Securing the Nation
IP Video keeps public safe on Welland Canal
By Vawn Himmelsbach
When you have a 33,000-tonne ship bearing down on a bridge, and it takes a mile to stop, you better make sure that bridge is ready to lift. Cameras also play vital part in safety of employees who work on vessels.
By Vawn Himmelsbach
That’s the job of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., which went
through a four-year CCTV upgrade to IP video along the Welland Canal
section of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Cameras play a role in how it operates to ensure public safety, as well
as the safety of employees who work on the structures and the vessels
that move through the system. The canal, which is 27 miles long and
connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, consists of eight giant locks,
which lift ships 326 feet between the two lakes.
"We have a lot of property, and we have a lot of responsibility for
public safety along our canals, especially around our vertical lift
bridges," says Robert Killick, corporate operating technology
integration specialist with the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp.
The bridges are remotely controlled, with no one around for miles, so
remote surveillance is imperative for the safe operation of the lochs,
for shipping and for the public.
"Take a train crossing. CN’s eyes are closed. The bells go ding-ding,
down come the traffic gates and zoom goes the train. If you’re there,
you’re squashed," he says. "We haven’t taken that approach. We believe
we have a responsibility and accountability for public safety." The
public, for example, has the ability to drive a car across a bridge or
walk around on it.
"We certainly do have our share of incidents," says Killick. "Cameras
and archive video often play an important part in reviewing what
happened, getting to the root cause. Having cameras in place has
assisted us in managing through incidents, because incidents do happen,
whether it’s an operating incident or a security incident where
somebody is somewhere they shouldn’t be."
But the type of grainy video typically used in surveillance equipment
wasn’t going to cut it for their purposes. The Seaway goes back a long
way with CCTV – it’s been using video in the canals since the ’60s and
right from the get-go installed broadcast-quality equipment. Operators
who use this video to assist in managing ships through the canals are
accustomed to high-resolution, high-quality video. While electronic
mechanisms are in place that tell operators when a bridge is ready to
lift, that video is essential to see what those electronic mechanisms
can’t – perhaps a tourist is standing on the bridge snapping photos,
unaware the bridge is about to lift. "We can’t afford a failure," says
The Seaway looked at a number of vendors, with a requirement for
full-motion full-resolution video. And the technology had to be easy to
use, since their technical team would be doing the integration work
themselves. "We insisted that the vendor send us their product," he
says. "If we can’t make it go out of the box ourselves with little
fanfare, then it’s too complicated for us."
They also required something that could be embedded into other control
systems for bridges and lochs. "We try not to be unique, but there
aren’t too many canal systems around," says Killick. After about two
years of testing different systems, they decided upon IndigoVision
because it was simple to use and more cost-effective than other IP
video solutions on the market.
The Marine Transportation Security Act is also placing an emphasis on
video. "With our new responsibilities relative to marine security,
there are a lot of international regulations we must comply with now
for shipping, and cameras help us in achieving those requirements," he
says. However, they’re taking a gradual, pragmatic approach, rather
than going "video crazy." At this point, everything is done across an
IP network, whether voice, video or data, using standard analogue
There are close to 100 cameras in use in the Niagara region alone, and
another 100 in the Montreal region. Around a bridge there are typically
seven to nine pan-tilt-zoom cameras at various vantage points, most of
which have night vision mode. Various views show operators where there
might be people or cars. The Seaway is not using any IP cameras,
however, since they find them too restrictive (today’s IP cameras use
proprietary technology as opposed to open standards). "Having the
ability to patch an analogue camera directly into a codec provides a
lot of flexibility," says Killick.
A number of IndigoVision 8000 IP video transmitter/receiver units were
initially installed in 2004 to support remote bridge control along the
Welland Canal. Since then, The Seaway has deployed an additional 8,000
units and Windows-based Network Video Recorders (NVRs). Voice, video
and data are transported over a high-bandwidth network using layer two
and three segments. The Seaway is now using 8000 units throughout its
canal system between the Port of Montreal and Lake Erie.
IndigoVision offers both a hybrid IP-analogue and pure IP system. The
Seaway is using a hybrid system, since they’re using analogue cameras,
running the signal over fibre and converting it into IP at their
monitoring station with MPEG-4 compression. Simply digitizing CCTV over
IP slows down the network and requires a large amount of storage, so
IndigoVision uses tight meshing of cameras, storage and operator
software so surveillance becomes a convergent IP application – just
another layer in the IP infrastructure.
Hybrid technology allows organizations to migrate to IP slowly, as
opposed to changing everything out overnight. "A lot of what [The
Seaway] purchased over the years are good cameras," says Bill McQuade,
vice-president of sales for North America with IndigoVision. "They’re
using a combination of Panasonic and Bosch, and they’ve made a
significant investment, so it lets them keep that investment." The
Seaway is also using decoders, which allow them to view video on
analogue-based monitors. Video is compressed onto an MPEG-4 stream,
goes out onto the network and via an IP decoder is converted back to an
analogue signal so it can be viewed on a typical TV or monitor. Every
encoder requires a decoder; it’s a one-to-one relationship.
The move to IP makes The Seaway’s surveillance system much easier to
manage. "You can move anything and everything," says Killick. Switching
is done virtually; there are no hard switches, which had previously
caused a lot of headaches. "We were getting into capacity issues with
our physical matrix switches," he said. The physical matrix switches
were "more than awkward" to integrate with any other control system.
The virtual matrix switches, however, are limitless.
The Seaway has always archived video for incident management purposes,
but in the past they did this with tape. "If something happens, it’s
going to cost somebody some money, so it’s always been necessary to
have these types of video archives," says Killick. But in the past, if
an incident took place, they’d have to find the tape and play it on a
VCR – a cumbersome process.
"Our requirements are very dynamic," he said. "Just about everything we
see we record, and we’re recording it at full resolution and full frame
rate. That takes a lot of space – we’re talking multi-terabyte systems."
But it’s also critical for security. "It’s served us well in a number
of incidents where we’ve had people on our structures causing damage,"
says Killick. Previously they were using a couple of cameras with only
fractional frame rate recording, while other cameras performed full
frame rate. "On those views where we were only capturing fractional
frame rates, people could actually get in and out between frames, so
you do lose a lot by giving up full frame rate."
Now The Seaway is using NVRs that offer 8TB each of recording space for
extended archive periods. Each server can handle about 32 video streams
and provide an archive period of about 15 days. It’s fully searchable,
right down to the fraction of a second, and they can search for motion
within any video stream.
"Everybody underestimates storage," says McQuade. The price – as well
as resolution and frame rate – will dictate how long a customer is
going to be able to archive video. "When you’re recording 30 frames per
second 24-by-seven, storage can become the most expensive part of the
system." Using IndigoVision’s Activity Controlled Frame-rate (ACF), the
transmitter always encodes at 30 frames per second, but when there’s no
motion or activity, it drops to one frame per second. This reduces
bandwidth requirements, and removes "no activity" frames in a way that
is invisible to the user. It also reduces storage requirements.
In the Niagara region, The Seaway has its own fibre, so there are no
restrictions on bandwidth, whereas the Montreal region is
bandwidth-challenged. "What we tend to do there is give up a little bit
on resolution and frame rate, and then make ends meet," says Killick.
"In some cases we’ll put a server right on site." They monitor the
canal system using IndigoVision Control Center. However, in some cases
they manage the streams themselves, using an API that allows them to
embed IndigoVision stream management within their own programs.
This is all part of an ongoing "living" project, one designed not only
for the remote operation of bridges, but to ensure the safety of ships,
workers and the public. "Having an enterprise-class system is extremely
important," said Killick. "[The ships] don’t move like a 747, but they
don’t stop like one either. In the confines of the canal they’re moving
a lot slower, but in certain areas of the canal and on the river in
Montreal they’re moving a lot faster and we need to make sure we’re
ready as they approach."