THE MAGAZINE

Smart Solutions to Security Problems

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

Security Renewal Goes Royal
The jewels in the crown of the Royal Ontario Museum’s security upgrade are seamless management of digital video and alarm-sensing technology.

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), already the largest museum in Canada, is midway through an ambitious redevelopment project that will add an additional 80,000 square feet of public space. The expansion will allow all of the museum’s major collections of world cultures and natural history to be placed on permanent display with a greater intimacy between visitors and objects. “It is going to allow us to showcase our Canadian heritage collections, which we had been previously unable to display at all, or had been displayed in a less appropriate location in the museum,” says Frank Petersen, director of visitor and security services.

To help achieve that objective, the museum’s security team sought a way to unobtrusively protect the items that would be on display in the Crystal, the new structure being added, which was designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind; it is slated for a summer 2007 opening. (At press time, the Crystal’s steel structure was being enclosed. After that, the interior work will be done.)

Plans for a security upgrade began several years ago. It was clear that “technologywise, we were getting a little long in the tooth,” says Petersen. “The last significant upgrade to the existing system was in 1994. And with new concerns post 9-11, it was time.”

Petersen says that it was a lengthy process. More than three years ago, he worked with a consultant to determine the scope of work and a request for proposal (RFP) was issued. GE Security got the contract.

“We went with GE for a number of reasons. Number one was price. They were very competitive,” he states. They also liked the fact that almost all the hardware is off-the-shelf.

The final incentive was the ability to integrate Omnicast, a software package that provides seamless management of digital video across an IP network. Omnicast is made by Genetec Inc., of Saint-Laurent, Québec.

Even before the current project, security had completed major technology upgrades in the older buildings—known as the Heritage Buildings. But the system in place in the Heritage Buildings “was limited to burglar and access control, and there was no integrating with the CCTV—and the CCTV capability we had was quite limited,” Petersen says.

The museum used to have about 50 analog cameras in the old system, but with the addition of the Crystal, camera numbers will grow to 70 or more. “One of the attractive features of Omnicast was its pretty much infinite scalability,” notes Petersen. We can grow the system without any significant expense down the road.”

Omnicast, coupled with a new fiber-optic network, allows ROM security to monitor and control the system through existing workstations with PC monitors, as well as via the museum’s primary monitoring room. “We have the primary control room set up as is typical for most large museums, but because the system is networked, we have the ability to log on through administrative workstations, so I am able to monitor system activity and video feeds from my office,” Petersen states.

The security renewal is being done in stages to smooth the transition. The next step is completing the installation of Intellivision, also by Genetec, an alarm-sensing technology that integrates into the Omnicast and GE systems. It will be used to detect when a visitor is too close to or is reaching out to touch a painting.

Petersen says that the goal is “to be proactive rather than reactive to an actual touch situation. We want to be able to catch people before they touch the painting.” Intellivision generates an alarm and automatically brings up the corresponding video and directs the officer to take appropriate responding actions.

“We had previously been using more conventional sensors—most recently an active infrared system—but they are a little bit more visually obtrusive, because you have to have a reflective surface mounted,” explains Petersen. “Aesthetic concerns in the gallery were making that a challenge, so we opted to go with something that was less visually intrusive and see if we could get the same level of functionality out of it,” he says.

Intellivision works by analyzing and determining changes in a camera’s viewing range. About 30 to 40 paintings will eventually be protected by the technology.

“The system is also able to tell the difference between a casual change in lighting conditions versus a hard object or body reaching across a barrier,” Petersen notes.

The cameras are ceiling mounted, and it is not necessary to have one camera per object. “It’s a matter of field of view, and how you can define that to work to your best advantage. In our case…one camera can cover four paintings or more,” Petersen says.

Currently, the bugs are still being worked out. “I am hopeful that we will get things up and running to the level that we need it to work at. We had a technician out from California last week to review some of the programming issues.”

The final stage of the project will be the move from magnetic stripe to proximity card technology for access control. Then, the museum’s security will be nothing less than a masterpiece.

(For more information on Omnicast and Intellivision: Geneviève Côté, communication manager, Genetec Inc.; phone: 514/332-4000; fax: 514/332-1692; e-mail: gcote@genetec.com.)

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