New York City police officials held a meeting last week at its headquarters in lower Manhattan to encourage more private security at large hotels, Wall Street firms and other companies in order to combat homegrown terrorist like Faisal Shahzad — who attempted to explode a crude gasoline-and-propane bomb in Times Square. Officials at the meeting also presented a report on a future NYC video surveillance system inspired by the so-called "ring of steel" in London. Though it wasn’t video that thwarted Shahzad’s bomb plot — it was the eyes and ears of a hot-dog vendor who paid attention to his surroundings — the city is using the incident to push for more security cameras to be installed in high-risk areas.

The city’s future system will cover lower and midtown Manhattan at a cost of $110 million, according to the mayor’s office. When completed, 3,000 police and private cameras will be installed. But that number falls short of the about 100,000 cameras on London’s streets, installed initially to monitor IRA activities. Yet the NYPD hopes to make up for the shortfall by investing in software-based camera systems that use sophisticated algorithms to decipher suspicious activities and then send the video via fiber-optic networks to command and control.

New York City’s first step should be to review systems built in other U.S. cities, such as Chicago’s Operation Virtual Shield. The nation is unique, and building a system that mimics London’s may not be as effective on U.S. soil. Part of that effort should include researching high-resolution cameras.

Analog cameras capture poor-quality video. Look at the still captures from video released after the NYC bomb attempt of a man removing his shirt. It was grainy, low-resolution video and hard to decipher. In my opinion, it didn’t’ help with suspect identification and wouldn’t hold up in court. However, if it was an IP-based, high-resolution, networked camera, a clearer snapshot of the suspect’s face could have been sent in real-time to command-and-control, said Fredrik Nilsson, who holds seats on the Security Industry Association’s executive committee and board of directors.

“If you look at analog cameras today, most are grainy and you can see on the video the man removing his shirt — but you couldn’t see the details of his face,” Nilsson said. “When it comes to network-based cameras, they have a higher resolution, like megapixel, and better image quality compared to analog cameras.”

Nilsson said the bombing showed how citizen vigilance saved the day, and video later was used to capture facts to track down Shahzad. However, algorithms in future software systems need to identify objects, for example, a car left overnight on a city street — something that could of helped police stave off the bomb plot. Operators need such intelligence because it is humanly impossible to monitor thousands of cameras at once, he said.

“Less than 1% of recorded video is ever monitored,” Nilsson said. “If you have a large city with thousands of cameras, there’s no way someone can watch all that video and know what is going on. So operators really need this kind of intelligence to more effectively operate.”

However, Nilsson warned it is not realistic to assume video-surveillance systems can detect any level of threat and such aforementioned computer intelligence may never reach market — at least not in this lifetime. So video operators still need to review video and determine the type of incident and action required. This can only help. But so can a few more hot-dog vendors on the street — as well as an engaged citizenry that will act instead of ignoring signs of a terrorist attack.

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