Complex’s Surveillance System Conventional in Name Only

Convention centers reside in the heart of most major metropolitan areas across America. They typically serve as hubs for business and leisure activities throughout the year, with many accommodating thousands of people on any given day. Unfortunately, public places such as these also now have to be viewed as potential terrorist targets.

That’s one reason why operators of the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) near downtown Birmingham, Ala., recently decided to have the facility’s antiquated CCTV system completely overhauled. They needed on-site security personnel to be able to monitor the complex’s expansive grounds.

The project was put out to bid and won by a local integrator, Vision Southeast Inc., which, in a few short years has become known as one of the region’s top large system installers. The company installed a 45-camera system throughout the BJCC that feeds into a master control room where images are recorded on three digital video multiplex recorders (DVMRs) and then distributed via a matrix switcher.

Overall, the installation went very smoothly and delighted the end user. However, the integrator had to determine what, if any, of the previous CCTV system could be salvaged; navigate lengthy cable runs; schedule around the complex’s practically nonstop activities; and get enough of the system online in time for an impending visit by President George W. Bush.

Facility’s Expansion, Outdated System Prompt Upgrade

Although ground was broken on the BJCC back in 1974, when it was just a couple of convention halls, it wasn’t until 1990 – and after much expansion – that operators opted for a CCTV system. However, as time wore on, the analog, black-and-white system became more and more ineffectual, to the point where it was practically useless.

“During a period of about 10 years, our surveillance system outdated itself,” confirms Matt Wilson, director of operations for BJCC. “Due to increased activity and the physical expansion of the campus, coupled with 9/11 and the increased interest in security, we knew we needed to expand our surveillance capabilities.”

BJCC encompasses seven city blocks and includes exhibition halls, meeting rooms, a sports arena, a concert hall, a theater, an adjoining hotel and much more. Although the surrounding area is not known as a high-crime neighborhood, BJCC officials sought to mitigate any potential risks and better control foot and vehicular traffic. In addition, they wanted to enhance the overall safety of patrons, protect in-house equipment, deter theft, and more effectively monitor and manage employees.

They believed today’s technology and the right integrator could help them satisfy these needs.

Local Integrator Builds Reputation Via Large Commercial Projects

Enter Vision Southeast, a local integration company founded in 2000 by Barry Komisar, who earned his stripes during an eight-year stint working for another integrator he now calls his competitor.

Vision Southeast is comprised of nine employees, five of whom are technicians. The firm realizes about 60 percent of its revenue from CCTV, 35 percent from access control and the remainder from sound systems. The operation, which does not install intrusion systems or provide monitoring, rang up about $2 million in sales last year.

Vision Southeast has rapidly carved out a niche for itself by specializing in large commercial/industrial applications. In addition to hospitals, office buildings and schools across the state, some of its marquee installations include the Colonial Mall in Brookwood Village and the Birmingham Early Learning Center.

Better to Be Lucky Than Good, But Wisdom and Quality Don’t Hurt

Despite Vision Southeast’s solid track record and proactive philosophy, getting involved in the bidding process for the BJCC project did not materialize because of a referral. It had more to do with sensible marketing and good fortune.

“We contacted several contractors through the Yellow Pages,” recalls Wilson. “Barry was the most energetic about coming to work with us. He provided us with a list of the companies he had done work for, and once I heard from them, I was comfortable going with him.”

Although Vision Southeast’s bid was the least expensive, Wilson says it was the capabilities of the company’s recommended Kalatel-based system that sealed the deal. The fact that the manufacturer was very responsive didn’t hurt either.

“The dealer gave us options,” continues Wilson, “and we decided Kalatel was the best – I was most impressed with its products. Also, I met with Kalatel’s representative, who made me feel very confident about my choice.”

Installer Works Closely With Client on 45-Camera, 6-Week-Long Job

After initially being contacted by the BJCC in January 2002, Komisar’s crew beat out two other companies and was officially awarded the contract on June 19, 2002. The work commenced five days later. The project lasted about six weeks, involving 480 hours of labor for a total cost, including all the equipment, of $100,000.

Aside from some Ditek surge protection devices, West Penn cabling, a half-dozen existing cameras and a few other odds and ends, all of the equipment was supplied by Kalatel, which satisfied the end user’s original bid specification to use a single vendor.

The main components of the system are 45 cameras, 24 of which are pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) domes, three digital video multiplexer recorders (DVMRs) and a matrix. There is a PTZ camera in every area outside the BJCC, with a combination of PTZs and fixed cameras inside the exhibit halls and common areas.

“Camera coverage includes the perimeter, loading docks, parking lots and a parking garage, inside the exhibit halls, lobby areas, the accounting office, and the Medical Forum building across the street,” states Komisar. “We used day/night cameras in the parking lots and perimeter areas because the lighting is not always optimal.”

One of the chief reasons the installation went so smoothly was because the integrator and end user communicated well and worked very closely together. Consequently, they have forged a relationship of mutual admiration.

Wilson elaborates, “I told Barry which areas I wanted to cover and he knew the most effective locations and best ways to place the cameras to meet those needs. It was truly a joint effort.” Komisar adds, “Matt was great to work with; he was very appreciative.”

End User Bowled Over by Trio of DVMRs’ Advanced Features

The end user was especially thrilled with the functionality and capabilities – such as great image quality, high-capacity storage and easy retrieval – afforded to him and his staff by the DVMRs.

“At the time of the installation, those DVMRs had the largest hard drives available; that’s why we chose them,” explains Komisar. “They can store two to three weeks worth of recordings on them. The recordings erase the previous images as they go. If they need to archive anything, they can burn the images onto a CD-R. Each recorder has 14 or 15 cameras feeding into it.”

Aside from a SimplexGrinnell fire system, a Honeywell energy management system and the original, outmoded CCTV system, the complex’s electronic security-related systems were minimal (no intrusion or access control, for example). However, Vision Southeast was able to incorporate a few existing elements, such as panic alarms, into the new surveillance system.

“There were panic alarms in the garage that we tied into a Kalatel remote alarm panel to tell the cameras to zoom in when a panic button is pressed,” adds Komisar. “We were also able to use the existing console, six cameras, one of the monitors and some of the wiring, which helped keep the cost of the project down.”

Additional functionality of the surveillance system includes remote access and being tied into a citywide network of cameras.


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