Port of Los Angeles Fights Crime Fighting With Mobile Video

Maintaining port security is critical to commerce

The Project: Deploy mobile communications software to enable transmission of live video to and from the Port of Los Angeles' control centers and harbor police in the field. The project is part of a $4.2 million integrated command console system designed to improve security responsiveness at the nation's busiest cargo port.

The Business Case: Increasing surveillance of the port area is the goal for the L.A. Harbor Department Port Police, one of the few law enforcement agencies charged with 24/7 port protection. That's no small task. The port encompasses 7,500 acres over 43 miles of waterfront and annually processes 3,000 vessels carrying 170 million metric tons of cargo and 1.2 million passengers.

Maintaining port security is critical to the nation's commerce. "When cargo stops coming into Los Angeles Harbor," says Julia Kirwan, manager of harbor police technology, "they stop building cars in Michigan."

An existing surveillance system of 500 cameras combined with video analytics has been a force-multiplier in the port's detection center. But Kirwan embraces the adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Instead of telling an officer in the field, "There's someone in a black jumpsuit climbing the fence at the fuel terminal," commanders want to send video of the suspect's appearance, the manner in which he moves and where he entered, she says.

First Steps: Kirwan observes that "most existing video transmission technologies were bandwidth hogs: slow and of limited image quality." Then they found Reality Mobile's Reality Vision software, a portable, wireless product for transmitting video to and from the field that was launched in 2007 for defense and government customers.

Kirwan oversaw the port's test of the software in July 2009. The images were grainier than those from the existing surveillance system, but the software enabled transmission via cell phone. It also had GPS tagging capabilities which would finally enable tracking of police cars, boats and personnel in real time. Most important, if the connection were lost, the software would continue to display the most recent video until it re-established the connection.

The benefits were enough to convince Kirwan and Port of L.A. CIO Lance Kaneshiro to make integrating the software a requirement in the RFP for the larger project.

What to Watch Out For: Finding the right hardware has been challenging. Harbor police haul so much gear that the port no longer buys chairs with arms because officers can't sit comfortably in them. A smartphone won't add too much bulk to their belts, but the screens are small. A laptop may offer a better view, but it's too big to lug around.

"We're still trying to find a device that's big enough but also mobile and ruggedized," says Kirwan. Nonetheless, they're on track to finish rolling out Reality Vision by the end of March. Change management is another issue: The Port of L.A. and its harbor police are not necessarily early adopters.

"We still don't have a computerized dispatch system," notes Kirwan, although the new command console system will provide this capability. What's more, there weren't any other ports or police forces to look to for guidance. With mobile video, they have more in common with--and more to learn from--the defense industry. But in cases where the benefits outweigh the risks--like this one, says Kaneshiro--IT enjoys stepping out in front.

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