Something fishy was going on in the wee hours of the morning recently in the
South Street employee parking lot at Newark Liberty International Airport. At
around 2 a.m., someone was using an airline employee's access card to enter the
lot and park illegally, and Secure Parking Systems (SPS) president Ed Danberry
was on duty and watching it from his PC monitor at his office post just a few
Danberry immediately e-mailed his client, Continental Airlines, a video
clip of the suspicious activity in its parking area. It turns out that one of
the airline's employees had been selling his parking space on the side. Danberry
was able to see the suspicious activity over SPS' new surveillance network, a
wireless IP backbone that runs video, voice and data. The network digitizes
video camera feeds so Danberry and his staff can remotely keep tabs on the
parking lots and dispatch their roving security guards directly to trouble
That's a big change from SPS' old video surveillance system, which required
security guards to watch monitors from booths in the lots. The parking-card
access incident might have gone unnoticed under the old system because there was
no one on-site at the time. And "it would have been too late to react when we
did find out" because SPS wouldn't have been able to quickly send the clips to
the airline, Danberry says.
Security has been a problem in the employee parking lots of the New Jersey
airport. The high crime rate in the area, along with heightened security after
9/11, prompted SPS last year to ratchet up security in its employee parking
lots, which span 21 acres and 2,250 spaces. "We had the problem of how to
provide better security and service, but not at too high of a cost," Danberry
So SPS, with the help of Omni Security Services, an integrator specializing
in surveillance technology, selected a wireless security system that uses IP
video, voice and data to monitor the comings and goings in these isolated
parking areas. It also lets airport bus drivers, as well as SPS technicians,
automatically open and close gates in SPS parking lots to limit access during
passenger pickups and drop-offs, for instance. Call boxes stationed in the lots
run on the network as well, so airline and federal Transportation Security
Administration employees can call SPS' monitoring site if they need assistance.
SPS just brought a third parking lot onto the network and plans to add a fourth
to the network later this year.
The surveillance system for Newark Airport's employee parking lots runs on a
10-Mbps, Motorola Canopy wireless system. Vanguard Managed Solutions' 6435
multimedia routers and RemoteVU Guardian IP video transmitters, Hewlett-Packard
Co. ProCurve switches and Motorola Canopy Subscriber Units are the main network
devices at each lot. Each parking lot on the network has its own wired Ethernet
LAN with wireless access to SPS' central command post, about a mile away.
Although wireless at first seemed risky for the backbone given the potential
radio interference at the airport and strict FAA regulations with the
surrounding airwaves, it was the best fit for retrofitting the parking lot
security on SPS' budget (see "The Hard Sell"). Bandwidth was just too pricey,
says Ray Patalano, product line manager for IP video solutions at Vanguard,
which designed the network for Omni Security and SPS. A dedicated DS-3 WAN would
have cost SPS about $1 million per year, including the full-time monitoring
costs, he says.
In SPS' IP network, it's video that gets priority, not voice. For now the
main voice traffic comes from the call-box intercoms, which also let SPS
security technicians speak remotely to a would-be robber trying to break into a
car parked in the lot. But it's the streaming IP video from its cameras that
gives SPS the most information and control over its parking lots. The routers
are set to give video dibs on bandwidth so there's no pixelation, and as yet,
quality-of-service management hasn't been necessary because there's been very
little data traffic going over the network. Video requires about 6 Mbps upstream
and 8 or 9 Mbps downstream. "We're always making sure there are no pixelations
in the video," says Dorothy Di Tommaso, president of Omni Security Services.
SPS can capture and e-mail video clips over the Internet of any suspicious
activity to its clients, like it did for Continental, as well as to the police.
Now, it mostly phones the police in emergencies. "We can immediately contact the
police if necessary and automatically focus more cameras on a problem area,"
SPS' Danberry says.
Setting up the wireless backbone was the biggest challenge. Even after a
spectrum analysis with a global positioning system (GPS) pinpointed the lines of
sight for the network, the wireless connections initially were bouncing off a
nearby building and blocking video transmission from the parking lots. "The GPS
was about three degrees off," Vanguard's Patalano says.
Then there were the late-summer thunderstorms that wreaked havoc on the
outdoor installation. When lightning struck in the area, its energy would surge
through the video cameras' coaxial cable and knock out the Guardian boxes and
Motorola radios. "If any of the access points were knocked out by bad weather,
it could affect the whole network," Patalano says.
And having coax alongside wireless also initially caused some wireless
outages. So Omni and Vanguard added special surge protection to the Guardian
boxes to counter bad weather, and physically separated the coax from the
wireless links to prevent interference between the transmission mediums.
SPS, meanwhile, has saved money with the new system because now it needs only
one security guard posted at each lot. The multimedia security system has also
been good for SPS' business: The wireless gate system has helped the airport
buses run on schedule, and SPS' lots now have a reputation for safety. "We have
a waiting list of airport and airline employees wanting to transfer out of
another parking lot at the airport to one of ours. They feel safer with our
system," Danberry says.
Later this year, SPS and Omni will outsource the management of the wireless
IP network to Vanguard, which will remotely manage it from its network
operations center in Mansfield, Mass. Vanguard currently polls the network at
various times, but relies on SPS and Omni to report problems it doesn't detect.
The managed service will let Vanguard catch a network device problem, for
example, before SPS loses data, says Omni's Di Tommaso.