Many of the PTZ cameras installed throughout New Orleans survived Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as long as their poles, electric power and servers held out.

Before Hurricane Katrina demolished the Gulf Coast last year, 2005 already had been an eventful year for Southern Electronics. The New Orleans-based systems integrator and distributor was enjoying a major success with the initial implementation of the Big Easy’s municipal IP-security system.

With several hundred robotic network cameras eyeing the city, early assessment revealed that crime and policing costs had dropped significantly. Building out the system across the entire municipality was moving forward on schedule.

“The system had already proven itself time and time again,” maintains Iggie Perrin, president of Southern Electronics. “Then Katrina took us into unknown territory, well beyond anything we had engineered for.”

As the catastrophe hit, Perrin and city officials were amazed at how the pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras not only survived, but also how the vast majority remained in operation as long as the supporting infrastructure remained intact.

Since the floodwaters receded, images from the cameras have been used to feed real-time information to the city’s emergency operations center. Now restoring, upgrading and expanding the system has become a top priority.

Vandal-resistant enclosures provided by Active Solutions, New Orleans, for the cameras proved not only bullet-resistant, but many were “hurricane-resistant” as well.

Original Purpose for System

The design and deployment of the New Orleans IP security system was spurred by the police department’s added responsibilities for protecting against terrorist threats in the post 9/11 environment. IP-based security was recognized as a cost-effective way to extend and enhance the city’s police presence.

Sony RZ30N PTZ robotic network cameras were selected for their advanced bandwidth management features that optimize network resources while maintaining image clarity.

The cameras are encased in vandal-resistant enclosures provided by Active Solutions, New Orleans. According to Active Solutions, their package also includes power conditioning and backhaul infrastructure and is designed to provide survivability to metro-scale wireless IP camera networks.

The units are mounted on top of utility poles that provide power and are connected to local servers by wireless links. They are programmed to provide a virtual patrol and operate much like having an officer walking a beat.

The system has the ability to flag suspicious behavior, then move in from wide-angle shots to take a closer look. The cameras’ high-resolution digital imaging coupled with third-party solutions provide for license plate capture and facial recognition.

The black residue of floodwaters remain on the floor of the warehouse of Southern Electronics, New Orleans, which installed the city’s video surveillance system.

The Storm & the Chaos

As Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, the IP security system remained in operation while the public evacuated the city. Rising waters swamped several police stations which housed servers that were collecting video.

Even if recording stopped, cameras still could operate when accessed via the system’s virtual private network. A large number of cameras remained in continuous operation throughout the storm.

During the week after Hurricane Katrina hit, other cameras lost local power or the servers they were connected to eventually went down as generators ran out of fuel.

“The cameras held up amazingly well with only a few failing when the utility poles they were attached to collapsed,” Perrin reports. “We can now say from experience that the RZ30N cameras inside the Active Solutions enclosures are not only bullet-resistant, but also able to withstand a category 5 storm.”

The floodwater line can be seen on these servers to which some cameras were connected.
Perrin had his work cut out for him as the storm passed. The initial challenge was keeping his business going while getting to work for clients in New Orleans.

Southern Electronics’ corporate offices are located just blocks from the Superdome and had been the workplace for 30 of the company’s 50 employees.

Restoring corporate systems from a new backup computer in the security dealer’s Baton Rouge office took longer than expected. A replacement server shipped “overnight” actually took a week to arrive.

Locating contacts within city government and receiving proper credentials to get into the disaster area was problematic. Finally, Perrin made his way into the chaos with a three-man crew equipped with hip waders, respirators and sidearms.

Their first assignment was helping set up the emergency operations center and then to assess damage to the IP security system. Because the cameras were still intact, the task of getting the system up-and-running became a top priority.

Most of this work involved replacing damaged servers and realigning wireless antennas. The system provided invaluable information throughout, especially as Hurricane Rita struck later, bringing additional damage.

Although many of the video surveillance cameras withstood Hurricane Katrina’s category 5 winds, not all the electrical poles did.

Work Ahead

At press time, conditions in New Orleans remained far from normal. Even so, better than 80 percent of the IP security installation had been restored, and an accelerated schedule for expanding it is underway.

Perrin expects to have more than 100 additional cameras in place within 60 days. At the same time, he has gutted and begun rebuilding the 18,000-square-foot first floor of his corporate headquarters, which was contaminated by flooding.

“The financial squeeze on the city now is enormous, and that is helping to drive the investment in the IP security system,” Perrin declares. “People are coming back, and this is the most effective way to provide a police presence with the resources available.” – Contributed by Allen Chan, product manager, Sony Electronics Inc., Park Ridge, N.J.


On the Job

  • Sony RZ30 PTZ cameras

  • Active Solutions wireless Metronet series, New Orleans

  • On-Net Surveillance Systems digital video surveillance management software

  • HP Proliant Generation 4 servers

  • Meridian Network attached storage for archiving

  • One or two Cisco 3750 switches per precinct

  • Tropos Network 5110 1-watt Wi-Fi access points