Synopsis of VIRSIG and the TCS New York City Marathon
By Shelomo Alfassa, Director of Marketing and Communications
In the fall of 2014, meetings with New York Road Runners (NYRR) led to Virsig providing digital information transport services, as well as a technology push package that would increase operational situational awareness for the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon. This synopsis will informally document Virsig’s installation and experience, from beginning to end.
As part of the agreed services between NYRR and Virsig, was the installation of infrastructure cable at the starting point of the marathon at Fort Wadsworth, a former full time US military installation in the borough of Staten Island, today home to the US Coast Guard and US Army Reserves. Working in compliance under authorities which included the National Park Service, US Park Police and the US Coast Guard Police, Virsig installed a high-availability network with spans over 3,000’ (914m) across the open space at Fort Wadsworth. Ultimately, close to four miles of communication cable was installed; from pole to pole, over structures, along fences and high up between trees, the cable was strung to provide digital information transport for surveillance cameras, voice annunciators, media broadcast, and digital signage—including the large Jumbotrons used on the day of the marathon. Due of the limitations of signal over long cable runs, and particularly because Virsig desired to send digital signal over less costly expendable coax, Virsig employed reliable transmission equipment that was provided by Network Video Technologies (NVT). The NVT TBus Ethernet Transmitters provided Ethernet over coax (EoC), and allowed the long cable runs to be reliably deployed across Fort Wadsworth. Only after the cable was installed, terminated, labeled and tested for the NYRR, did Virsig move on to the Central Park location for installation in proximity to the marathon finish line. Virsig engineered a plan and laid it out on paper. The design demonstrated where the wireless network equipment would go and how data would flow through Central Park West for about 25 blocks. The Sony cameras arrived a couple weeks before the marathon, as did the Firetide wireless mesh network. Other equipment arrived just days before the race; yet all of it had to be bench tested and prepped before being shipped from the office to the street. After opening the boxes, testing and reboxing, Virsig’s bucket trucks were loaded up with equipment, tools and associated electrical parts, then went out for the start of the 2014 marathon install.
Weeks prior to the race, Virsig conducted an advance walk-through Central Park with New York’s Finest. This was the day that locations where equipment would go was determined. The plan was simple, follow along the route, install equipment, energize it, send data signals back to the race command center. Cameras, wireless nodes, antennas and technicians went to the street, hanging the equipment in strategic pole locations. The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) worked with Virsig to keep the light poles energized at all times, so the power to operate the technology would be tapped from the pole itself.
Virsig installed a wall of commercial grade monitors in the race command center (RCC) to be used as part of the primary camera viewing station. They utilized a Seneca viewing station in the command center to control tactical camera operations, and a redundant Seneca xVault server off-location at the marathon’s network trailer. Firetide Hotview Pro software was installed on the system to provide initial setup and monitoring of the network. One of the advantages of the Firetide wireless network is that it’s comparable in performance and reliability to fiber optics. The server was Milestone Systems Xprotect, this powerful video management software was the engine for the marathon’s Smart Wall, which Virsig installed, offering up to 36 simultaneous camera views available to be displayed in the RCC. Installation of Firetide nodes, antennas and Sony cameras, continued through rain and shine. Cameras were installed both on the city streets and within Central Park. Along famed Central Park West, cameras were deployed from the low West 60’s to the high West 80’s. They were placed directly in front of the famous Lutheran Church (where Ghostbusters was filmed), by the towering San Remo Building—home to famous persons past and present including, Tony Randall, Demi Moore, Glenn Close, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Cantor, Hedy Lamarr and Rita Hayworth; by the Dakota (where John Lennon lived and was shot), and near the landmark American Museum of Natural History. Cameras were laid out among the curving and rolling streets inside Central Park. They were being prepared for the observation and evaluation of the large crowds flooding through the park toward the end of the race. Utilizing the Firetide wireless nodes, in some locations, the video signal was able to be directed from below grade up and to the top of the utility poles on Central Park West, an ascent of approximately 140 feet (~43m). Even through leafy trees, the nodes provided a strong signal and were the perfect solution for transmitting effortlessly over the distance and elevation. The volume of running, walking and bicycling spectators increased through the park before it would be closed for the big day; this was a flood of excited people, who seemed only interested in grabbing a quick photo of themselves near the finish line. It was above the finish line on the steel Photo Bridge (the location where ESPN and other media would be located on race day), that Virsig positioned the last couple cameras and wireless nodes. One camera would record the race finish and capture the crossing of the finish line by every participant, and another was positioned post-finish to observe the chokepoint that is a sensitive area behind the race finish.
Early Sunday morning, the Star Spangled Banner was sung and the gun signifying the race has started was fired. Over 50,000 ran across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island into Brooklyn on their 26.2 mile (42.1km) personal athletic journey. A few hours later as large numbers of runners started to enter Central Park, the Virsig technology push package demonstrated well what it was supposed to do. The monitoring station in the RCC showed dozens of cameras which fed real-time data to the race staff and incident commanders increasing overall situational awareness. Among the typical commotion inside the RCC were many staff members, including a law enforcement contingent that observed the progress of the race throughout the day. Several times during the race at various points, Milestone Systems’ mobile client was utilized to push video from smart phones to the RCC and the Virsig viewing station. Milestone’s mobile client was also used to monitor the cameras, while walking around, by the senior staff.
In Staten Island, the Jumbotrons and systems that needed information transport worked just fine. The near four miles of cable Virsig strung along with Network Video Technologies’ Ethernet Transmitters operated flawlessly. The race went on till after dark, and while the last runners were wrapping up the course at Central Park—the Sony IPELA cameras still demonstrated amazingly bright clear images. And thankfully while there weren’t any major anomalies or glitches at the race, if there would have been, the video recorded with the Sony cameras and through the Milestone video management software—video which was stored on a Seneca server—could have been made available to marathon management, or for law enforcement personal to conduct an evaluation of evidence. The Virsig engineered designed--and the deployment that took place with the assistance of Centennial Security Integration--was supported by some of the world’s leading technology companies: Firetide (a UNICOM Global company), Sony, Milestone Systems, Network Video Technologies, and Seneca--together, everyone worked to make the overall operation a success.