Exclusive: Baseball Stadium Gets Big League Video Upgrade

Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field is major league baseball’s home-run den — this according to a Chicago Tribune article in July (3.11 homers per game). However, tape-measure shots are not the only thing that distinguishes “The Cell” from other stadiums, contends Paul Swiderski, executive vice president and director of engineering for Swiderski Electronics in Itasca, Ill.

Thanks to the work of Swiderski’s installers, The Cell is now home to one of the most diverse and elaborate surveillance and audio/video conferencing systems of its kind. “There are a total of 40 color cameras with pan/tilt/zoom capability installed around the facility and in the parking lots,” says Swiderski, whose company installed the venue’s video surveillance system. “The cameras are recorded on DVR units and VHS dubs are provided for outside agencies when requested. Multi-image touchscreens are integrated into the control system using an AMX Netlink controller to permit user-friendly operation of the many features of the security system.”

Construction on the current home of the Chicago White Sox began in 1989, across the street from their old ballpark, Comiskey Park. On April 18, 1991, the new Comiskey Park opened. In 2003, the stadium was renamed U.S. Cellular Field.

Swiderski managed to not only deliver a sophisticated security solution for its client, but one that generates a measurable return on investment. Typically, when low-voltage installers engineer and orchestrate such an extensive project, the client rarely sees a direct monetary return. However, that is just one of the many factors that make The Cell and its video systems so exceptional.

Stadium Owners Put High Priority on Safety of Players, Fans, Staff
Stadiums and other public facilities across the world are upgrading their security systems and procedures (see sidebar on page 64 of December issue). The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA), which owns the ballpark, has likewise made improvements in its security program. After all, patrons, staff and ballplayers should feel safe when attending baseball games.

“Although the Authority and the Chicago White Sox began a Comiskey Park security review prior to Sept. 11, 2001, those events have caused us to refocus and prioritize our efforts,” Dan Polvere, ISFA’s director of development and facilities, stated in a report issued to the stadium’s board of directors in late 2001/early 2002. “In addition, major league baseball has established new and more stringent security requirements, and discussions continue in this regard.”

The fact is, there was already a video surveillance system in place when Swiderski began working on the design and installation of audio/video conferencing systems (for more on the conferencing system, see sidebar on the right side of this Web page). However, there were two distinctly different video surveillance systems operating side by side.

The 24/7 system, as Swiderski and Polvere refer to it, consisted of 11 black-and-white cameras that monitored certain aspects of the facility. The second portion of the existing video system dealt with surveillance of specific areas during games. This portion of the facility’s video security is referred to as the day-of-game system.

The 24/7 system provided security personnel with a view of the outside perimeter of the complex as well as select concourses and service tunnels inside the facility. The same set of cameras included management of recorded video and real-time observation of events in stated areas of interest. The day-of-game system consisted of four color cameras positioned inside the stadium that enabled personnel to view stadium seats.

The problem with the original video system was two-fold, says Polvere. For example, the 24/7 system consisted of black-and-white cameras, which meant security could not provide an accurate description of individuals to security personnel via radio such as color of clothing, hair and facial complexion. Such detail is often necessary to assure security personnel are able to readily spot and nab the right suspect.

In addition, the 24/7 system cameras were fixed. This represented a major problem for those who stood watch over the park, for they often could not see events as they took place outside the view of a camera. The only way to solve this problem was to implement pan/tilt mechanisms, zoom lenses and an elaborate matrix camera control system.

Integrator Upgrades Venue’s ‘24/7’ and ‘Day-of-Game’ Systems
There are two distinctly different low-voltage systems at The Cell that Swiderski Electronics installed for ISFA. The first was a series of elaborate, high-tech A/V systems, intended to help the local community while encouraging attendance among the community’s business leaders at the park (see sidebar on right side of this Web page). The second is an elaborate, two-tier CCTV system that effectively addresses all of the security concerns expressed by Polvere and the ISFA Board.

Like the original CCTV system, the new video surveillance system consisted of two separate, yet connected, elements: a 24/7 and a day-of-game system.

Like its predecessor, the 24/7 system offers security personnel the ability to provide constant surveillance of segments of the park involved in daily operations.

Venue’s System Needed New Infrastructure for Upgrades
From the beginning, the game plan was to replace all existing CCTV equipment with new. The board of directors, at the urging of Polvere, chose to replace most of the existing cameras with new indoor/outdoor speed domes (see partial equipment list on page 66 of December issue).

Swiderski installed day-night cameras that automatically switch from traditional color operation during the day to black-and-white mode at a higher light sensitivity for nighttime operation. This included most of the new cameras as well — other than the five day-of-game cameras, which are full-body — digital cameras equipped with motorized zoom lenses and traditional pan/tilt mechanisms.

What this meant, in terms of installation complexity, was that Swiderski was unable to replace the existing 15 cameras or install the 25 new ones using the existing cable infrastructure. Swiderski had to run all new cable. It was, in fact, necessary to install up to three more cables per camera in both the 24/7 and day-of-game systems.

“A totally new infrastructure [cabling, power supplies, etc.] to support the upgrades and additions was installed, and also provided a solid base to allow for expansion as needed to meet future requirements,” states Swiderski.

“[We] used the existing communications cable tray system located in the stadium. [We also] installed the additionally needed conduits to the cable tray and from the various equipment locations,” adds Joe Swiderski, Swiderski’s president and CEO.

The three additional cables to the speed domes, in addition to the coaxial signal cable and low-voltage power wires, included one for p/t/z data, a second for sensor inputs and a third to link relay contact outputs in each camera to other devices, such as the alarming inputs on the matrix camera control system and/or the alarming inputs on the DVRs employed in the system.

For example, the cable that carries p/t/z data from a board inside the matrix system to the camera employs the RS-485 protocol. This cable must be shielded and it must employ twisted-pair conductors. Because it is RS-485, two of the twisted pairs are used for data in and the other two for data out. The length of this cable cannot exceed 4,000 feet without a RS-485 signal repeater, which is built into each piece of video equipment in some systems.

In a large field of p/t/z cameras of this type, the installer can wire each one direct to the matrix
controller using the home-run technique. Or they can be daisy-chained together, jumping from one to the other. Using the latter method, each speed dome/pan-tilt mechanism must be

addressed individually. Where dedicated home-run cables are installed to each unit from the matrix controller, addressing each unit is not necessary because the controller knows which one is which by the output in which it is wired.

Another problem that Swiderski encountered involved the difficulties associated with running outdoor cameras from areas remote from the main structure. Running conduit under pavement and through other areas would have proven extremely expensive and disruptive to the ballpark’s business operations. To avoid this added expense and inconvenience, Swiderski utilized point-to-point microwave technology.

Frills Include Dual Control Areas, Networked Video, Remote Viewing

System control, which includes cameras, monitors and recording devices, is maintained through a combination of two dissimilar control systems that operate in tandem.

The cameras themselves plug into a matrix controller and a series of camera input extender circuit boards that Swiderski added to the matrix control unit. In this case, the 8-by-4 matrix unit has the ability to accommodate up to eight cameras. By adding camera input extender boards, however, the total capacity of this system is up to 128 cameras.

In terms of camera viewing, the same 8-by-4 matrix has the ability to accommodate up to four composite

(NTSC) video monitors. Installing output extender boards for a total of 16 monitor outputs can expand the number of monitors.

In the case of U.S. Cellular Field, Swiderski included a network interface card (NIC), which is installed inside the rack assembly that contains the video matrix control system. The Ethernet NIC board he used in this instance provides The Cell with either digital or analog interface capabilities – allowing management to view security cameras from select computers on and off site – and integrates with a high-end graphical user interface (GUI).

Swiderski also used the AMX GUI in the ballpark’s four A/V conference rooms. Because the firm’s primary business is audio-visual integration, putting the same technology to work for The Cell’s security department was a natural fit.

In the case of The Cell, camera control is made possible from two locations. The 24/7 security system is operational from the front desk and the day-of-game system is controlled from an adjacent room.

“The front desk operates the same as the day-of-game security room. This was one of the things that came out of our conference center work,” Polvere says. We wanted operation to be easy so part-time people could easily learn how to operate them without going through a lot of training.”

Inside Track Parlayed Into More Business With ‘Cell’ Officials

As the war on terrorism continues to heat up across the world, stadiums like U.S. Cellular Field are certain to beef up security in a number of ways. Security dealers have a lot to gain by offering high-tech video systems that operate seamlessly and whose command and control components are intuitive and effective. The Cell was fortunate to have Swiderski already in-house installing integrated A/V conferencing systems when the need for more and better video surveillance surfaced.

“It was their experience with the conference center [technology] and our relationship with them that made it a lot easier for us to talk through all the issues,” asserts Polvere. “I had our operators and the White Sox give input on what [they wanted us] to do.”

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