Homelessness is on the rise throughout the United States. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts an annual count of unhoused people every January and publishes its findings in March of the following year. The 2020 data shows that homelessness across the country was continuing a four-year upward trend even before the pandemic.
Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless conducts its own local count, publishing results soon after. The most recent count showed that, as of the beginning of 2021, more than 3,000 people were living without homes in the city. Houston has been addressing homelessness for decades.
In 1907, Reverend Dennis R. Pevoto, a Baptist minister, established the Star of Hope Mission in Houston. Star of Hope occupied a single two-story building and focused on helping men who had fallen on hard times. As the members of the unhoused demographics changed, so too did the Mission’s focus.
Today, women and children are the fastest growing population of unhoused people in the United States. To help address the community’s current needs, Star of Hope runs two centers: the Doris and Carloss Morris Men’s Development Center erected in 2000, and the recently completed Women and Family Development Center at Cornerstone Community transformational campus.
Both centers offer support and training with the goal of helping men, women, and their families achieve physical, emotional, occupational, and spiritual wholeness.
To help minimize threats and ensure the safety of employees, volunteers and visitors alike, Star of Hope stakeholders enlisted a trusted security integrator to design, install and maintain an advanced video surveillance solution and more. Read on for more on this integrated project, which also features a state-of-the-art video management system (VMS) as the new solution’s nervecenter.
Center Puts Safety Front & Center
The Women and Family Development Center was finished in 2017. It is a seven-building campus that can house and support up to 160 single women and 130 families. Once a person enters the facility, everything is provided for them free of cost. Ike Kimmel is the facilities manager at Star of Hope and was involved in the project from the beginning. He explains some of the unique challenges the team faced, saying, “Many of the people who come to Star of Hope are escaping violence. They are vulnerable and in need of a safe environment in which to recover.”
From the outset, safety and security were of the highest priority for the new center. Multiple systems would have to be installed to secure the facilities, including electronic access control, video intercom, voice and paging, integrated fire alarms and a VMS. Kimmel knew they needed to hire the right integrator to get the job done.
Prior to joining Star of Hope, Kimmel managed high-rise and midsized commercial buildings and frequently contracted with Houston-based Design Security Controls (DSC) to install security systems. As facilities manager at Star of Hope, he hired DSC to install a few additional cameras at the existing Women and Family Emergency Shelter. When it came time to work on the new Women and Family Development Center campus, DSC was at the top of the list of possible integrators.
Getting the Right Integrator
DSC began in 1978 as a video distribution company that sold Panasonic cameras. In 1986, because of a need from the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority, DSC expanded its business in order to include installation services. Kate and Ryan Droll purchased DSC in 2014, and have since grown the company from a dozen employees installing security systems to a complete low-voltage services integrator with nearly 70 employees working in four divisions: physical security, fire alarms, gate systems and data cabling.
Specializing in installing security infrastructure at K-12 schools, hospitals, high-rise condominiums, midrise commercial buildings, and industrial and chemical facilities, the company currently serves approximately 10,000 customers in the greater Houston area. DSC leadership says what sets it apart from competitors is a commitment to stay on the cutting edge of technology and providing customers with the most advanced solutions.
One important consideration on the Women and Family Development Center project was the ability to protect privacy. This is because, according to longtime DSC employee Ricky Johnson, “The Center focuses on giving mothers and children a place to live while at the same time providing schooling and job training.”
As a company that focuses heavily on K-12 schools, DSC understands how to balance an organization’s security needs with an individual’s right to privacy. “We relied heavily on this experience to design the center’s new infrastructure,” says Johnson. “The process we used with Star of Hope was first to bring in several access control and camera manufacturers to present their products. We then had Star of Hope assess which ones best suited their needs.”
As a nonprofit organization, Star of Hope always prioritizes getting high value for its money as a key consideration. DSC put together a bid based on Star of Hope’s choices and, with its valued pricing, won the contract.
Video Protects, Promotes Privacy
Video surveillance plays a vital role in the security infrastructure at the Women and Family Development Center. It is used to keep residents safe and to help resolve interpersonal conflicts, but the configuration of the campus posed some challenges. Explains Kimmel, “Because of the campus layout, we had to make sure we had coverage both inside and outside the buildings as well as along the fence and the surrounding perimeter. On the camera side, the big challenge was to ensure that we could cover everything.”
After reviewing their options from a variety of manufacturers, Star of Hope selected a combination of the Wisenet S, X, and P Series cameras from Hanwha Techwin. This decision was based in part on the center’s need to have different levels of detail for different locations. Higher levels were required for outside locations and lower for interior spaces. To protect the campus exterior, DSC installed 12MP cameras on the perimeter and 4MP units in the courtyards.
Explains Johnson, “Taking advantage of PoE, we were able to install 4K cameras from Hanwha Techwin to monitor large outside spaces, including the parking lots, to give security a clear view of any unwanted intruders.”
Inside the building, cameras were not placed in the resident rooms or in other places where the residents’ privacy could be compromised. Cameras were installed to cover hallways, common areas and classrooms. High level detail was not necessary in the hallways or common areas, and so 2MP cameras were used in those areas.
In classrooms, DSC installed 12MP and 12MP 360° fisheye cameras, which provide higher level detail. The purpose of these interior cameras is not necessarily live viewing, but instead for recording to help security review and resolve interpersonal interactions. Listening to the needs and challenges of Star of Hope, DSC worked with Hanwha Techwin to develop a unique robust solution in the form of a video wall.
This video wall relies on a completely customizable VMS to simultaneously capture footage from 262 cameras, providing unparalleled coverage of the campus as a whole. Says Johnson, “At the end of the day, Hanwha Techwin offered Star of Hope better value at a more cost-effective price with the highest quality images and an outstanding warranty.”
VMS Swapped, Access’ Role
Fortunately, as the project was finishing, Hanwha Techwin released the Wisenet WAVE VMS. The center had been struggling with the available VMS option, which was not fully meeting its needs. With the release, the end user became a test site for the new VMS. “Suddenly, everything worked seamlessly. On the video surveillance side, it was flawless, making all 262 cameras easy to use and control,” explains Johnson.
The installer isn’t the only one who appreciates the VMS. Kimmel is also impressed with it, saying, “To my knowledge, there is nothing else on the market that compares to Wisenet WAVE. It is incredible how easy it is to use and just amazing how much it helps us with both active monitoring and finding recorded video.”
In a recent case of theft on campus, Star of Hope was able to find and share video footage with local law enforcement to support the investigation and prosecution of the crime.
To further protect privacy, DSC installed electronic locks from DSX to keep residents separated in three distinct areas on campus for residents: one for women only, one for women with children, and one for men. Even though there are no cameras in residents’ rooms, each room does have a DSX card reader, which enables security teams at Star of Hope to verify the location of residents within the center.
Explains Johnson, “Residents can leave their rooms at any time. But the system flags if someone does not card back and sends an alert. This allows us to keep track of who is in the buildings and where.”
Timeline Tops Challenges
The project took more than four years to complete. While it started slowly, it concluded very rapidly. The first three years were spent in planning and development. Once Star of Hope broke ground and finished the building frames, the project picked up speed. While this escalated timeline presented a number of challenges, DSC went above and beyond to keep the project on schedule. DSC also integrated and installed a Siemens fire alarm system networked among the seven buildings.
All low-voltage systems have global control that resides in the Star of Hope command center. Between the CCTV system, video wall, access control integrations, intrusion detection and global life-safety fire alarm communications viewpoints, facility management and security teams have complete capability to respond immediately to any situation.
The complexity and scope integrating into the command center created coordination and timing concerns as the deadline fast approached. Star of Hope’s choice to use DSC for multiple facets of the installation worked as an advantage to eliminate communication issues among contractors and helped provide a cohesive installation and successful project.
What was most satisfying for DSC on this project was just how well the system worked once the installation was complete. There have been minimal issues with the integrated systems, even those components that date back to when the integrator relationship first began with its client some five years ago.
Star of Hope was so satisfied with the project that the end user recently contracted DSC to install 56 new cameras and a Wisenet WAVE VMS in the Men’s Development Center. Those cameras can now be integrated with the VMS at the Women and Family Development Center.
Thus, Star of Hope is equipped to take on the difficult task of protecting its residents, its families and facilities, and to remain a beacon of safety for those who need it most.
You can view more images of the installation in the slideshow.