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Parking Lot Security Camera Case Study: Delta Shores

Just The Facts:

Customer: Delta Shores

Challenge: A 1-million-square-foot shopping center required a video surveillance system to better secure parking lots and reduce loitering.

Solution: Leveraging technology to develop a wireless video surveillance solution with video analytics capabilities.

Results: Substantial reductions in crime and loitering at the Delta Shores retail center.

Customer Challenge

Delta Shores, a massive 1-million-square-foot shopping center, opened just over a year and a half ago and is home to nearly 100 retailers, service providers and restaurants. It’s a thriving retail center where patrons can purchase everything from chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-A to groceries at Walmart, movies at Regal Cinema, home furnishings at RC Willey, sporting products at Dick’s Sporting Goods and more.

The booming shoppers’ paradise, located just off Interstate 5 at the new Cosumnes River Interchange, is billed by the media as a welcome retail boost to the south Sacramento area. But just as Delta Shores attracts thousands of shoppers everyday on a hunt for the perfect purchase, it also attracts its share of wrong-doers.

The bulk of past criminal activity has centered in Delta Shore’s 3,730 feet of paved parking lot space, which is not surprising considering that statistics find 80 percent of the criminal acts at shopping centers and strip malls occur in the parking lot.

Criminals were breaking into shopper’s vehicles to steal things left inside and even stealing the vehicles themselves; unaccompanied minors were gathering to fight in the parking lot; and street racers were meeting on the pavement for ‘impromptu’ car shows.

But mall operator and private real estate investment company, Merlone Geier Partners, did not sit idly by and let crime block business. Instead the firm quickly hired Safe and Sound Security, to develop and install a parking lot video surveillance system that operates wirelessly and incorporates high-tech surveillance cameras and video analytics.

The project began in February and was complete by March and in a very short time is already contributing to a significant drop in crime.

Our Approach: Wireless Security Camera Solution For Parking Lots

It’s a known fact that a well-lit parking lot can deter crime, as most would-be criminals prefer to commit their dastardly deeds in the dark. With that understanding, Delta Shores had installed nearly a thousand 30-foot light poles. These light poles were not having the desired impact on deterrence, but they did provide an excellent platform upon which to build a video surveillance system.

While it’s not uncommon to utilize existing light poles for video surveillance systems, Zachary Palmquist, project manager for Safe and Sound Security, explains engineers typically hardwire these systems. Hardwiring a system requires digging trenches to lay cable under the asphalt then repairing the asphalt. Crews also must drill a hole into a nearby structure to connect the cabling to a power source and a server. Doing this can take up to three days per light pole. Besides for adding time to a project, this method also significantly boosts costs.

However, the surveillance system mounted atop the light poles at Delta Shores is wireless.
“What differentiates this project from others is that they put the cameras on the poles then used a wireless backhaul to transmit back to the server,” reports Gary Sherry, regional sales manager in the San Francisco Bay Area for Avigilon, a Motorola Solutions company.

By making a few electrical changes to the poles and leveraging wireless technology, Safe and Sound Security avoided trenching, saving the customer both time and money. Sherry explains, “One of the challenges you have with shopping malls like Delta Shores is the parking lots are huge. The cost of trenching and running the cable often makes installing a video surveillance system fiscally impossible. Putting the camera pods on the poles and using a wireless backhaul, as they did at Delta Shores, is a far more cost-effective solution.”

The wireless capabilities Safe and Sound Security brought to the table were why the firm ultimately landed the Delta Shores’ project, according to Patrick Chown, president of Safe and Sound Security. “Many of our competitors do not fully understand this technology and are a little scared of it. As a result, they still provide bids with a lot of trenching involved. Customers also don’t trust wireless because they think it won’t be reliable. But the truth is we have had hundreds of customers where we’ve installed wireless point-to-point radios, and we have had zero problems. We have done this for apartment complexes, shopping malls, homeowners associations, anywhere there are light poles.”

How It Was Done

Safe and Sound Security first solicited the aid of the lighting company that installs, manages and maintains the Delta Shores’ parking lot lighting to establish constant 110 power inside a weatherproof, 10-inch-by-10-inch-by 8-inch NEMA-rated electrical enclosure atop the poles.

“We had them install Quad Four 110 outlets inside the NEMA box, and each of those outlets has constant power, which enabled us to plug in all of our AXIS Communications’ PoE switches and Ubiquiti NanoBeam PoE injectors into a constant power source,” Chown explains. “We then put a cluster of Avigilon H4 Bullet Cameras on the pole and wired that cluster of cameras down to the GUI switch.”

The firm then selected Ubiquiti NanoBeam AC Gen 2 devices with dedicated point-to-multipoint radios to transmit signal back to five airMAX 2×2 Omni Antennas, each paired with a Rocket M5 BaseStation, for 360-degree coverage in the point-to-multipoint (PtMP) network. Doing this allowed Safe and Sound Security to avoid trenching altogether at Delta Shores.

“The NanoBeam’s shoot back to the omnidirectional antennas, and these wireless point-to-point radio antennas eliminate the need for a hardline back to one hub,” Chown notes. “With a direct line of sight, we can see 10 miles with these point-to-point NanoBeams. And, on a good link, you can get 500 Megabits (Mb) per second.”

Problem Solving

The need for line of sight presents one of the largest challenges with a wireless video surveillance system like the one at Delta Shores. In some cases, the cameras at the mall had to transmit data up to 1 ½ miles away.

“We cannot have trees or buildings in the way. We cannot shoot this video through buildings or other obstacles,” Palmquist says. “At Delta Shores most of their light poles are taller than the buildings. We established a centralized hub at the Xfinity store. We put five of the Rocket M5s stations with omni-directional antennas on top of that building to shoot wirelessly from the light poles back to the hub.”

Palmquist admits the project hit a snag behind the Old Navy store, which stands taller than the other shops. The light pole behind this building lacked clear line of sight. However, another light pole in the same lot offered clear line of sight back to the hub atop the Xfinity store, so Palmquist tapped into his ingenuity as a network engineer to solve the problem.

“I shot a wireless radio from the blocked pole to a pole with clear line of sight in the middle of that parking lot, then shot from that pole back to the hub,” he says.

Sherry reports what Palmquist achieved at Delta Shores is nothing short of amazing. “Once we got this system tiled, it worked great,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges with wireless is getting an engineer to set it up right. It’s impressive that he was able to take high definition video cameras and run a whole wireless length, and have it operate flawlessly.”

He adds, “The system has been extremely stable. When the property manager saw the working system and the analytics that were possible, they were totally wowed.”

Bandwidth Considerations

Delta Shore’s surveillance solution utilizes 60 Avigilon H4 Bullet Cameras, which Palmquist describes as bandwidth heavy due to their processing power on the edge. These cameras, mounted on 21 light poles at Delta Shores, employ self-learning video analytics and process all video within the camera. “It’s very different,” he explains, “then installing a fixed lens, ‘dumb’ IP camera. Those cameras take up a set amount of bandwidth and you budget for that. But we had to be very creative with this project because these 3- to 5-megapixel cameras are very bandwidth hungry, and the bandwidth they need can vary depending on the analytics they use.”

Typically, two omnidirectional antennas are enough for a 60-camera installation, but in this case, because the H4 Bullet Cameras are very high resolution, smart cameras, five Rocket M5 stations with omni-directional antennas were needed. Palmquist then fine-tuned the installation by splitting the number of poles coming back to each omnidirectional antenna.

“When it comes to creating a network, whether it be a wired or wireless network, there is a ton of configuration that goes into a project like this,” Chown says. “We spent multiple days onsite budgeting bandwidth and configuring it in a way that optimized it. Because we had certified network engineer in charge, we could drill down and finetune things to optimize operation.”

The total system with all cameras coming through sends about 420 Mb per second to the rooftop hub, which then transmits the data to a Windows-based server inside the Xfinity building. Palmquist explains he ordered a bare bones server chassis, then added two Intel Xeon Version 4 processors, Quad gigabit network interface cards, a Nvidia T1000 video card, two RAID 5 and a RAID 10 to achieve optimum processing power.

Palmquist keeps equipment in tip-top operating shape via desktop monitoring. The system sends alerts of security and software updates and an Avigilon application monitors server health and notifies Palmquist of any issues.

In addition, because the system utilizes managed PoE switches on the poles, if a camera goes down, Palmquist can remotely access the server at any time, log into a specific PoE switch and power cycle the cameras from his desktop. “If a camera goes down, 95 percent of the time this will bring the camera back up. It eliminates the need for me to get a lift truck to access the camera on top of the pole,” he says.

Smart Security Cameras Address Key Parking Lot Crime Problems

A key piece of Delta Shores’ installation is its analytics capabilities. “The customer really wanted to know when there were people loitering in the Delta Shores parking lot after hours,” Chown reports.

Avigilon H4 Bullet Cameras were selected for their durability and built-in analytics capabilities. The cameras begin learning the surveilled scene the minute they are plugged in, and are quickly able to decipher the difference between a human, a vehicle and other objects.

Once the scene is learned, the cameras offer a loitering detection capability that triggers a video analytics event when a vehicle or person moves into a region and stays for a fixed period of time. The operator can then act to get the person or vehicle moving along or summon police or security to the area.

Four cameras at the parking lot entrances leverage Avigilon’s License Plate Recognition (LPR) analytics, which automatically read license plate information from vehicles and link it to live and recorded video. This enables Delta Shores’ security operators to search and quickly find specific captured license plate video for verification and investigation. Operators can even create and import license plate watch lists so the system can dispatch security alerts when it spots specific license plates.

Safe and Sound Security leveraged these capabilities to set up loitering parameters during the mall’s off-hours to address loitering and other criminal activity in the Delta Shores parking lots. The diversity of the businesses in the mall and their varied hours of operation presented another challenge.

Setting up standard loitering parameters for the hours of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. would not have worked, explains Palmquist. Some businesses, such as the movie theater, remain open till 1 or 2 a.m., while others, such as Panera Bread, close at 9 p.m. Palmquist employed the mall operator to develop separate schedules for each business then programmed each camera to the unique loitering schedules for its location.

“The Avigilon H4 Bullet Cameras know exactly what they should be doing and when they should be doing it,” Palmquist reports. Should anything occur, the system relies on the camera-based analytics to trigger alerts that are transmitted to a monitoring station for after-hours dispatch of police.

Monitoring, says Chown, is key to the success of a system like this. Monitoring in and of itself is not a solution; security guards are human beings and it’s a proven fact that after hours and hours of watching feeds from video cameras, they will lose focus. However, an analytics camera can be programmed to trigger alerts for specific events, such as loitering or vehicles that do not belong there, and provide actionable intelligence to enhance safety. From there they can either jump on a speaker and ask the person to leave, go to the scene themselves or summon police as the situation warrants.

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