Open Architecture System Improves Courtroom Communications and Security
It is said that the Northern edge of the Great Plains can be seen from the International Space Station because of the thousands of fires burning from the region’s natural gas flare stacks. Though oil prices have since come down, this is a remaining effect of earlier high oil prices and hydraulic fracturing technologies.
In North Dakota, new wealth has financed economic expansion across the state, including multi-million dollar recreation centers, new hospital wings, water treatment facilities, fire stations and more. Roads have been upgraded with passing lanes and county and state highway departments are working full time to keep the road system, built for rural farm traffic and not large trucks, pothole-free.
Other changes to the largely rural area include significant population growth due to the arrival of thousands of job-seekers. This latter change has had a significant impact on the region’s law enforcement capabilities and the corresponding judicial system. In particular, the town of Williston has hired additional police to cope with the increased number of arrests, traffic violations and other infractions. But physical security at the courthouse was deemed to be inadequate and in need of an upgrade.
TeleMasters Business Systems, a local systems integrator specializing in communication and physical security systems, was already working on upgrading sound and PA systems at the courthouse when they were asked to look into upgrading the building’s physical security. According to Steve Alvarez, general manager, and Grant Vinger, sales manager at TeleMasters, when they investigated the courthouse they found there wasn’t much at all in the way of security.
“There was no access control at the doors and none of the three courtrooms had any video surveillance,” Vinger said. “There was no way to notify the police if an incident occurred. The judge or courtroom bailiff couldn’t even contact personnel at the jail if a prisoner needed to be picked up and returned to their cell or summoned to the courtroom. There was no system in place to do any of this or even monitor situations.”
The first order of business for TeleMasters in upgrading the courthouse was the implementation of a video surveillance system controlled by Pearl River, N.Y.-based OnSSI’s Ocularis VMS platform. This was supplemented by an access control system, which seamlessly integrated with the VMS system to correlate video images with any access activity. Still, while these security systems addressed the overall need to enhance physical security, they did not specifically resolve the judges’ concerns about the inability to notify staff at the jail when needed.
“We first thought about a basic button system that would send a message to the jail,” Alvarez said. “Then we thought about integrating it with the video surveillance system. The judge would simply press the button and the video and audio would come up on the monitor at the jail. The open architecture of the VMS platform made the integration possible, but when we contacted OnSSI, they had other ideas and worked with us to develop an even better solution.”
The better solution involved integration of the Ocularis platform with the solution from Convergence TP’s (C2P) Event Streaming Engine to allow seamless, one-way integration of TCP/IP data or events into the VMS. In other words, when a button is pressed, it pushes the video from the associated courtroom cameras to the PC monitor at the jail along with the accompanying text outlining a specific procedure that the personnel at the jails need to follow.
Buttons are also color-coded with yellow representing low alert action (i.e., defendant ready to be returned to jail) and red representing high alert (i.e., emergency situation that requires immediate assistance). The corresponding video and data received at the jail enables personnel to be better prepared when they enter the courtroom, because they know what to expect.
“The application requested by TeleMasters was similar to other Ocularis/C2P installations,” said Charles Hickey, director of operations, Convergence TP. “Our focus is to integrate IP devices with the video management system, making the VMS the head-end. This application followed closely to other similar projects at prisons, airports, amusement parks and 911 emergency centers.”
Alvarez adds that the system was programmed to accommodate different types of events, with all functions performed in the background, making it easier and faster for responding personnel to act. The buttons are wired to IP I/O interfaces, which are then tied to the C2P engine and the Ocularis platform. The VMS system allows administrators to easily search by camera, room or procedure after the fact to review or analyze incident activity.
The feedback has been extremely positive and TeleMasters has recently been asked to add another location to the system.
“If it wasn’t for the OnSSI open platform, I don’t think there was any other possible way to make this happen,” Vinger added. “If anything, it would have been more legacy analog technology, or we would have been forced to use device-dependent products or software proprietary to the device. Open architecture removed those obstacles.”
Alvarez added, “It was very gratifying to provide a complete solution for their needs — a notification system with video, audio and text. OnSSI has always been at the core of everything we do because of its open platform, and that makes it a very exciting solution.”