decision. We were careful to complete due diligence," says Buegler.