Cameras in public spaces throughout downtown Chicago relay video wirelessly to the OEMC for a variety of uses.

The vision of Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley was to create a mesh of security around the city’s downtown area on the shore of Lake Michigan. That goal is in the process of being realized by the Operation Virtual Shield project, which is using a wireless network for more than just video, although that is a large portion of its use.

“The city had the foresight to create its specifications for the build-out of a robust, street-level network infrastructure that is not limited to a video network and that can support a host of other applications, some foreseen and others sure to come,” explains Roger Rehayem, the client solutions executive for the city of Chicago with IBM Global Technology Solutions, Armonk, N.Y., the integrator for the project. “Each node on the network can deliver quality video, but it also has the capability to add other devices that capture and transmit data, for example, weather sensors or traffic monitors.

“There’s a lot of vision required in building out an effective infrastructure that supports homeland security applications — it needs to provide enough flexibility to accommodate a variety of requirements should the need arise to support those kinds of applications,” Rehayem continues. “The initial focus was on the central business district, but the surveillance network is expanding throughout the city.”

The video and other data is sent to Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), which coordinates the city’s 911 response and has one of the city’s operations centers. It is located near the downtown district, where a dramatic wall of video screens displays camera views.

“It’s a very well designed-out and comprehensive solution that uses high-end technology,” Rehayem notes. “It’s positioned very well for growth. That really is a testimonial to the commitment to the project by officials throughout the city and to the direction provided by visionaries at the OEMC.”

Video on the network has the capability of being accessed from mobile sources, such as police and fire vehicles. “Mobility can be built into the solution, giving the ability to enhance the solution for mobile capabilities as needed,” Rehayem comments.

“There’s a robust fiber infrastructure built out throughout the city, and that is working in conjunction with a wireless solution,” he continues. “The best solution is always a fiber solution for obvious reasons; it provides the highest bandwidth and you don’t have to contend with wireless signals.

“However, it does become cost-prohibitive to run fiber to every nook and cranny where you want to put a camera,” Rehayem concedes. “The practical approach is to augment a core fiber infrastructure with strategically placed wireless radios. Adding a wireless solution allows you to get past some of those cost constraints and time constraints with a very efficient, high-bandwidth implementation.

“You always need the two working together — an all-wireless solution won’t carry all the needed bandwidth and connectivity, and an all-fiber solution is cost- and time-prohibitive,” he explains. “So finding the right balance is always the optimal solution.”

The first phase of the system — building out a core fiber and wireless infrastructure that provides real-time and recorded, high-quality video wirelessly — has been completed.

Information including video surveillance camera views can be displayed in a variety of ways at the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC).

The wireless network infrastructure from Firetide, Los Gatos, Calif., supports a wide range of fixed and mobile wireless public safety applications besides video, including traffic control, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) communications and rapid database access.

Security concerns prevent Rehayem from providing specifications for the video system, but in general, “It’s high-quality video that is being retained to assist during an incident,” he notes.

Hundreds of new surveillance cameras were linked with thousands of existing ones as part of Operation Virtual Shield.

Omnicast video management software from Genetec Inc., Montreal, Quebec, Canada, integrates with analytics. “It’s a video management application that gives you the ability to record, display and retrieve the video,” Rehayem explains.

“At the OEMC, we manage thousands of cameras, and those cameras come from different systems,” points out Francis Lachance, product manager for Omnicast with Genetec Inc. “So in fact, the OEMC has their own cameras, which are in the streets and public places, but with the system we call Federation, which is one of the big features of the Omnicast system, with that we can go and federate other video systems and bring those systems inside the same platform at the OEMC.

“We do federate some cameras from other locations inside the same single interface for the operator at the OEMC,” Lachance reports.

At the OEMC, the video wall made up of hardware from Barco, Belgium, displays surveillance images and other data.

“It’s a very intuitive interface. They can use maps to locate the camera,” Lachance explains. “With the Genetec software, it’s more dynamic. You can drag and drop and switch cameras on the wall.”

Omnicast runs on the Windows platform on standard PCs and is open architecture, so it can run with any type of IP cameras or analog cameras with IP encoders.

The second phase of Operation Virtual Shield is adding IBM’s SmartSurveillance Solution (SSS) video analytics to the system. This system will provide intelligent search capabilities to the existing infrastructure.