When president-elect Barack Obama accepted his new role during an election night speech in Grant Park, one of Chicago's largest public spaces, he spoke eloquently, and hundreds of thousands listened and cheered. And after the speech, the people and the politician went their separate ways quietly, without incident.

It wasn't by sheer luck that the event unfolded without chaos or terror. Behind the scenes, the U.S. Secret Service and local Chicago Office of Emergency Management Communications (OEMC) personnel kept a close eye on who came and went. It wasn't all done by patrolling officers — a series of video surveillance systems previously placed clandestinely throughout the city's business district became the eyes and ears of law-enforcement personnel.

As executive director of the city's OEMC, Ray Orozco oversees the video surveillance program dubbed Operation Virtual Shield. He said that the transmission of video data was essential in order to protect the president-elect and revelers that night. He said the system is active throughout the city's main financial district and lakefront, as well as in a number of the city's neighborhoods.

There's a lot to think about before deploying a widespread video surveillance system in any city, but Orozco said the most important consideration is to ensure that the personnel who are on the streets and making decisions are armed with the most up-to-date information as possible. “It ultimately results in a more efficient and effective mitigation of the incident, which could result in lives saved,” he said.

In addition, the city must ensure gathered data is distributed in a usable format that doesn't result in information overload.

“They don't need to know all the back-end technology,” Orozco said. “What they need is to get the proper information in a reasonable amount of time, and that's why it's important to make sure [beat officers] are on board when you start to build, design and run the system.”

Before cameras could be installed, the city needed a network and chose IBM as the system integrator for the project. Roger Rehayem, IBM's project lead, said the city invested in a fiber-based infrastructure to connect all port devices on the street to the OEMC. Data then could be gathered and transmitted from video cameras mounted on street lights, in parks, on the lakefront and on the city's bridges to the OEMC's central command and control center.

“The initial first step that every city needs to do is to make sure they can get bandwidth to areas of interest,” he said.

The project was a massive undertaking, Rehayem said. Building out a fiber infrastructure meant digging trenches, installing miles of conduit, running fiber through the conduit and physically connecting one point to the next. Once the fiber network was established, wireless links were added to areas of the city where running fiber was cost- and time-prohibitive, Rehayem said.

“Fiber becomes portals; it receives radio communications from all the locations in the vicinity that are not fiber and operates as a mesh network,” Rehayem said. “Through this combination, the city of Chicago has brilliantly implemented its vision of having bandwidth in areas of interest.”

According to Bo Larsson, CEO of wireless network vendor Firetide, the wireless phase was “probably one-tenth of the cost of the equipment [needed] to build out a fiber infrastructure.” It also was much quicker to deploy. The first phase — which covered 6 square miles with cameras — took just a month to complete, Larsson said. “You don't have to dig trenches or close streets to put up equipment.”

The wireless nodes were installed at undisclosed locations throughout the city's financial district, locally referred to as the Loop. Wireless nodes also were installed near several of the city's public schools, as well as in high-crime areas. Each node supports a video surveillance camera and has a 4.9 GHz radio that transmits data to intelligent points of presence that are connected to the fiber network. Once the video feed arrives at the OEMC, crime-surveillance specialists review the footage using a viewing software application from IBM.

Specialists are in constant contact with police in each area they are tasked with monitoring, Orozco said. In addition, they go through extensive training so they are able to identify suspicious activity and are knowledgeable about where the city's high-crime areas that need special attention are located.

“If the video data shows a crime in progress, they know what situations and hot spots to look for and via radio they can make those notifications to the responding officers,” he said.

Pan/zoom/tilt, 360-degree mounted cameras are used; however Orozco cited security reasons for not revealing the number of cameras deployed or their advanced capabilities. He noted the department currently is beta-testing video analytics, which can decipher between objects and people, or identify a person with an object.

Analytics soon will be added to the existing software that, among other things, also includes a GIS application. The application generates a pop-up screen that alerts a call-taker if a camera exists within 50 feet of a 911 call. The call-taker then can review real-time video of the incident.

“If it's a crime or a medical emergency or some type of fire, they can take a look real-time and get that information before they respond … to the incident,” Orozco said.

Three months ago, the city took the program a step further with the initiation of a pilot program, where 10 police district commanders view data simultaneously with OEMC specialists. The program gives the commanders instant intelligence from the street that they can use to deploy the necessary resources, Orozco said.

In addition, a public/private partnership has been established to help expand the city's surveillance coverage. Private institutions can sign a memorandum of understanding that gives the city direct access to the private entity's video network. Likely participants include commercial business, learning institutions, primary education facilities and even residential buildings.

“People with a camera system at their individual home also can be used — not for indoor data collection — but street-level data collection and only what is in public view,” Orozco said.

Chicago is working with IBM on another pilot program to test mobility, such as sending data from cameras directly to officers' mobile computers. The software would be smart enough to recognize the officer's location and grant access to data.

The city often uses mobile command vehicles armed with satellite communications infrastructure to view data. The vehicles were used during Obama's acceptance speech and are capable of receiving video feeds from the OEMC. Through the use of a security software application, Orozco can grant data access to other officers in the field on the fly.

“It's able to be viewed from many locations,” he said. “In the vehicles, we access the video network and take a look at the incident to determine strategy [and whether] we need to tap into private cameras, like at a bank.”

Though the mobility piece is critical to the success of Chicago's surveillance network, IBM's Rehayem warns that other cities shouldn't get “wireless happy” and attempt to eschew a fiber infrastructure. “If you build out a fiber network, you have more places where you can put wireless camera solutions,” he said. “Fiber's still important.”