Cameras at the Intersection
Using technology to manage traffic and protect public safety
- By Christopher Lindenau
- Dec 01, 2013
In 1991, Congress established a federal program to develop,
test and promote the implementation of Intelligent
Transportation Systems (ITS), exploring ways that
information and technology could improve transportation
safety. Since then, the government has earmarked
dollars for cities across the United States to put technology in
place to manage traffic and protect public safety. Tuscaloosa,
Ala. is one city that has benefitted.
The Tuscaloosa Department of Transportation received
federal funding for traffic message boards and cameras. Using
its bucket trucks and technicians, Tuscaloosa’s DOT began
installing cameras at high-volume intersections across the city.
Eventually, every major intersection in Tuscaloosa had a DOTinstalled
camera in place.
This program was the Tuscaloosa Transportation Department’s
entry to cameras and has helped the city manage traffic
without widening roads.
“We’re not camera people, but we’ve become camera people
through experience,” said Chris Golden, Tuscaloosa Department
As cameras transitioned to Ethernet and IP, Tuscaloosa
DOT said that it had to switch from running coaxial cable
to programming each camera by assigning an IP address and
ensuring it fit into the overall IP network scheme. Golden and
his colleagues began focusing on installation and programming
of cameras, wireless equipment and Ethernet switches.
Putting Experience to Work
In July 2008, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox announced the
Hope Initiative, the start of a long-term effort to fight crime in
his city. This initiative included a number of recommendations
such as increasing patrols by police, establishing an East Tuscaloosa
police precinct and making infrastructure improvements,
like adding security cameras. Since the Tuscaloosa Transportation
Department had the equipment and experience in installing
cameras as part of the ITS initiative, the city turned to
them for help.
Initially, the transportation department worked with an
integrator to lay out a scheme for the initiative’s security systems.
The integrator recommended equipment such as servers
and software platform options that had been used on projects
in Chicago, New York City and Pittsburgh. Ultimately,
Golden’s team connected the cameras, and the integrator
programmed the system.
The city of Tuscaloosa funded a portion of the
Hope Initiative, and the University of Alabama
added dollars, too. The university sits adjacent to
some of the areas the Hope Initiative is focused
on, like the “Strip,” which includes university
student housing. Among the goals was giving peace of mind to
residents as well as parents, whose children were attending the
university—sometimes a long way from home.
The Hope Initiative’s cameras began to come online in early
2009. The platform for the cameras is an IP video management
system; however, there were very few stable security center platforms
available when the city kicked off this initiative.
“These early systems were like Windows 98, very unreliable,”
Golden said. “The Omnicast system we chose was an exception.”
Through its relationship with a provider of lighting, poles and
cameras, Tuscaloosa’s DOT learned of 3G/4G wireless cameras
from Moog. The camera system uses existing cellular networks
and network video to provide video footage via IP cameras.
“We had steered clear of wireless products, except for a few
areas, because we always thought fiber was better,” Golden
said. “But we tried seven of the Moog wireless cameras on
our DOT compound, and they worked without missing a beat.
There was no latency in the cameras.”
After six months of use and testing, Tuscaloosa DOT decided
the wireless cameras would work for the Hope Initiative,
as well as other locations. For example, the DOT tried the camera
system at the Tuscaloosa airport. The airport has cameras
connected by fiber that runs back to the DOT compound, but
there were areas that were impossible to reach with fiber that
DOT wanted to monitor.
Golden and his team installed the wireless camera system,
receivers and transmitters up to a half mile from one another.
Golden’s camera provider also developed a camera system with
a USB aircard and static IP address that Tuscaloosa DOT has set up for special events.
“We had an air show with the Blue
Angels, and we used the Moog mobile
cameras for monitoring crowds and
moving people from shuttle buses,” said
Golden. “The image is as close to real
time for an aircard as you could ever
imagine. The cameras are 3G, and you
band them to a pole and move it to the
next pole, if and when needed.”
Seventy-five percent of Tuscaloosa
is covered with Hope cameras, with
most city property having these cameras.
According to city officials, there are
some buildings—the city courthouse
and parking garage—that have a different
camera system with its own protocol,
but the city’s leaders hope to move
these outliers to the Hope system.
“The beauty of the IP video management
system is that so many different
types of cameras and Ethernet
products work with it,” said Golden.
“We have eight camera systems as part
of the Hope initiative.”
While there are a number of cities
that have extensive security systems in
place, Golden believes Tuscaloosa is
unique because it doesn’t rely on contractors
as the primary operators.
“We do 90 percent of the installation
and monitoring work ourselves,
and we get assistance from our contractors
when we need an expert opinion,”
Curbing Crime with Cameras
In 2009, the Hope Initiative saw crime
in the city’s Rosedale Hope Zone,
where 11 percent of the city’s crime
occurred in 2008, drop by 20 percent.
Officials said that the camera system
played a role—as well as added police
patrols, the new police precinct and the
involvement of more than 60 churches
and various social service groups.
On April 27, 2011, a major tornado
destroyed many areas covered by the
Hope Initiative, so the police department’s
public affairs office said current
statistics would be skewed because of
the resulting population shift. However,
in September 2013, the Transportation
Department purchased five Moog
EXO high-definition network camera
systems with H.264 full-line compression
for monitoring additional areas
within the Hope Zones, as well as assets
such as the city’s dam.
The city’s IP video management
system has been in place for four years,
and even through regularly scheduled
swaps of PCs, the system has performed
effectively. In cases where the
DOT’s security desk client application
loses connectivity to its servers, the city
has been able to continue monitoring
cameras, as well as maintain access to
Using the IP video management
system software, the Tuscaloosa Police
Department and other first responders
can view footage of the seven Hope
Zones across the city. The system stores
the footage for up to two weeks, and the
police IT department can assign who
has access to what footage.
The city’s DOT has access to the
camera footage, but its goal is not observing
people; rather, the DOT monitors
only real-time footage to make sure
the cameras are operating correctly day
and night. The University of Alabama
can also see approved video footage
and share it with the school’s engineering
lab to use for research.
According to city officials, keeping
the Hope Initiative on track requires
ongoing attention, community involvement
and the latest technology.