At the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), one of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DoE) 10 national laboratories, 4,200 staff members conduct critical research every day in the fields of energy, environment, fundamental science and national security. The main campus includes more than 35 buildings andspread out over an approximately one square mile area north of Richland, Wash. Through their work, PNNL researchers seek to strengthen U.S. foundations for innovation, prevent and counter acts of terrorism, study the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increase U.S. energy capacity, reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce the environmental effects of human activity.
To enable laboratory researchers to achieve their goals, the DoE and PNNL have an ongoing responsibility to ensure that the facilities and employees are safe from any logical or physical security threats. In October 2006, the laboratory completed installation of a state-of-the-art campus camera and emergency call station system, popularly known as Campus Camera, as part of an effort to improve campus safety, cyber security, physical security and emergency response.
The system uses an outdoor wireless mesh network that integrates with the extensive indoor wireless networks already in operation on the campus. The implementation was the first for video cameras on this scale using wireless mesh technology from Cisco Systems, San Jose, Calif., in addition to emergency call stations that rely on wireless Voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology, according to PNNL officials. The laboratory is the first federal government organization to implement Cisco's technology in a comprehensive large-scale video, voice and data application.
“Our campus looks very similar to a university campus,” explains Jerry Johnson, PNNL chief information officer. “We have no guards or gates surrounding the facility, and prior to the installation of the camera system, our principal security boundaries were the buildings themselves.”
PNNL had previously employed locks and alarm systems at building entry points and perimeters. “But we identified a need to expand the security perimeter beyond the walls of the buildings while still being able to maintain an ‘open campus’ feeling, something that is important to us and to our employees,” Johnson says.
After securing government funding, the laboratory installed a comprehensive system consisting of 81 cameras, 14 emergency call stations and a campus-wide outdoor wireless mesh network over a period of eight months.
The network uses Cisco's Aironet Wireless Mesh technology, introduced by the company in 2005. Functioning as the backbone of the system are Cisco Aironet 1500 Series access points, which transmit and receive wireless radio signals used for connecting mobile computers and other devices, such as security cameras and emergency phones, to the Internet or other wired networks. Unlike typical access points used for “hotspot” wireless connections at coffee shops and airports, the 1500 series points can operate without a direct connection to a wired network.
Wireless mesh access points use their wireless capabilities to transmit traffic from one access point to another and out to the Internet. In this way, they operate in the same manner as the router nodes of a wired network, with traffic flowing from one access point to another over the most efficient path. “The mesh network acts very much like the Internet. You have multiple routes that information traffic can go through to get from point A to point B,” Johnson says. “So, for instance, if the power is turned off to an area because of construction going on, the traffic does not stop; it simply finds a new route, and the service goes on. That's very helpful.” Approximately 94 access points were installed atop various light poles and buildings throughout the campus, forming a networked canopy of connectivity. PNNL's IT Services group designed and continues to manage the mesh network.
Campus officials chose to mount 81 stationary and pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) cameras from Pelco, Clovis, Calif., also atop various 30-ft. light poles for effective visual coverage of activities occurring on campus grounds. Cameras were installed in high pedestrian traffic areas, parking lots and building facility perimeters. The cameras send encrypted signals in real-time to the access points on the rooftops, which then transmit visual images to the campus Operations Center. Fourteen outdoor emergency call station towers from Talk-A-Phone, Chicago, were also installed in high traffic areas throughout the campus. The Operations Center receives camera and emergency call station signals after they are routed through network security systems designed to detect and prevent unauthorized activities.
The laboratory also updated its Operations Center, relocating it to a larger facility and installing six 42-in. plasma display wall monitors from Sony that display multiple images per panel along with an operations center console from Winsted Corp., Minneapolis. In addition, PNNL uses Cisco network switches; digital video recorders from Integral Technologies, Indianapolis; video encoders and decoders from Pelco; and VoIP converters and a PBX system from Talk-A-Phone.
Using wireless technology instead of cable and conduit to connect outdoor cameras to the Operations Center was a key benefit in terms of connectivity and cost-savings, according to Phil George, PNNL network and telephone services portfolio manager. The total cost of the entire system was approximately $2.8 million. George says that deploying wired network connections to each camera and call station distributed around the campus would have added nearly $5 million to the total cost. “Wireless has been about 10 times less costly to install than basic conduit and cable,” he adds. “In addition, if we had had to trench and install buried cables across the campus to form a wired network, there would have been safety issues and lots of disruption to our facility.”
Besides basic network connectivity for security systems, the wireless access points interoperate with the wireless infrastructure in each building, creating an umbrella of wireless services, including video, voice and data applications. That translates into productivity benefits for researchers and staff who can stay connected as they move between and within buildings.
The new infrastructure has also laid groundwork for additional security provisions the laboratory may implement in the future. “We saw some more opportunities to leverage the wireless network and use it for other purposes, such as for a wireless road detection capability and asset management and tracking,” George says. The new system allows for quick deployments of secure point-to-point connections as a part of the laboratory's business continuity plan to mitigate impacts caused by IT infrastructure damage on campus. In addition, the campus-wide VoIP installation is particularly well suited to facilities support personnel who move throughout the campus daily.
However, security and safety remain the most important benefits. “We don't look at this as being a security system as much as it is a safety system for our staff and visitors,” Johnson says. Adds George, “This system acts as a virtual fence that allows our security staff to survey a broader area to look for potentially suspicious activities from a security standpoint and also from a safety standpoint.”
As a final step in the project, PNNL officials held open houses in the Operations Center to give wary employees an opportunity to learn about the new system and its purpose. “We used the open houses to communicate the benefits of the system and to emphasize it as a safety system as opposed to a security system,” Johnson says. Initially, some employees were concerned that the cameras would be used to document their activities, possibly getting them into trouble. However, Johnson explains, employee concerns were calmed after they were able to see how the system works and learn how security guards would use it.
The Campus Camera system has been in operation for a little more than a year.
“With the system in place, our security personnel are better equipped to respond when needed, and our employees have told us they feel safer,” Johnson says.