Navy Pier triples number of surveillance cameras
June 10, 2009
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
Navy Pier has more than tripled its surveillance network — with cameras so sophisticated, they can pick out a face in a crowd six blocks away — thanks to a $4.2 million Homeland Security grant designed to prevent a lakefront terrorist attack.
The Navy Pier network marks the first installment in a four-year-old plan known as Operation Virtual Shield. It calls for linking 1,000 miles of fiber optic cable into a uniformed homeland security grid, with surveillance cameras capable of spotting suspicious activity from one end of Lake Shore Drive to the other.
Until now, Navy Pier’s nine million annual visitors and surrounding lakefront waters have been watched by 60 black-and-white cameras in fixed positions. They were linked to an even more primitive control center on the pier.
The new network includes 200 rotating surveillance cameras so sophisticated, they can pick up a face in a crowd six blocks away. To speed response times, they’re linked to the 911 center, the nearby Marine Unit and to the Chicago Police Department’s Near North District.
Forty of the cameras are located indoors, including the Winter Garden and Navy Pier garage. The 160 outdoor cameras monitor the main entrance, the east end, and exterior perimeter.
Vince Gavin, director of special projects for Navy Pier, said there’s even a special camera trained on the inlet between Navy Pier and the Jardine Water Filtration Plant, one of Chicago’s most vulnerable terrorism targets because Lake Michigan water is purified for drinking there.
“When a boat penetrates the east end of that inlet, that camera focuses on the boat, a horn will go off and an audible message will go out: “Leave this area immediately. You’re subject to a $5,000 fine by the U.S. Coast Guard,’ “ Gavin said.
“Then, we monitor the boat. If the boat continues, the Marine Unit’s got it. A Marine Unit boat is over here in two minutes.”
Installed in February, the new cameras have already been used to catch at least one pick-pocket and nab someone who was damaging a store that had closed for the night. They can also pinpoint boating accidents and drowning victims or monitor emergency response to Lake Michigan plane crashes.
Parents who take their young children to Illinois’ most popular tourist attraction can also breathe a little easier.
“If we had a lost child, [investigators would ask], ‘Where did you lose him? We can focus in on that area. What was he dressed like? Okay, we’ve got a boy fitting that description.’ You don’t have to run around and up and down. It provides so much of a quick response. … And the facial recognition — it’s as close as I’m looking at you,” Gavin said.
The next round of lakefront surveillance cameras will be installed around McCormick Place, Soldier Field and the Museum Campus, thanks to a $6.8 million Homeland Security grant awarded in 2007.
Seventeen cameras — 11 of them infra-red — will cover the area from Oak Street Beach all the way to 3900 South. That’s because on flat land, there’s a visibility of one mile at night and two miles during the day, Gavin said.
And what about Navy Pier and lakefront patrons who are not comfortable being watched?
“Walt Disney [World] has probably been doing this for years,” said Ray Orozco, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
Chicago Sun-Times: Navy Pier triples number of surveillance cameras
According to this IBM press release, Navy Pier is “the top-visited tourist and leisure destination in the Midwest, welcoming more than eight million visitors annually”, having “an economic impact of more than one billion dollars annually”.
IBM Press Release: IBM Launches Intelligent Security System at Chicago’s Navy Pier
CBS “48 Hours”: ‘Operation Virtual Shield’ discusses the homeland security impact of Chicago’s camera surveillance system, also highlighting its striking inability to protect against terrorist attacks that remain undetectable or which take place outside of the limited camera surveillance areas.