Universal CityWalk is a large shopping and entertainment complex located near the popular Universal Studios Hollywood tourist attraction. The two destinations have their own zip code and share the name of the city in which they are located — Universal City, Calif.

To support the great volume of people who visit each day, Universal CityWalk has three parking garages which, combined, have about three million square feet of parking space — a huge amount, even by southern California standards. Recently management made a major upgrade to the video surveillance system at CityWalk.
“Universal CityWalk has a reputation of being a very family-friendly facility and they work very hard to maintain that,” said Steve Reinharz, business development manager for Climatec Building Technologies Group, the Irvine, Calif.-based integrator that installed the new system.
The previous surveillance system used 144 analog cameras, which may sound like a lot, but as Matt Poyer, vice president of operations for Universal CityWalk explained, the parking garages had coverage only at the entrances and exits and elevator lobbies. “We wanted coverage on every aisle of every floor,” he described.
Decision-makers also wanted to improve the functionality of the system’s command center, which at the time used digital video recorders for storage, with each DVR attached to a separate nine-inch monitor that used tube technology. In total, there were 20 monitors, each with 60 screens on it — an overwhelming number of images for anyone to make sense of.
CityWalk management reviewed design proposals from several different companies and chose one from Climatec, which called for nearly 500 cameras controlled by an Omnicast video management system from GE Security.
The design also included an upgraded command center using flat-screen monitors and replacing the DVRs with server-based storage that archives images from all cameras for 30 days.
“We created an entire server room that’s 100 percent dedicated to the security system,” Poyer related. “We have several racks with several terabytes of storage. It’s a whole different approach to organizing cameras.”
Even though the new system has more than three times as many cameras as the earlier system, it’s easier now for security personnel to display and view images from specific cameras as needed. As part of the project, a customized interactive map was created that graphically represents the garages and other facilities.
“In the past, security personnel had to find a specific camera number,” Poyer said. “Now you can click on a certain garage and then drill farther to a floor or an aisle.” Clicking on the graphic representation of a specific aisle automatically displays video from the cameras covering that aisle. The same interface also can be used to simplify the process of reviewing archival footage.
As Reinharz explained, “What the video management does is it allows a small number of operators to seamlessly navigate through hundreds of cameras.”
The installation includes both fixed and pan-tilt-zoom cameras. Security personnel can take control of the PTZ cameras as needed to view a specific area.
When not under technician control, the PTZ cameras follow specific tours, rotating and displaying 360-degree images according to pre-programmed commands.
Another advantage of the new system is that security personnel no longer need to use software on DVRs to view video footage. Authorized personnel now have more flexibility because they can use video management software installed on any one of several secured computers for that purpose — and as Poyer noted, the new software is more intuitive and easier to work with.
The new video management system also has provided a more efficient and effective way of securing a loading dock built into the basement level of one of the garages. Trucks making deliveries to Universal CityWalk exit through that loading dock. Previously, a human guard was stationed at the garage with the sole responsibility of making sure that trucks directed to the loading dock really did exit, rather than backing up and returning to CityWalk. As Poyer recalled, “We challenged Climatec to come up with a way to make better use of that person.”
The solution involved video surveillance and a two-way audio link at a remotely controllable gate securing the loading dock exit. Now when a truck arrives at the exit, a security staff member in the command center speaks with exiting drivers while viewing the associated video. Assuming the driver is cleared for exit, the technician releases the gate and watches to make sure that the driver leaves and the gate closes behind the truck. In addition to making better use of human resources, this approach also enhances security by providing an activity log recording which security staff member opened the gate and at what time.
Climatec completed two of three phases of the project and at press time, was working on the third. In the first phase Climatec built the new security command center and installed additional cameras in one of the three parking garages. All new cameras use the Internet protocol for communication. In addition, Climatec replaced any analog cameras that were not working with IP cameras, and all analog cameras were connected to IP encoders.
“The entire project is 100 percent IP,” Reinharz says.
Climatec had nine weeks near the end of 2008 to complete phase 1, an aggressive goal that the company was able to meet by dedicating 11 people to the project — and by putting in a lot of overtime.
“It was a tremendous effort and accomplishment to convert 144 cameras and build both the server and command rooms, as well as put fiber in place and add 127 cameras,” Reinharz said.
Phase 2 of the project, undertaken and completed in the first half of 2009, added a second garage.
Phase 3, which will add the final garage, is scheduled to be completed by the time of publication. Future plans call for programming more pre-sets into the system. Pre-sets enhance the surveillance process by, for example, automatically turning a PTZ camera to a specific emergency phone when that phone is used.
Universal CityWalk management is pleased with the new system, Poyer said. Each camera has been clearly labeled and with so many throughout the complex, visitors have a greater awareness of the cameras around them. “Complete coverage of the garages is paramount,” Poyer said. “Now we have visibility on every floor.”