The public-safety sector largely is bullish about integrating video into its operations. The thinking is that video will generate incontrovertible evidence that can be used in court to gain convictions. Video will tell incident commanders exactly what is happening at an event, which help them make better decisions. The same holds true for dispatchers. Video will protect first responders from wrongful claims of malfeasance or negligence, and it will greatly enhance surveillance efforts.

Video also will make first responders more efficient and productive, said Thomas Quirke, Motorola’s director of solutions marketing, who spoke about video and its myriad capabilities at a media day that recently was held at the company’s Schaumburg, Ill., headquarters outside Chicago. He offered automatic license plate technology — a solution that police officers use, in part, to determine whether the vehicle is linked to a known suspect — as an example.

“Such systems can scan and process as many as 5,000 license plates in one shift,” Quirke said. “The traditional way of doing this would be to call or type in a plate and then wait for a response, which would take a few seconds. Realistically, you could do only 30 to 40 per shift.”

So, video is becoming a bigger tool in the first-responder toolbox. Conventional wisdom says that its value will increase exponentially should the proposed nationwide broadband network for first responders get built. But Quirke cautioned that video only is as good as an agency’s ability to use it effectively. For instance, a video system might produce an overwhelming amount of data, or an agency’s personnel might not have been adequately trained to process what they’re seeing. In that case, analytics technology can be a big help.

But even analytics has its limits, Quirke said. “It’s not like some of the television programs that you see, where they can do amazing things with it,” he said.

Nevertheless, analytics applications, even when they are performing the simplest of tasks, can be extremely effective, Quirke said. He showed an example where a video camera was trained on an escalator in a shopping mall, and the analytics program was counting the number of people going up and down the moving staircase. “When a fire breaks out, the first thing the incident commander is going to want to know is how many people are in the building and where they are,” Quirke said.

Storage poses another challenge for any agency that wants to utilize video, as such systems generate an enormous amount of data. Not only is the sheer size of the files problematic, but they have to be stored in total on multiple mirror sites for redundancy purposes, which is an expensive proposition. Compressing the video to conserve server space always is possible, but it’s not the best option, because certain details about a suspect or the alleged incident that were seen on the live feed could be lost, which would make the video less effective in court, Quirke said. With this in mind, Motorola worked with third-party data-storage solutions developers to engineer a storage solution that relies on algorithms and error-control coding to do the job.

“You take the series of 1s and 0s that make up the picture and then you randomize them, shuffle them about in a predetermined way, which is the error-control part,” Quirke said. “So if you lose a little bit, you know that it’s a randomized error.”

Then the algorithm is run to create additional 1s and 0s — using complex mathematical formulas that recognize the digital patterns of the image — that can be used to reconstruct any data that was lost. The result is that every video file can be broken into pieces that can be stored one time on whatever servers are available — even those outside of the agency’s facility — and later retrieved and reassembled, much in the same way that IP networks packetize voice and data to transmit them over the most expedient pathway. Goodbye mirror sites, Quirke said.

Still another challenge concerns bandwidth. Video files take up a lot of it. Motorola demonstrated the prioritization capability of the LTE technology it is developing for private public-safety networks.

Say, for example, that a city has multiple fixed video surveillance cameras that provide 24/7 monitoring of key areas, such as the downtown business district, tourist attractions and schools. Then, an incident occurs where they want aerial surveillance of the event from a police helicopter as well as ground coverage from mobile cameras. At this point, the prioritization function would let communications officials dial back the resolution of the video captured by the fixed cameras to conserve bandwidth, so that additional bandwidth could be given to the incident video.

“A mobile broadband network will have all kinds of traffic on there, so you have to be able to zero in on what video streams are important to you right now … because [the network] very quickly can get overextended in an emergency,” Quirke said.

The downside is that lower resolution generally makes video less effective and non-prioritized video is prone to becoming pixilated or, worse, disappearing. Such bandwidth-oriented woes theoretically would disappear should the 700 MHz D Block — spectrum currently scheduled to be auctioned to commercial entities — be reallocated to public-safety, a concept Motorola supports, said co-CEO Greg Brown.

Bob Schassler, vice president of government and public-safety products, worries what would happen if public-safety video has to be transmitted over a commercial LTE network.

"It’s going to be next to impossible for the carriers to prioritize and manage an incident the way that our public-safety customers need it to be managed,” Schassler said. “What we’ve been trying to do with the FCC [regarding D Block reallocation] is to state the technical facts, so that everyone makes an informed decision.”

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