Jim Argiropoulos presides over the most comprehensive city surveillance system in America - Chicago's 3,000-plus video cameras that are part of the city's Operation Virtual Shield. It's an assignment that came from humble beginnings: Argiropoulos started his career as a 911 dispatcher at 15 years old, and then worked for a decade as a paramedic in Kentucky.

"I've been there. I've jumped off the ambulance, I've had 10 people hurt in the middle of the interstate," said Argiropoulos, who is first deputy of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC). "Now I'm on this side of the fence, implementing technology and strategies that assist the public safety entities," he said. "It's invaluable. You really can start to apply real-time and past intelligence with today's modern technology."

The technology the OEMC uses is almost futuristic. In 2007, the city fine-tuned its Unified Communications Vehicle, a mobile rig that serve as a full-service 911 call center in the field. The city also finished an additional 30-mile-long fiber network for downtown on top of the existing network, which will let Argiropoulos pursue his next initiative: video analytics via a contract signed with IBM.

Chicago will start making its surveillance cameras "intelligent" this year. One of some 50 software algorithms will monitor suspicious activities such as people dropping suspicious-looking packages. The camera, in turn, will zoom in and send the OEMC a visual and audio alert. The OEMC will continue to expand upon its collaboration with the Chicago Police Department's innovative Crime Prevention and Information Center, Argiropoulos said.

Though public safety is the most robust part of the camera network, a video analytics "tripwire" feature could also be used to count cars and pedestrians for traffic congestion surveys.

"Our mayor [Richard Daley] is so forward-thinking. What we're very fortunate about in Chicago is - police, fire, EMS, homeland security - we all get along together as a family," Argiropoulos said. "Because of the vision of our mayor, he's always challenging us to do more."

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor