NC City Surveillance Challenges

By Ben Wood, Published Jun 17, 2013, 12:00am EDT

City surveillance systems can be challenging, even for a small city of one hundred thousand people with just a handful of cameras. In this note, we dig into the problems that Wilmington NC faces and the solutions that it is planning to fix them.


This city's system is beset with numerous problems:

  • Poor network design
  • Maintenance problems
  • Incompatibilities
  • Video Analytic malfunctioning
  • Integrator issues

Poor Network Design

Currently, the city’s 12 PTZs are arranged in clusters of four, daisy chained wirelessly together to relay data back to the police station. The city originally paid $312,000 for the system to cover its downtown business district, an 8 block-by-3 block area. But there was a problem; Because the cameras relied on each other to keep the signal moving, an outage in one camera could take down a third of the system.

Maintenance Problems

The cameras were constantly down for one reason or another, says Wilmington Police Department Systems Analyst Mary Smith. In one instance, a truck hit the first camera's pole knocking the cameras offline. There are also many new trees downtown that were not there before that interfere with a line of sight. "It seemed like it was always something. [At any given time] there is always at least one set of the cameras down. I've been working with the system for four years, and it has never completely worked once," she said. 


Part of the issue, she says, could be the hardware. "It is a Firetide network but there were three or four antennas worked into the system that weren't Firetide. The Firetide rep came down and said, 'We stand behind our network but if you're using third party equipment, we can't guarantee how the other antennas will work with the system.' For the upgrades we're making 100 percent Firetide mandatory." 

We believe the city means to say 'nodes' or 'radios'. That said, the meta point remains, mixing and matching mesh equipment from different vendors likely will break mesh routing.

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Video Analytics Malfunctioning

Then there was the ActivEye analytics. "When we first implemented the downtown loop cameras we received five analytics licenses ... but the analytics never worked. We never used them again after the first days." 

Integrator Issues

Smith says after being "very disappointed" with the performance of the system and maintenance services from the integrator (mega company Schneider Electric), the police department partnered with local audio visual installer Port City Sound and Security for further maintenance.

The Upgrade Project

One June 4th, the city manager alerted city hall to the problems. "... the camera at Water and Market Streets lost power and was off line for over two months,” says a the internal memo. 

In a city council meeting that same day, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph M. Evangelous appealed to the council members to approve funding to upgrade the network. The upgrade would also put the city in a position to expand the system and give police the capability to access cameras from their cars, the chief said. The funds were approved, and the project will begin this month.

The complete upgrade project will happen in three phases.

Phase One

The police department’s technology office issued an RFP for the project that only received one bid. The winning bidder, Port City Sound and Security, is providing the equipment and installation for around $30,000. See the full contract for phase one. The network will be the basis for the new cameras in Phase Two.

Phase Two

The police department will take down all of its PTZs and install fixed cameras in places that give them a better FoV. Port City Sound and Security is a Honeywell reseller so they will be Honeywell cameras. 

Phase Three

The police department plans to mount the old PTZs above the fixed cameras. The fixed cameras will be using analytics and the PTZs will be controlled to focus on the alerts. One interesting thing is that the police department plans to use the same analytics that didn't work in the old system. Honeywell bought the company the makes the analytics. In a meeting with Honeywell about the issues, Honeywell told them part of the reason the analytics did not work was because they were using it with PTZs instead of fixed cameras, Smith said. The police department says they hope that the analytics will work better this time around using fixed cameras. 

IPVM Analysis

This upgrade will probably help the city to meet its goals of fixing its main problem -- daisy chain-related outages -- and also give police officers capability to watch cameras from their cars. However, despite how it was presented to city hall, daisy chain topology was not the only issue with the old system. There was obviously a maintenance problem if the networks were down for two months without being fixed. There was a possible problem with mixed equipment. And it was a problem and a waste of money to pay for an analytics system that was never used. It is strange that they got burned once with an analytics system that did not work, but are ok with using the same system again because it is Honeywell branded now. I asked Smith about this, and she said if it doesn't work this time, they will "stay on them till it does." 

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