The forthcoming meeting of eight of the world's most powerful leaders in the secluded Alberta Rocky Mountain resort of Kananaskis is being described as the largest security operation in Canadian history.
More than 6,000 police officers will be on duty at the June G-8 summit. The site and the surrounding area will be guarded against biological attack and bombs, water treatment plants will be protected and air space will be controlled.
Total security costs are expected to top $100 million.
Around that time, across the country in Ottawa, March Networks Corp. is expected to release prototype technology that could be an invaluable tool for the RCMP and other law-enforcement officials in securing major international events like the G-8 summit.
The 20-month-old privately held company, headquartered on Legget Drive in Kanata, is developing a next-generation digital video recorder (DVR) system that takes live video feeds from surveillance cameras, digitizes the signals and transmits them over a broadband network to be monitored at a central location. The new DVR records what it sees and sends off an alarm when it detects something strange such as unauthorized movement. It can also be wired and fixed at one location or be configured as a wireless device where it would operate within the confines of a cellular network and be equipped with global positioning system (GPS) tracking capability.
"It tells you, 'Here's what's going on and here's exactly where it is,'" explains Terence Matthews, founding chairman and chief executive of March Networks.
The DVR works much like General Motors Corp.'s OnStar in-vehicle safety, security and information services that use GPS satellite and cellular technology to link a driver and vehicle to a 24/7 help centre. In the event of an emergency, accident or mechanical breakdown, a driver can contact OnStar Corp.'s technical support team, which can immediately dispatch roadside assistance.
But in addition to being connected to a GPS-cellular network, March Networks' DVR platform is mobile, says Mr. Matthews.
"Rather than having cameras at fixed locations, you can mount them at spots where large crowds are expected, to constantly monitor the area for any emergencies. Each one also has a GPS so you know exactly where it is even if you move it around.
"You could have some sort of little vehicle with a camera on it where the DVR is totally portable and could be placed in an area where you think there is a gunman or some other potential trouble and see what's going on without putting a human at risk."
Constantly keeping an eye out for any anomalies, March Networks' next-generation DVR also eliminates the need to have someone monitor the feed around the clock. Cameras could be installed in or around highly secure or sensitive locations, such as nuclear-power plants, water-treatment centres and hydroelectric-power generating stations. The software component of the system could be configured to signal an alarm whenever someone enters an unauthorized-access zone or when movement is detected during certain periods of time, say between midnight and 6 a.m.
But the DVR doesn't provide only surveillance, it acts like a "witness" to events as they unfold, Mr. Matthews explains.
"It records activity so you can use it as evidence. So if someone claims that a police officer beat him up, you can find out where that person was standing, review the tape and see whether the claim is valid. That evidence could dissuade somebody going through a court proceeding."
Providing police with an important security and law-enforcement tool is but one application of the new DVR. The flexibility and mobility in its design could make it a standard surveillance device in public transportation -- the prime intent of March Networks' mobile and rugged DVR released last fall.
Buses and trains could be outfitted with the networked digital cameras at entrances and at either end of the bus or train car to keep an eye on passengers, says Mr. Matthews, who is also owner and chairman of Ottawa-based Mitel Networks Corp.
"Let's suppose that a fight breaks out on a bus or train. A passenger can push a panic button that would activate the DVR to capture the event and alert the central monitoring centre where it can see what happened and what is happening as well as exactly where the bus is."
March Networks released its first mobile and rugged DVR two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Designed specifically for transportation-security applications, the 4120 DVR is what's known as a hardened monitoring system, capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, moisture, dust, shock and vibrations.
As Mr. Matthews says: "You could hit it with a sledgehammer and it would still work."
Like the 4120, March Networks' new wireless DVR primarily operates within the confines of a cellular network. However, it could be configured to transmit digital images through satellite-based connections. A costlier proposition, such a setup could help monitor remote locations, such as an oil rig in the middle of the ocean.
Once the issue of establishing an air-to-ground link has been resolved, the next-generation DVR could also end up monitoring activity and tracking a commercial aircraft during a flight.
Prior to that, March Networks' cameras could function like a digital black box recording events involving passengers and crew, such as air rage. Though no one on the ground would be able to intervene, the DVR would capture footage of the disturbance that authorities could then use to determine whether criminal charges should be laid.
The idea is plausible considering the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Transport Canada and the airlines themselves are looking at installing on-board video systems as they continue to explore post-9/11 security options.
Indeed, even the most devastated area of last year's terrorist attack would be conducive to March Networks' video-surveillance technology.
Mr. Matthews says that 1,000 cameras could easily be installed on every corner in a 100-by-10-block area in the heart of Manhattan. Software could track every DVR site, whether the camera remains static or is occasionally repositioned, from a central monitoring hub.
There's nothing preventing Ottawa from installing such a system where the equipment could last as long as a decade before it required refurbishing, says Mr. Matthews, who co-founded the original Mitel Corp. 30 years ago and established Newbridge Networks Corp., which was sold to French telecommunications giant Alcatel in 2000.
"You could easily have 1,000 sites in Ottawa at a cost of about $3,000 per location. Is that really such a big expense? I wouldn't have thought it is."
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