Crowds Monitored in High-Def at Obama Inauguration

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The inauguration event ushering President Barack Obama and his family into the White House saw Washington, D.C.'s streets filled with crowds that were monitored using an advanced video-surveillance system.

Read a story about the Obama inauguration causing network problems.

The video surveillance, based on high-definition cameras discretely placed to monitor street activity throughout a swath of the city between the Capitol Building and the White House, streamed real-time images wirelessly to command centers operated by the Washington, D.C. police department, the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other protective agencies.

"One camera can scan several blocks based on zoom capabilities," says Travis Hudnall, the CTO for the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, who helped design the system. "The cameras were strategically placed where we needed to have visibility, areas of interest where the president was going."

While not at liberty to disclose some details about the installation, Hudnall says the Inaugural event was the first time that local and federal law enforcement working together in a coordinated action could instantly share video feeds with each other.

The heart of the video-switching for this "virtual command center," as Hudnall calls it, is equipment from VSee that allows capture of video feeds from cameras, encrypting it, and compressing it for distribution. "This was our first time putting it through its paces," he says, noting the D.C. police department had used VSee previously.

The compression technology, Hudnall says, was the main factor in facilitating the video-surveillance feeds over wireless networks.

"Pooling video feeds isn't rocket science but doing compression is," Hudnall says. Video feeds are bandwidth hogs, but the VSee equipment managed to take a 4MB video stream and compress it down to 200KB. "Instead of having to buy a bigger, faster network, we maximized what we have," Hudnall points out.

The Inauguration video-surveillance by law enforcement and protective agencies made use of a variety of wireless services, including carrier Wi-Max, Evolution Data Optimized Network (EVDO) and microwave.

Not surprisingly, it took many months to coordinate the video-surveillance among the law enforcement entities charged with keeping both the president and the public safe during a moment when attackers might have attempted to exploit the moment.

Many general legal restrictions related to privacy and civil liberties govern video-surveillance use and these had to be taken into consideration, Hudnall says.

First off, the public must be notified in advance that video surveillance will be occurring. And laws restrict capture of sound, so only video streaming -- without sound -- was part of the protection. And because of laws about storing surveillance video, the video isn't being stored.

Is the advanced video-surveillance system going to be used for other events soon?

Hudnall says he can't disclose much more, except to say, "It's not like Christmas where you take the tree down when it's over."

This story, "Crowds Monitored in High-Def at Obama Inauguration" was originally published by Network World.

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