Wireless Surveillance Protects Facilities, Students at California State University

Published: January 23, 2009

California State University, Long Beach, one of the nation’s largest public universities, is watching over its campus with a wireless video surveillance system similar to those used at Super Bowl XLII and in metropolises such as Chicago and Dallas. The system, which employs wireless networks from Firetide Inc., helps alleviate safety concerns ranging from auto theft and vandalism to traffic flow and congestion. To date, the system has led to a dozen arrests, including one felony weapons possession charge.

The university administration and on-campus police department needed a surveillance system to supplement officers on patrol and couldn’t temporarily shut down to lay fixed cable. “We would have been trenching all over the place, which is horribly disruptive and just wouldn’t fly,” said Greg Pascal, communications and information systems manager for the university’s police department. “We had no other option but wireless. It would have been phenomenally expensive to go with a hard-wired solution to get the coverage we needed.”

In addition to the task of watching over a population of 38,000 mostly commuter-students, the Cal State Long Beach police department patrols many large and remote parking lots. “We’re in close proximity to a couple of major freeways, so these spaces can play host to folks that aren’t part of our university community,” Pascal observed.

Before selecting Firetide, the school’s police department turned to neighboring law enforcement agencies, including the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Monica Police Department, for guidance. “Our extensive due diligence really paid off. We knew that the wireless technology used in this system would be essential to its success – choppy or granular video caused by limited bandwidth can be a critical flaw when it comes to surveillance. We were able to avoid any of these issues from day one.”

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Thirty-seven pan-tilt-zoom cameras, 29 of which are connected wirelessly, and 40 Firetide mesh nodes comprise the university’s network, deployed by local installer Moore Electrical Contracting, Inc. The network operates in the licensed 4.9 GHz public safety band to reduce interference and provide extra security; the system includes Bosch analog cameras and IndigoVision encoders and video management. The majority of cameras are strategically located on light poles and other structures around campus and its parking lots. Those entering areas under surveillance are alerted via signs.

Trained police dispatchers monitor the live video feeds and communicate with police officers on patrol in real time.  All dispatchers are cross-trained in both communications and the video system. This versatile expertise enables one person to remain focused on operating the system, while another team member directs the officer to the scene and relays critical information.

Pascal said a benefit of the cameras is that dispatch can be “on scene” in a matter of seconds after a call, providing police with critical information before they arrive. This affords peace of mind for the officers, who often ask dispatch to watch over them if a camera is in view – even for routine stops.

Although the department used some existing fixed cable, it built an entirely new wireless infrastructure for the project. The university and police department own and operate the secure network, so they have the ability to add other high-bandwidth applications like data transmission. Ultimately, the network will be able to stream live video into patrol cars on the beat.

“Some universities may perceive these wireless surveillance systems as beyond their means, both technically and financially, but Cal State Long Beach has shown how easily and well it can be done,” said Bo Larsson, chief executive officer at Firetide. “You cannot put a price on students’ safety, but when technology makes security monitoring ‘always-on’ in places you could only cover by foot patrols in the past, that’s a win for any school or university.”

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Firetide January 2009 press release.

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