Cop in a Box

Any place with a large concentration of people can be hard to secure. For police officers who respond to a 100-unit townhome public housing complex in Joliet, Ill., a blue-collar city southwest of Chicago, relief comes in a box. That box is an enclosure with a custom-tailored surveillance solution that lets authorities see and analyze an area before physically setting foot there.

The original design and concept was the brainchild of the end-user, the Housing Authority of Joliet. According to Henry Morris, housing authority executive director, the system has provided deterrence in addition to a higher degree of security and safety. The city of Joliet police also indicated that antisocial activities have been reduced as a result of the system installation, he said.

The specification was a team effort between the Housing Authority of Joliet; electrical contractor and low-voltage systems integrator Commercial Electronic Systems (CES) Inc., also of Joliet; and long-time security manufacturer Vicon Industries Inc., Hauppauge, N.Y. Together they created the integrated design for the Internet protocol (IP) closed-circuit television camera surveillance (CCTV), recording and wireless mesh network transmission system.

CES integrators on-site during the installation came to know their hard work as the “cop in a box.” That is because the cameras provide a bird’s eye view of the protected premises—about four streets each. Police officers can securely check out real-time activities through wireless connections on laptop computers from the safety of their patrol cars. In other words, officers can view situations and respond accordingly before they enter a potentially dangerous area.

With the digital video and management software, police also can view a layout of the property and video alarm conditions. When they log on, they can view up to four cameras in real time or click on an alarm signal and review recorded video. Cameras also can be put on a “guard tour” with pan-tilt-zoom units set for certain positions or locations, depending on the time of day or other preset parameters. To deter offenders, powerful flashing lights are mounted above the enclosures that light up if the unit observes suspicious activity.

According to Robert Cmolik, account manager for CES, the challenge came in the integration of all the components and software.

“The housing authority wanted to record video on-site at the camera location rather than just off-site, and that meant configuring digital video recording, camera and mesh network nodes or transmitters in a single box. There was also the concern of excessive heat, so we needed to add cooling to the enclosures. And then there was the height issue—each bulletproof enclosure is mounted on a utility pole some 30 feet in the air,” he said. Halm Electrical Contracting of Ottawa, Ill., also assisted in the installation, according to Cmolik.

“The other challenge was the software. We had to customize and manage the platform of operation for each digital video recorder,” Cmolik said. ”Working on the network, there were some issues in which you really need a qualified IT person to help,” Cmolik said.

The enclosure looks like just another box, but the power is in its contents. Montel Technologies, Peoria, Ill., Eagle Armor Custom Environmental Ballistic Remote Access Cabinet enclosures are lined with Kevlar and contain a Vicon Surveyor VFT pan-tilt-zoom camera; Kollector Network digital recorder/server; and a Firetide, Los Gatos, Calif., 2.4 GHz wireless transmitter mesh node. The Firetide’s wireless network backbone enables cameras to be installed just about anywhere without the need for running network cabling. The camera’s MPEG-4 video feeds are sent to the mesh node for transmission.

The current deployment has five cameras located throughout the housing complex providing video feeds through the Firetide wireless mesh network to the housing authority’s recreation center. From there, a virtual private network (VPN) provides video feeds to the security control center.

The wireless mesh network provides a configuration that allows signals to take the faster or more accessible signal from one node to another and on to the local video central monitoring center. At the same time, the video is recorded to the server in the enclosure. With the mesh network, ViconNet IP video management software can view and manage the recorded images software from any place connected to the mesh network or the VPN. Local servers can store up to 800 gigabytes of video with more storage available on the workstation at the control center and the ability to copy and save video for future criminal prosecution.

Bill Wilke, territory sales manager for Vicon Industries in Chicago, partnered with CES and the Housing Authority of Joliet to specify and deploy the system.

“The system is scalable—Joliet is looking at expanding the number of cameras already—and transmission security is not an issue because the proprietary ViconNet software must be used to view the video,” Wilke said.

Tucked in a collar county of Chicago, Joliet is experiencing a stronger police and law enforcement presence. These officials are safeguarding their streets with an innovative integrated closed-circuit television surveillance and wireless mesh network system.

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or


About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer
Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at

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