Introduction to City Wide Video Surveillance

Author: John Honovich, Published on Aug 05, 2008

While the publicity goes to mega-cities deploying video surveillance, city wide video surveillance is becoming very cost-effective, valuable and viable for 'normal sized' cities throughout the world.

The media coverage for the New York and Chicago city deployments can make city-wide video surveillance seem daunting. It appears that you need:

  • Tens of millions in funding
  • Homeland security grants
  • Defense contractors
  • Deploying complex new wireless networks
  • Integrating military style command and control systems

In reality, though, most any city can benefit from mature, inexpensive and flexible city wide video surveillance.

The City of Longmont, Colorado provides a nice example of how to deploy city wide video surveillance. Over the last few years, Longmont (population 71,000) has developed a first class city wide solution. Working with Volpe Industries and using video surveillance solutions from Axis Communications and Detexi Systems, Longmont now has a powerful surveillance solution.

This article explores some of the key principles used in this deployment to build a successful city wide surveillance system.

Principles for Success:

  1. Use Existing IP Networks that the Municipality Manages
  2. Deploy NVR servers at Facilities Throughout the Facility
  3. Use DirectWireless Links to Connect Camera to Facilities
  4. Share Video from the City with the Police Department's Command Center
  5. Expand the System Step by Step, Year by Year

Principle 1: Use Existing IP Municipality Networks

Most cities manage their own internal networks for city facilities. These networks are a simple and low cost way to build a city wide surveillance system. These networks generally connect city facilities across the municipality and often provide high speed connectivity, to boost.

The integrator, Volpe, worked closely with the Longmont's CIO to put the IP video surveillance system on the municipalities network. The incremental cost of adding the system was practically nil as it leveraged this existing infrastructure.

Principle 2: Deploy NVR severs at Each Facility

For each facility using IP Video Surveillance (le.g., ibraries, schools, city hall, police stations, etc), an NVR server was deployed to store and manage video from the local cameras. This takes advantage of video being recorded much more often than it is viewed. While video must be streamed from the cameras frequently or constantly to enable recording, only occasionally does the video need to be viewed by city officials such as the police. Placing an NVR on each site significantly reduces the amount of bandwidth needed on the municipalities network that connects different facilities. This is important in making the addition of video surveillance as low impact as possible on the municipalities networks.

While centralizing video storage offers some savings in server and storage consolidation, like most organizations, Longmont benefited more from minimizing the impact on the city's network.

Principle 3: Direct Wireless Links from Facilities

A number of outdoor locations needing surveillance were economically addressed through direct wireless links originating from city facilities. From the roof of city facilities, wireless links were established to various points of interests within a few miles from the facility. As these connections were direct (point to point or point to multipoint), they were rather inexpensive and simple to establish.

Principle 4: Share Video

The hundreds of cameras now deployed across the city can now be leveraged by the police to help respond to emergencies or critical investigations. By using the city's IP network, the Police can access any of the NVR servers in the city to view live or recorded video. This has already helped handle real time incidents as well as solve cases where criminals have moved across the city.

Principle 5: Expand Step by Step

While city wide surveillance is often thought of as a massive project, Longmont demonstrates that the system can grow incrementally. Indeed, at Longmont, new facilities have been coming on line every year for the last couple of years.

This allows city wide surveillance systems to grow in small chunks requiring tens of thousands of dollars rather than millions of dollars. By leveraging the city's LAN and deploying surveillance at city facilities and their surroundings, step by step, the city can grow the system. This can be quite valuable in budget allocations and in building public support for the value of the system.

Future Considerations

City wide video surveillance systems can and will continue to grow. While Longmont is a great example of leveraging your existing resources and starting with simple, high value uses, city wide video surveillance has the potential to expand to address other concerns. Below are an example of those future considerations:

  • Interfacing with Local Business NVRs/DVRs: A lot of interest exists in sharing video between cities and local business to help respond to crimes or disasters. This requires support or interaction with many different manufacturers of NVRs/DVRs. Currently, Longmont, like many municipalities has standardized on a single NVR platform from Detexi. This provides great simplicity as all cameras are managed by this system. Nevertheless, it is common that one manufacturer's NVR cannot access or view camera's from another NVR system. Command and Control systems can be put in place to access multiple NVR systems but this can significantly increase cost and complexity.
  • Using Non-City IP Networks: Some facilities and some points of interest are not served by the City's IP Network. In those cases, the use of DSL or cable modem from the local telecommunications providers will be necessary. This will require some added complexity to provide security, etc. but is increasingly becoming an accepted and straightforward part of city wide surveillance systems.
  • Provide Broader Camera Coverage: In some cases, cities want to deploy cameras in places where there are no wired networks and direct wireless connections are not feasible. Wireless mesh networks are an ideal solution to this problem. They are designed to handle obstacles, provide greater redundancy and cover broader areas. Nevertheless, they also are more complex to design and more expensive to deploy.


With IP video, city wide video surveillance is becoming an affordable and valuable way to improve security. By following the principles of Longmont's deployment, most cities can quickly and fairly simply roll out city wide video surveillance systems that provide a strong foundation for continuous improvement and new benefits.

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