Bridging the Security Gap

The Sept. 11 attacks have stimulated swift action to protect concerns vital to America’s national security. This has opened up a wellspring of opportunity for companies like Valley Alarm, which recently installed CCTV and intrusion systems on a pair of Los Angeles Harbor bridges.

Modern American bridges are marvels of engineering ingenuity. They connect people and places, facilitate commerce, and add a thrilling aesthetic to their surroundings. However, that thrill became a horrifying chill after the attacks of Sept. 11 made Homeland Security the modus operandi – forever transforming these glorious gateways into potential terrorist targets.

Suddenly, securing the nation’s major bridges became a top priority, thus inducing a mad scramble among government transportation agencies to expeditiously accomplish the task. Such was the case with Los Angeles Port’s Vincent Thomas Bridge and Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Draw Bridge in Long Beach, Calif.

These bridges—the former of which is also known as “San Pedro’s Golden Gate”—are the two main auto thoroughfares leading to the busiest harbor in the country. To safeguard them, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) turned to a familiar source—Van Nuys, Calif.-based Valley Alarm.

Founded in 1981, Valley Alarm already had a proven history of protecting other Caltrans facilities. However, while the agency’s comfort level with Valley Alarm gave it the inside track, the company still had to sweat out the bidding process before being awarded the job on Nov. 8, 2001.

The project called for integrated video surveillance and intrusion systems to be tied into California’s existing state network. The installation’s urgency and unique location demanded that Valley Alarm work at a feverish pace, while braving a boatload of environmental impediments.

Legwork, Relationship, Hard Work Pay Off

Valley Alarm had already invested a lot of time and energy in the L.A. bridges project before members of its 21-person staff actually began on-site work Dec. 1, 2001.

The company spent two weeks researching the bridges before even submitting a bid. Then, after winning the contract, there was a flurry of activity to secure bonds, procure equipment, create schedules and timelines, as well as other prep work. Fortunately, the client was clear about its expectations.

Caltrans is a huge organization that employs 23,000 people and has an annual budget of $20 billion. Its payroll includes experts in almost every area, including electricians, structural engineers, bridge specialists, information technology (IT) technicians and engineers, and construction engineers. Despite its size, Caltrans proved to be very easy to work with.

The importance of the project inspired Michel, a 30-year security industry veteran, to return to the field for the first time in five years. “Because of the significance of the work, I felt I had to be involved,” explains Michel. Other key Valley Alarm personnel included Vice President David Michel, Sales Manager Steve Fitzgerald and Installation Foreman Brian Gholston.

Hitting the scheduled completion date of Feb. 28, 2002 entailed crews putting in 12-hour days, six days a week for three consecutive months. Labor totaled 2,600 man-hours, while the final cost was $600,000. “We agreed with Caltrans that if we were awarded the job, we would work sunup to sundown, six days a week. And, in fact, some weeks we worked seven days,” vouches Michel.

So Little Time, So Many Environmental Challenges

The project’s tight timetable was further complicated by having to adhere to strict specifications and with an unforgiving location that posed many serious challenges.

Meanwhile, the lengthy laundry list of environmental factors that had to be overcome included worker and public safety; corrosive salt air; high winds; great heights; heavy traffic; the sheer size of the bridges; structural movement; vibrations; cramped conditions; and working with rigid pipe and steel.

Due to the salt air, special boxes, fasteners and paints had to be utilized, while all cabling was run inside galvanized pipe. Most of the conduit had to be attached to steel, which cannot be drilled. Hence, it had to be installed with clamps and brackets.

Much of the equipment was installed in very high locations, which required the use of special lift equipment. Crewmembers had to spend about half their time in full body harnesses.

Since the bridges are heavily traveled, road closures were not feasible. Therefore, most of the work had to be done in close proximity to moving traffic, and frequent lane closures had to be coordinated.

The Vincent Thomas Bridge alone is constructed from 92,000 tons of cement; 13,000 tons of lightweight concrete; 14,100 tons of steel; and 1,270 tons of suspension cable. It has an overall length of 6,050 feet, with a main suspension span of 1,500 feet and its two towers measure 365-feet high.

To withstand high winds and traffic, both bridges have been designed to move as needed in order to maintain structural integrity.

The bridges also vibrate quite a bit and, in the case of the drawbridge, split the roadway in two – presenting special challenges in connecting a system from one end to the other. “Everything shakes more than you can probably imagine,” continues Michel. “This also required the use of special equipment and techniques.”

The conditions of this installation were so unusual that they led to Valley Alarm coining the term “Bridge Standard.” This is used to signify equipment and installation techniques that are suitable for use on bridges. “I assure you that most mounts, fasteners and common installation practices are not ‘Bridge Standard,’” contends Michel.

CCTV, Intrusion Systems Linked to State’s Network

Determining which type of security measures would work best for this application took considerable analysis. Since there is unimpeded vehicular traffic on the bridges and the public has continuous access to most areas, most electronic systems were ruled out.

The best solution was deemed to be a continuously monitored CCTV system that would provide authorities the means to observe any irregular or threatening activity and then alert police and/or the military. Thus, a digital video recording system was selected to keep a record of events and facilitate networking.

Microwave transmission was deployed as a cost-effective means for sending video signals from inaccessible to remote locations, while, when possible, twisted-pair transmission was used for some of the longer cable runs. Intrusion alarm systems were installed in the areas that could be secured.

“The intrusion alarm systems are quite basic systems that are very effective where they are installed,” adds Michel. “They consist of control panels, keypads, magnetic contacts and motion detectors. They communicate by phone line and radio. Local audible and visual indication is provided.”

As mentioned, all of the intrusion and CCTV systems are integrated and linked to Caltrans’ network of monitoring stations throughout California, including the CHP Center in downtown Los Angeles.

With the Bridges Secured, Company Eyes Other Jobs

Having achieved the project’s objectives, Valley Alarm is looking forward to continuing its strong working relationship with Caltrans, as well as cultivating other large-scale installations.

“There is a very urgent need for a partnership between government agencies and private security companies to accomplish what will be needed in the wake of Sept. 11,” says Michel. “These government agencies are anxious to help companies get started bidding on projects. We are working on several proposals right now. We believe this is an incredible opportunity.”

Most security practitioners ordinarily find satisfaction in helping protect people and property, but when the installation perta

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