Past Issues of Government Technology

Getting Through

Cameras help police respond to traffic issues in double time.

by / December 26, 2006 0

Traffic is a major concern in Aventura, Fla. To help alleviate this problem, which frustrates citizens and visitors alike, the city has recently installed a high-tech monitoring system.

The Traffic Video Monitoring System (TVMS) is a multiphase project to enhance the Aventura Police Department's ability to respond to traffic concerns. The impetus for the TVMS came from a similar project by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

The project's first phase was completed in September 2006, with the installation of two cameras at problematic intersections in the city. Full project completion is slated for August 2008.


Original Source
Tom Ribel, chief of the Aventura Police Department, and other members of the command staff knew of the FDOT-operated Web site that uses video monitoring to display up-to-the minute traffic conditions on Interstate 95.

Ribel and Special Services Captain Steve Seefchak visited the FDOT command center to observe the equipment in action.

Aventura staff thought a similar but more sophisticated system would benefit the city, so a proposal was submitted to City Manager Eric Soroka, who agreed with the potential benefits and committed funds to the TVMS project. The planning of this system, designed in-house, lasted approximately two years, and the total cost of the project's first phase was just under $500,000.

With cameras installed at two of the most congested intersections in the city, the police department dispatch center can monitor traffic and dispatch officers at the first sign of trouble. The police department hopes to respond to situations as they arise, and clear accidents or traffic jams before they become a community concern.

The first intersection, at Northeast 186th St. and Biscayne Blvd. (U.S. Highway 1), is congested by a railroad crossing to the west -- which can significantly slow traffic.

The second, at the William Lehman Causeway and Biscayne Blvd., lies directly south of the Aventura Mall, and mall-goers create large amounts of traffic. From this camera position, dispatchers can see the entire length of highway that covers the mall's entry and exit points. The system's "hub" building, or collection point for all of the microwave video, is also in this location. From there, the data is transported to the headquarters building over a fiber network.

The system -- which includes two fixed Extreme video cameras and one pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) Vicon camera at each intersection -- was designed and installed by the same vendors working on other FDOT projects. The vendors, Transcore Inc. and Systems Integration and Management, constructed two concrete poles measuring more than 80 feet to support the microwave network.

The FDOT contributed tremendous cooperation and assistance to the project, assisting the police department in selecting the equipment, designing operations parameters and with permitting on FDOT rights of way. Both entities also entered into a mutual aid agreement to share video images from their respective camera systems over a microwave connection.

The Aventura Police Department was fortunate to receive the support of the city manager, the City Commission and Police Command staff, without whom this project would have been unattainable.

These officials let the department make most project-related decisions, thus sparing it the cumbersome lengthy approval processes that plague most governmental entities. Because of this, the department enjoyed the ability to make high-level decisions, and completed the project at a record-breaking pace.


The Nitty-Gritty
To stream the video back to the dispatch center's new state-of-the-art video wall, the police department installed an Orthogon OS-Spectra microwave backbone capable of transporting data at 155 Mbps, and a fiber network routed through Cisco routers to deliver video at a rate of 30 frames per second.

The decision to use a microwave backbone gives the department the flexibility to position cameras/poles in almost any area. Moreover, running a total fiber network would have been prohibitive, because in addition to the costs of tunneling and boring pipe for the fiber, a host of permitting issues would have considerably delayed the project. Also, the selected microwave is very robust and built above the current bandwidth need to support potential future projects.

One of the system's features lets dispatchers move cameras and zoom in on potential nontraffic-related problems. Staff can pan, tilt and zoom the devices to look at many of the surrounding businesses and monitor potential situations, such as bank robberies. Using the software developed by Transcore, staff can also call up pre-set positions that rapidly reposition the PTZ cameras at the touch of a button. This feature instantly moves the camera to any of the banks or businesses in its field of view.

With the first phase of this project complete and working as planned, more intersections will soon be equipped with similar devices.

The overall project is divided into three phases: phase I -- installation of the backbone fiber/microwave network and cameras at two intersections; phase II-- microwave and cameras at two to three additional intersections plus deployment of the Tropos Wi-Fi network; and phase III -- the completion of a fiber ring around the center of the city with multiple cameras installed at strategic locations to monitor the city's jogging path.

Once this project is completed, the police department will be able to view live video from multiple intersections and areas of concern. Because the backbone data network is robust, the department can now support its own 802.11 wireless network. Installation of a new Tropos Wi-Fi network will let the department supplement the existing mobile data connectivity to officers' vehicles through Verizon's cellular network.

At this time, it's not the city's intent to expand this service to the general public. This network is being constructed and managed as a completely secure network to support police and city functions.

With greater speed to the patrol cars' mobile data systems, the police department will be able to stream the same live traffic video to officers and add additional video stream from banks and convenience stores.

This added benefit will let officers see what's going on inside a business when responding to alarms or disturbance calls before entering the premises. The police department will work with local businesses and banks to install supplemental Internet protocol-compatible digital video recorders (DVRs) to the businesses' existing camera networks. The DVRs will then be connected using secured 802.11 devices on the Tropos network. Once this is achieved, the department will be able to view video from the business cameras hooked up to the DVR.

This project brings the Aventura Police Department to the forefront of technology advances for a police agency. The department will not only address traffic concerns more effectively, but will also enhance both officer and citizen safety.
Sgt. Tom Labombarda Contributing writer