Communications Spotlight

Responding to an alarm at an elementary school, officers pull into the school's parking lot. With no way of seeing what's going on inside the building or a parked school bus housing an alleged perpetrator, officers are at a disadvantage — putting their lives at risk. If they were able to view and share real-time interior and exterior video surveillance of both the school and the bus, officers could plan and execute a more effective response, greatly improving their safety and the safety of innocent bystanders.

While many businesses and schools have deployed video surveillance systems, they're typically closed-circuit (CCTV) systems that officers can't access. The ability to use wireless video to "see inside the building," and share that information among other officers and first responders, is driving demand for new multimedia communications that surpass basic voice communications systems.

Beyond incidents such as the one described above, there is an increasing reliance on video as a key tool in law enforcement's arsenal. Forward-thinking police departments throughout the United States are capitalizing on the benefits provided by wireless multimedia applications, which provide enhanced situational awareness, improve resource management and enable more efficient communications.

Multimedia applications — such as video, GPS location tracking and whiteboarding — are essential tools in law enforcement's arsenal. The ability to distribute video from officers in the field to scene commanders, track the location of and reposition resources on a map using whiteboarding, or provide Internet connectivity for accessing databases or submitting reports enables officers to do their jobs more efficiently and safely.

While there are many multimedia applications available to officers, video has proven to be the most valuable. Video conveys critical information more quickly, efficiently and accurately than voice. And, with video cameras and laptop computers becoming standard issue in law enforcement vehicles, leveraging wireless communications to capitalize on the capabilities of broadband multimedia is becoming less expensive and easier to implement.

Benefits of wireless video networks

WiFi-based video provides numerous benefits, including:

  • A first-person perspective of a scene without positioning an officer at the location — saving resources, improving productivity and delivering significant cost savings;
  • Providing virtual back-up by sending imagery to other patrol cars, the dispatch center and the watch commander to significantly improve officer safety;
  • Portable, remote surveillance systems deployed to monitor suspected drug houses or other sites prior to raids;
  • Access to video from existing CCTV systems, inside or outside buildings, or vehicles that can be relayed to officers arriving at the scene of an incident, improving their situational awareness.
Sharing multimedia information

The most efficient means for distributing multimedia applications among officers are WiFi mobile mesh networks. These networks enable officers to communicate device-to-device without requiring any fixed infrastructure at the scene of an incident. Each user serves as another connection in the network, providing multiple routes for sharing and distributing information. The networks also deliver the benefits of mobility and portability. Incident commanders can easily install these systems in police vehicles and emergency command centers at the scene of an incident. Afterwards, departments can take the systems with them for the next use, more effectively applying resources where and when they're needed.

The Federal Communications Commission increased the usability of WiFi by allocating the 4.9-GHz band exclusively for public safety use. Because only first responders are licensed to use the band, it is free from the congestion that public networks experience and provides mission-critical reliability.

The best view at a rock concert

Is your city having a parade, demonstration or even an art and wine festival? Do you need to provide security? Would you like to have a 360-degree view of the venue from a central location? One township in central New Jersey is utilizing mobile mesh networks to provide video surveillance during major events, drug raids and day-to-day incidents.

The Lakewood (New Jersey) Police Department recently deployed the state's first 4.9-GHz broadband mobile mesh network for enhanced communications and video surveillance during a music festival.

PacketHop, a provider of mobile-mesh broadband WiFi communications systems and mesh-enabled video surveillance platforms located in Redwood City, California, worked with the Lakewood PD to deploy a broadband, wireless communications and video surveillance system at Wingstock 2006 — a music festival held at the township's First Energy minor league baseball park. The event, held last fall, attracted more than 6,000 attendees and featured music performances, food concessions, a vendor village and an amusement park. Lakewood deployed the video surveillance network around the venue to improve security, communications and resource coordination.

The mobile mesh network enabled officers to communicate and share video and tactical information more efficiently. Police cruisers were strategically positioned around the event using GPS resource tracking, whiteboarding and multimedia instant messaging applications. Each police cruiser contained a video camera and laptop.

An unmanned police cruiser was positioned at a major intersection prone to accidents outside the park. It enabled real-time video surveillance of the intersection, reduced the number of speeding cars and improved officer utilization. Another police cruiser was positioned to provide surveillance of police canine units checking attendees for explosives. Two police cruisers patrolled the parking lot outside First Energy Park providing real-time video surveillance. A laptop and camera were placed above the park to provide real-time video of the crowd in front of the concert's main stage. Several police cruisers were also positioned at First Energy Park's main entrances and exits to provide surveillance and manage the flow of attendees entering and exiting the park.

All of the video feeds were simultaneously streamed to each of the police officers over the 4.9-GHz mobile mesh network and to the command post. This provided incident commanders with a more comprehensive and real-time view of the event from a single location, and enabled them to better coordinate officers in the field.

Patrol and tactical applications for video

Beyond special events like Wingstock 2006, the Lakewood PD also is using video to support a variety of tactical operations, including:

  • Field line-ups (perpetrator ID): When identifying a suspect after a mugging, for example, instead of driving a victim to confront the suspect, video frames can be wirelessly transmitted to another location, enabling the victim to remotely identify the suspect.
  • Traffic pursuit across towns: Video during a vehicle pursuit, as well as GPS location tracking, can be shared among officers and incident commanders, essentially putting them "in the passenger seat."
  • Pre-strike location surveillance: Prior to tactical operations — like a drug raid — officers can easily deploy a remote, unmanned video surveillance system to monitor a location, assess activities and develop a plan.
  • Traffic monitoring: Video from vehicles — or from remote mounted cameras — can help identify traffic problems and develop detours or assign officers for traffic control.
  • Virtual back-up (e.g. traffic stops): Video from patrol cars can be relayed to support vehicles and the scene commander, improving officer safety.
  • Vehicle or suspect identification: Video imagery from one camera can be relayed to others to help determine if an individual is wanted for a crime or if a vehicle is stolen, for example.
  • Public/private partnerships: Officers can connect to other video networks at local businesses and schools to validate alarms or assess situations inside buildings, enhancing both public and officer safety, and improving the ability to strategize solutions.
Cost savings

Beyond supporting the Wingstock 2006 event, the Lakewood PD also used video to provide security and surveillance when a visiting religious dignitary — considered an "at risk" target for terrorists — spoke at a local university. By deploying video at the scene and using unmanned vehicles, the Lakewood PD provided enhanced security and saved $3,000 in overtime costs.

Other use cases

Police departments and public safety agencies, are finding the combination of mobile mesh networks and video to be making a difference in their communities.

  • DUI checkpoints: Video deployed by one city at the checkpoint is relayed to the command vehicle located nearby. Cameras positioned ahead of the checkpoint spot vehicles that turn around to avoid the checkpoint.
  • SWAT: SWAT teams can deploy video around the scene of an incident to gain a 360-degree view of the area and better develop strategies to resolve the situation, while also improving their safety.
  • School security: Several school districts are planning to deploy video inside school buses and store and stream the video to school offices and police vehicles. Several cities also are looking to provide portable communications and video surveillance systems for local sporting events, like high school football games, where incidents tend to occur and the benefits of a portable video system can be fully utilized.
What you don't see, can hurt you

As the complexity of incidents increase, resource limitations are forcing police departments to seek new ways to respond to, and successfully resolve, incidents. Video and other visual multimedia applications provide officers with increased situational awareness, providing the ability to see what's going on at the scene or inside a building, and then share that information among a team and headquarters. By providing visual information across the network, law enforcement can develop better strategies for resolving situations, coordinate resources more efficiently and communicate more effectively — while saving money in the process.

Kevin Payne is director of corporate marketing at PacketHop. He can be e-mailed at kpayne@packethop.com or visit www.packethop.com.

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