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Downtown cameras also offer broader wireless web access

Jul. 20, 2008 @ 06:34 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Within the next two weeks, the city of Huntington will launch a video surveillance system that also is capable of providing wireless Internet service to parts of the downtown.

The city will launch the surveillance network of 41 cameras at three locations -- Harris Riverfront Park, Big Sandy Superstore Arena and the municipal parking garage at the corner of 8th Street and 3rd Avenue. The Huntington Municipal Parking Board and arena officials paid for their share of the system, which cost $158,000.

The main priority of the surveillance system is to deter crime in the downtown as Huntington continues efforts to revamp Harris Riverfront Park and 4th Avenue, said Charles Holley, the city's director of development and planning.

Harris Riverfront Park has been a magnet for drug activity, vandalism and panhandling in recent years, while 4th Avenue has been the scene of a rash of violence outside bars during the early-morning hours.

"We anticipate that the security cameras will provide a sense of security and act as a deterrent against all of the negative activity we've had downtown," Holley said.

The bonus with the video surveillance system is the Wi-Fi access it will eventually provide to outdoor, public spaces such as Pullman Square and a soon-to-be-built plaza area in front of the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.

Making the downtown more pedestrian- and outdoor-friendly is a goal of the Old Main Corridor project. The project aims to provide a better link between Marshall and downtown on 4th Avenue through enhanced landscaping and lighting, bicycle lanes and incentives for small-business owners.

"The Wi-Fi access will enhance the downtown's public spaces," Holley said. "It will give people one more reason to come downtown, utilize public spaces and frequent businesses."

For Marshall University graduate student Valerie Patton, Wi-Fi access in the downtown will give her one more location at which she can do homework. Patton said she prefers working on her laptop on Marshall's campus or at Empire Books and News and Starbuck's at Pullman Square. The stores are among several in the downtown that already offer Wi-Fi access.

"I foresee a lot of people who work downtown using the service to get away from the office for a few hours," she said.

Holley does not know how much of the downtown will have Wi-Fi service when the video surveillance system is launched. The city has purchased one Wi-Fi antenna that will be placed at Harris Riverfront Park.

That antenna will be used as a test to determine how many more antennas the city needs to purchase in the future, he said.

The goal is to provide Wi-Fi service to all of 3rd and 4th avenues between Hal Greer Boulevard and 6th Street, he said.

The Wi-Fi antennas are attached to a network node. In layman's terms, a network node is a small, gray electronic box that acts as an information hub for the Wi-Fi service and the video surveillance cameras. Up to three surveillance cameras can link to one network node, Holley said.

A node must have a direct line of sight to another node for the network to operate efficiently, Holley said. The network will become stronger as more nodes are added, and it can serve a larger area if the city gets permission to place a node on top of one of the downtown's tall buildings. The city is in preliminary talks with a building owner to do that, he said.

As the city develops the Old Main Corridor in two-block segments (work between 8th and 10th streets will begin in late August or early September), it will add more video surveillance cameras to the network, Holley said. The city eventually will place cameras in other high-crime areas of the city, such as Fairfield West, as funding becomes available, he said.

The cameras, which cost about $700 each, will not be monitored. But they will digitally record footage that will be saved to a computer hard drive and available to police for review in case a crime occurs, Holley said.

Police Chief Skip Holbrook foresees the video cameras being used in a variety of ways. The nine cameras at Harris Riverfront Park will come in handy for large events such as X-Fest or Ribfest, he said. They also will help police with traffic issues.

"If we have a bunch of complaints about people running stop signs, we can use the cameras to monitor that intersection to see if the complaints are warranted and dedicate officers to it until we resolve the problem," he said. "Basically, it will give us eyes in places where we aren't staffed all the time."

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