The breathtakingly beautiful journey across the Niagara River between the United States and Ontario, Canada, has been made significantly more secure by a new system that includes video surveillance and access control. Nearly 12 million passages and $26 billion in trade are expected this year across the three bridges operated by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (NFBC).
Some 142 video cameras and 92 access control points have been placed at the bridges as well as at six U.S./Canadian Customs’ Plazas and the NFBC’s new $5.8 million administrative headquarters in Lewiston, N.Y. Security functions are now housed primarily in the headquarters’ new operations center.
“The new state-of-the-art 24-hour operations center is a critical part of the safe passage of people and commerce across the three bridges and through the six plazas,” says the Commission’s general manager, Thomas Garlock.
Brent Gallaugher, manager of agency relations and security, explains that the mission of the NFBC is to “make sure the facilities are secure for the safe movement of people and goods across the border in both directions.” The security systems also help the NFBC to control liability claims, Gallaugher adds.
The Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is a two-lane steel arch bridge that spans 1,069 feet and is nearly 108 years old. This bridge has an upper level for train travel. The 1,450-foot Rainbow Bridge is a 66-year-old steel arch structure with four lanes. The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, at 1,600 feet long and 370 feet high, is the world’s longest hingeless steel arch bridge. It offers spectacular views of the Niagara River and the vineyards and orchards beyond it.
The three bridges have four footings each. Security cameras have been placed at strategic spots along the bridges and at the Customs’ plazas at either end of each bridge.
The NFBC has built and maintains the Plazas. In the past several years, the Canadian and American Rainbow Plazas have undergone a $100 million expansion and revitalization. A theater, gardens, a commemorative monument and a restored 168-foot carillon tower housing 55 bells are among the attractions at the Canadian Rainbow Plaza. The American Rainbow Plaza has won numerous design awards.
Gallaugher supervises his staff of 10 from the operations center of the new administration building — a 20,000-square-foot structure located on six acres. The building is one of just a handful of New York State structures constructed according to energy-efficient LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines set by the U.S. Green Building Council. The guidelines include sustainable site development, water and energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality.
The NFBC began installation of a Lenel OnGuard 2005 security management system two years ago, and the system is now “99 percent complete,” according to Gallaugher. The system works in conjunction with a state-of-the-art eight-foot by four-foot Barco video wall upon which camera images are displayed. An Axis Communications network camera system is used for both Axis digital cameras and to convert Pelco analog cameras to digital output. HID Corp. R10 and R40 iClass readers and Bioscrypt V-PROX fingerprint readers are used with the access control software.
Three levels of security have been established. “At the highest level,” Gallaugher says, “we have video surveillance along with card and biometric access control. The next highest level combines card and biometric access; the level after that has card access.”
At present, approximately 30 NFBC employees have been given the HID smart cards. When the system is fully operational, approximately 120 to 150 people will have the cards. There are 92 access points controlled by readers; they are integrated with video at seven locations.
Among the highest security areas are computer server rooms, telecommunication rooms and bridges. Readers are also located at access points to buildings.
Ten in-house operations center officers view the cameras and coordinate responses to alarms around the clock, Gallaugher says. Michael O’Reilly, head of management information systems (MIS), says “If we have an event, video could then pop up showing the event point for the operator. For example, we have 42 pan/tilt/zoom cameras. I might want to pre-set one to view four nearby doors; or I might want to look at all the people accessing a certain area, such as a server room.”
The OnGuard system uses Lenel Intelligent System Controllers (LNL 2000) to route the security devices to the NFBC’s completely converged network to clusters of Lenel Network Video Recorders (LNVR servers), which store and catalog video. These servers are located at bridge sites and the operations center. The converged network, O’Reilly says, transports data, voice and video. The network consists of fiber-optic, microwave, copper and co-axial cable. The copper and fiber-optic cable are both over and underground. Microwave technology (Dragon Wave) is used to transmit some of the video from the bridges to the NFBC’s network.
“Once video enters our network, it is routed to the servers,” O’Reilly says. “From there, it is transported to any client that requests video anywhere on the network; including, and mainly, at the operations center. The video goes to two security-designated workstations and also directly to the Video Wall. (A processing unit projects the images, through a mirror, onto the screen.)
“The operators choose which images to put on the wall and can change them at any time,” O’Reilly says. “These images are about the size of a 20-inch monitor.”
The wall images, adds Gallaugher, are extremely clear and crisp. “We can either project one large image or a conglomerate of many different feeds onto the Video Wall. Images from up to 14 cameras at this size are readily viewable at one time.”
Axis 2120 and 2420 network cameras and the Axis 2401+ Video Server are used. The network cameras combine camera and computer functions in one intelligent unit. The 2401+ transforms analog video into digital images for video transmission over intranet networks or the Internet. All but a few of the cameras are color.
Cooperation with other agencies is a hallmark of NFBC’s operations. The NFBC has a cooperative relationship with both local police and federal customs officials. In Canada, they work with the Niagara Regional Police Service and Canada Border Services Agency. In the United States, they work with the Niagara Falls, New York Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The NFBC and U.S./Canadian governmental agencies also cooperate by jointly operating security for the Whirlpool Bridge, which uses the NEXUS system for border crossing. With this system, pre-approved, low-risk travelers are issued NEXUS identification cards and may cross the border with a minimum of inspection. The Whirlpool Bridge is restricted to NEXUS users. A gate at the entrance to the bridge contains a reader for NEXUS. Once the cardholder is verified by the NEXUS database, the gate opens and they are allowed access to the bridge.
The Whirlpool Bridge entrances are remotely controlled at the operations center through the OnGuard system. “Large wire gates open and close the bridge,” O’Reilly says. “We are six miles away from the Whirlpool Bridge, which is only open 16 hours a day. We remotely open it in the morning and close it at night.”
This cooperation, and joint use of technology, will extend into the future. In 2005, construction began on a fifth lane to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge; construction is expected to be finished by the end of the year. This lane will be dedicated to trucks and will separate low-risk commerce and travelers from high or unknown-risk goods and people.
Depending on traffic conditions, the NFBC will be able to reverse the direction of traffic in the remaining lanes. This will be accomplished remotely at the operations center. Video cameras in each lane will enable operations center officers to view traffic; electronic signs will signal to the public which lanes are open and which closed.
As tourists, commuters and people transporting goods across the three bridges connecting the U.S. and Canadian sides of the Niagara Frontier (the region from Buffalo-Fort Erie through Niagara Falls to Lewiston-Queenston), their eyes may wander to the majesty of the Niagara River gorge hundreds of feet below. As they do, an ever more sophisticated array of cameras and access control devices will continue to ensure they have a safe passage.