CCTV has driven away graffiti and bogus slip-and-fall claims at one Manhattan building.
Kilroy hasn't dared show his face in the elevators at 21 Penn Plaza in New York City since the building's owners installed a surveillance system in all its elevators, lobbies, and adjacent sidewalks two years ago. Not only has the equipment prevented vandalism, but it has also curbed erroneous and expensive lawsuits from litigious pedestrians eager to take advantage of the city's slip-and- fall laws that hold property owners accountable for injuries occurring on the sidewalks outside their buildings.
Located in the city's busy midtown, 21 Penn Plaza is a 17 story building with approximately 30 different tenants and more than 1,500 workers who come and go daily. Before the surveillance system was installed, Building Manager Peter Bia estimates that he was spending more than $400 per week to repair damaged elevator panels rife with obscenities and other graffiti. In addition, several slip-and-fall accident claims had been filed against the building owners. Insurance companies settled the claims, costing the owners of 21 Penn Plaza thousands of dollars in increased insurance premiums.
At the time, two security guards were stationed at the two main lobby entrances, but no one patrolled the perimeter. And without a CCTV surveillance system, the guards had no way of knowing what was taking place outside.
Bia concluded that the best solution would be a round-the-clock surveillance system. He began searching for a surveillance and archival system that could preserve footage for up to three years--enough time to allow for personal injury claims that can often take years to go through the court system. He evaluated the possibility of housing all footage on a local server, but after discussing the idea with a tenant who used a similar method, he decided that an external server was the only way to ensure that the images could not be tampered with. He also determined that footage housed remotely is more credible in court.
Several of the systems he evaluated offered poor image quality and inadequate archiving capabilities. Bia ultimately selected VideoSave, a surveillance and archival system that consists of CCTV cameras and a remote archiving server that is leased on a yearly basis from VideoSave, Inc. a New York City-based company. The system transmits encrypted video images to a remote server, which has the ability to store customers' data for up to four years.
Bia considered the storage capacity critical in his decision and was also impressed by the system's ability to monitor itself for problems. For example, if a camera goes offline, the VideoSave software detects it immediately and calls and e-mails Bia, who then calls in an outside maintenance crew to repair the damage.
Installation of the product at 21 Penn Plaza was fairly simple. Because the building is sandwiched between two other buildings, such that no one can walk on either side, it was only necessary to install cameras on the exposed front and back sides where sidewalks are located. Eight cameras were installed to monitor these sidewalks, with an additional 16 cameras installed in the lobby, at the loading dock, and at the one freight and five passenger and elevators.
Cameras were hardwired to the central computer in the basement of the building in which the VideoSave system software was installed. Although the building had existing Internet access, Bia determined that it was easier and more cost-effective to establish an independent connection for the system.
The system works by transmitting CCTV images to a local computer (in Bia's case, the central computer in the basement), which temporarily stores the data locally before transmitting the information to a secure remote server housed in Atlanta. Transfer to the Atlanta server is done over the Internet after the images have been compressed and encrypted on the local computer using the VideoSave software.
Anyone authorized to access the system, like Bia, gets a unique username and password that is used to log on to the secure VideoSave site and view stored footage. Authorized users can log into the system from any computer with access to the Internet.
Feeds from the external cameras are automatically kept for three years, and internal feeds are held for a month. However, if Bia would like to preserve specific footage for a longer period of time, he simply contacts the company to request that the content be saved. VideoSave also has the ability to transfer the footage to a CD-ROM for viewing at a trial or other venue where Internet access is not available.
For security reasons, the owner of 21 Penn Plaza and Bia are the only people who have been issued usernames and passwords. However, feeds from external cameras that monitor the sidewalks are displayed live on standard CCTV monitors that are used by security guards to evaluate situations occurring outside the building.
The guards have no control over the position of the cameras. Because the cameras cover all angles of the outside perimeter and the cameras constantly record the data, Bia and the building owner are the only people with authority to change the camera positioning.
Before the cameras were installed there were several personal injury lawsuits brought against the building. In one case a woman claimed to have been hit by a car in the loading dock at night. Fortunately, the building owners were able to prove that at the time the woman claimed to be hit, the loading dock was locked. In another instance, a man claimed to be caught in the building's revolving doors. Other claimants alleged that they had slipped on the sidewalk outside the building.
Since the cameras were installed two years ago, there have been no personal injury lawsuits against the building's owners for accidents occurring on the sidewalks or around the perimeter. Bia believes that this is due in large part to the visible presence of the cameras. "It keeps people from doing what they would normally do if there were no cameras," he says. As a result, the liability insurance for the building has dropped dramatically, saving thousands of dollars each year.
The cameras have also helped deter the building's tenants from ignoring the rules and using the expensive lobby elevators for deliveries. Shortly after the installation, for example, a tenant was accused of transporting freight on the newly refurbished passenger elevators, against building rules. The tenant at first denied the accusations, but Bia then showed him that cameras had captured the entire incident and it was impossible for the tenant to continue the deception.
"He couldn't say a word," Bia says with a laugh. "It was his smiling face on the camera." Not surprisingly, the tenant never transported freight on the public elevators again.
Maintenance of the system has been relatively simple, with minor upkeep necessary when a camera goes offline due to normal wear and tear or other unexpected challenges. Bia is currently investigating a maintenance contract with VideoSave. The contract would involve preventive maintenance twice a year and on-call service assistance to fix problems around the clock.
While Bia does not currently employ a specific person to maintain the cameras, he realizes that the system could need some upkeep in the future. The system is a little over two years old now and, Bias notes, like everything else, as it gets older, it may need a little bit more maintenance. "The lenses could certainly use some cleaning after two and a half years," he says.
Overall, Bia is very pleased with the system's performance and would recommend it to anyone with a need to preserve footage for an extended period of time. The cameras have helped the company cut its annual elevator maintenance costs from nearly $21,000 to about $1,000. Even for a cynical New Yorker, that's tough to argue with.
(For more information: Fred Deutsch, founder, VideoSave; phone: 917/518-5004; email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
--by Marta Roberts, staff editor of Security Management