When the IndyCar circuit came to Baltimore, Md., for the first time earlier this month, the city had the race covered from all angles.

In advance of the event, and the thousands of spectators who would fill local hotels and restaurants, city officials saw a need to improve situational awareness. So Baltimore installed software in its police and emergency response command centers that integrates multiple camera feeds from various agencies so that they are accessible on a single platform.

As it turns out, the new software found use before the Baltimore Grand Prix held during the first week of September. Hurricane Irene started moving up the Eastern seaboard on Aug. 20, and a rare earthquake shook the East Coast on Aug. 23. The city of Baltimore used the software to assist with emergency response during both of those natural disasters, said Sheryl Goldstein, director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice.

The physical security information management software platform, by Vienna, Va.-based VidSys, connected 10 city, state, federal and private agencies to the video during the earthquake and hurricane. Agencies used the software to monitor, respond to and manage potential security threats as well as safety and transportation issues throughout the city, according to VidSys.

“During the earthquake, [the software] allowed us to pull our helicopter’s camera feed into a remote location that previously we hadn’t been able to pull,” Goldstein said about a far-away command center. The helicopter has had a video stream in the past, but it only the police department’s command center had access to it.

The software enabled video taken from the chopper, which is part of Baltimore’s police aviation unit, to be streamed to the city emergency management center during the earthquake, Goldstein said. The video feed showed officials where there was infrastructure damage and immediate traffic conditions.

Dispatching an appropriate response to deal with the emergencies during the earthquake then followed.

The Baltimore Police Department, the Maryland State Department of Transportation the Mass Transit Administration and several more agencies each have their own cameras, which are used for different functions, Goldstein said. The police department uses cameras for surveillance, the Department of Transportation uses them for monitoring traffic conditions and the Mass Transit Administration uses cameras around bus, light rail and subway assets. Historically the different entities also have use different software systems for their cameras.

When it was time for the Baltimore Grand Prix, the city had already tested the VidSys twice — during the hurricane and earthquake emergencies.

“During the Grand Prix, we had several different command centers operating; [the video feeds] were visible in all of those command centers and there were several laptops that were configured so that commanders out in the field were able to access that as well,” Goldstein said.

No tax dollars were spent to implement the video software, she said. An undisclosed amount of funding came from private donations.

Photo: The 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix on Sept. 2 Photo courtesy Sam Gordon Photography (Flickr Creative Commons)

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.