The demand for security and active life safety systems is growing because there is an expectation of safety in public places, and the new technology is less expensive than doing the job with “feet on the street.”

Crime, terrorism, fire and biological threats build a strong case for public places’ administrators to provide safe locations, especially considering the resultant damage and notoriety from having an unsafe history.

Recently, a Jacksonville, Fla., television station reported on the sheriff department’s crime statistics for a local shopping mall. The numbers were appalling. Theft, carjacking, rape, murder and kidnapping reports topped the totals for any other single public place in the area. The report included interviews with the shopping mall security department. Officials said that they are now implementing an extensive network of security cameras and a full-time central monitoring location on-site because “just hiring more guards is not enough.” Can you imagine the financial impact on sales from this kind of news? Whatever the new security system costs, it will be less than lost business.

There are several reliable resources for information on security challenge solutions. One is WESCO Communications Supply Corp. That company has spent thousands of dollars and man-hours putting together effective solutions and options for its customers (www.gocsc.com/products/security/solutions.asp).

Another resource is the trade organization, ASIS International—an association dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and productivity of security professionals worldwide. It defines the global scope of the security industry.

Who’s watching you?

Estimates and some surveys indicated that in 1998, a total of 2,397 surveillance cameras were operating in Manhattan; there were 75 in Times Square. In May 2000, one group located and mapped out 131 surveillance cameras in the same area. In September 2002, it returned to Times Square and—starting from scratch—located, mapped out and counted the surveillance cameras in operation. The findings were surprising. Times Square contained (at least) 258 surveillance cameras, twice the number spotted in 2000 and more than three times the number spotted by the group in 1998. In May 2005, 604 were counted in the same location.

That’s a 500 percent increase in five years. Today, there are more than 17,000 surveillance cameras in public places in Manhattan as a whole, an average of 12 cameras per city block.

The Department of Homeland Security has requested substantially more than $2 billion to finance grants to state and local governments for homeland security needs. Some of this money is being used by those state and local governments to create networks of surveillance cameras to watch the public in the streets, shopping centers, at airports and more.

Washington, D.C., continues to wrestle with the implementation of surveillance network. The district is attempting to build a system that would bring together thousands of city-owned video cameras, but district officials still don’t yet have the money to complete the network or the privacy rules in place to govern its use.

When finished, the district’s security system would conduct 24/7 monitoring of public camera systems run by nine departments. The first phase will bring together more than 4,500 cameras trained on schools, public housing, traffic and government buildings that will feed into a central command office in the Washington, D.C., Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. Hundreds of additional cameras will be added later.

By bringing all of these surveillance images to one department, district officials hope to improve public safety and emergency response times. The district surveillance system will have video analytics software that can alert operators to potentially dangerous events.

The large district surveillance system shows just how public security cameras have grown in use since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. By fall 2008, Washington, D.C., had installed approximately 5,600 security cameras, which is about triple the number it had in 2001.

Other cities have increased their use of public security cameras as well. New York plans to use a network of 3,000 public and private security cameras to monitor Lower Manhattan. Chicago had 2,250 cameras in its Homeland Security Grid, and that number has grown dramatically.

U.S. cities and federal government departments have varying regulations on the use of security cameras. The security sector is very much alive and growing, and smart electrical contractors are taking advantage and building these networks.

BISBEE is with Communication Planning Corp., a telecom and datacom design/build firm. He provides a free monthly summary of industry news on www.wireville.com.