The Port of Richmond Is Watching

This week, I took a tour of the port of Richmond, Calif., where ADT Security Services was showing off the brand-new video surveillance system it put together to monitor the port against intruders, theft or possible terrorist action -- utilizing an all-wireless network to move data from all the cameras back to the centralized video analytic equipment.

This week, I took a tour of the port of Richmond, Calif., where ADT Security Services was showing off the brand-new video surveillance system it put together to monitor the port against intruders, theft or possible terrorist action.

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The city of Richmond was already engaged with ADT to develop a video surveillance network to cover certain parts of the city -- providing a deterrent against crime and vandalism, as well as a way to identify perpetrators of illegal dumping activities. Norman Chan, a project manager from the port, was on the panel that selected ADT for the city -- and after some time, the decision was made to use the same contractor for a parallel network at the port, although the networks are not connected together at this time. In fact, the whole port project was enabled through a 2.5 million-dollar grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

In a nutshell, the port deployment consists of 82 IP video cameras dispersed around 15 square miles of the public areas of the port (Richmond's port has both public and private entities operating within the location). The cameras push their feeds back to a pair of server racks in the Port Administration building, where the data is analyzed and archived. Rather than requiring security officers to monitor each and every camera at all times, the servers perform analytics on each incoming feed. These analytics detect events such as when someone crosses a virtual tripware, loiters in an area for too long, climbs a fence or leaves an object behind. If the analytic software detects a possible breach of policy, an on-screen warning pops up to warn on-duty security.

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To get the feeds back to the server room, ADT deployed a complete wireless solution. The IP cameras connect directly to mesh network nodes provided by BelAir Networks, and the mesh routes the data around to nodes with backhaul connections back to the Port Administration building, where there are fiber drops from the roof to the server room.

Because the BelAir mesh nodes have multiple radios on board, they can be used on multiple bands simultaneously to provide both client access and mesh links. The port Wi-Fi mesh uses the 2.4GHz band for access and parts of the 5GHz band for the mesh links (the city of Richmond gained clearance from the county to use the 4.9GHz band for municipal uses on its mesh, but the port was not similarly cleared to use the 4.9GHz band.)

The backhauls consist of technology provided by BridgeWave Communications (American Wireless Networks deployed the BridgeWave equipment). One of the ADT people I spoke with mentioned that the backhauls use licensed spectrum, so that would indicate BridgeWave's 80GHz-based products (BridgeWave also sells equipment that utilizes the unlicensed 60GHz band), but both are rated to support up to Gigabit Ethernet speeds.

Make no mistake, there is a lot of data to push around an all-wireless network, and by all indications the mesh network is up to the task so far, given the current number of cameras. I did not get a clear answer on the resolution of the cameras (provided by Axis Communications), but estimates were something less than 720p HD quality but more than 480p. The video feeds were all encoded into H.264 streams at the camera, but the cameras are each capable of up to a 3M-bps encoding rate. And as you can see in the picture, some mounts contain multiple cameras, so that would equal a lot of data emanating from a single location, not counting the downstream mesh nodes as well.

A BelAir official told me that BelAir is not yet using 802.11n in its equipment (BelAir is waiting for the standard to be ratified), but that its existing 802.11a/b/g equipment is optimized to push around 30M bps of real data over a single one of its wireless links. In my tours of both the port and city deployments, I saw both BelAir's 100 series mesh node (dual radio) and 200 series node (modular slots for up to four radios) in use in both networks.

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ADT's Jeff Gutierrez walked the media through a demonstration of the technology in action. Gutierrez signaled a cohort to begin the demonstration, which involved a guy jumping a fence about mile away from where we were standing. This action triggered one of the analytic rules, creating an on-screen alert about the potentially threatening act with an on-screen pointer to where the event took place (there are plans in the works for other avenues of alerting, but right now it is just the screen pops). The security official could quickly review the archived and analyzed footage (the data center includes 73TB of storage for archiving purposes) to witness the offending action. He could also take control of the camera (the port used full-pan-and-tilt cameras in most locations, whereas the city often utilized stationary cameras), move it around and see what was going on live. We were able to clearly zoom in on the intruder, who was milling around almost a mile away. The system is also quite good for zooming in on license plates.

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In talking with some of the ADT staff responsible for the deployment, I learned that there were some logistical hurdles that needed resolving as well, for the deployment to move ahead. For instance, the Port Administration building did not have a server room prior to this deployment, and from my brief time in the building, the site seems a poor location for such a facility, as it gets hot in there fast on a sunny day. However, port officials wanted the data to be nearby for those who would be using the system, so ADT cleaned out a closet and got the space up to spec in terms of power and cooling. Apparently, it needed to do some structural analysis on the building as well, to ensure that the space could handle the weight of all the equipment that would be stored there.

Also, one of the backhaul links crosses a stretch of water between the Port Administration building and one of the remote lots where cars are temporarily stored after they are unloaded from the cargo ships. Occasionally, when a very tall ship docks, the ship could block the line of sight necessary to maintain the backhaul link, thereby dropping connectivity to the remote network. Therefore, AW Networks had to set up a redundant link to that particular location.