AV Technology Magazine's Q&A series "Meet Your Manager" shares insights from the world's most innovative technology managers and AV technicians. This week, we interview Paul Schuster, Special Projects/Officer, Dallas Police Department.
AV Technology: Do you do in-house AV installation? If not, who is your systems integration partner?
Paul Schuster: Being a team of one, most in-house activities involve troubleshooting, setting up portable equipment, and training as many end users as possible to use the systems. The occasional times I have tried to do complex installations alone usually resulted in dropped expensive equipment.
Like most people, my interests and responsibilities cross many boundaries, but I primarily identify a problem that AV can assist in, do the necessary research in available AV options, get buy-in from department administrators on a proper budget, and oversee the installation by the selected contractor.
Our systems integrator to date has been Whitlock, a national firm with an office in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metro area. Most of our projects are either federally funded, or require meeting municipal government budget cycles, and are usually subject to formal public bidding. Occasionally we are able to utilize State Price Agreements, which streamline the process.
Whitlock has an understanding of our complex procurement guidelines and has been helpful to educate us on the latest AV/IT developments and how new systems can integrate with investments we have already made. But as with most government purchases, the Department is responsible for specifications and insuring that any and all qualified vendors are able to submit bids.
Some of our more complex projects may take from one to several years from initial concept, through purchasing approval, and on to project completion.
Should tech managers attend InfoComm?
Paul Schuster: My 30-year career led from being a police officer to handling Special Projects for the Chief of Police and top commanders as part of our Planning Unit. We developed police presentations for City Council, researched police equipment, and assisted in major press conferences.
From those early beginnings, AV has grown from being a presentation tool to actually being a part of crime fighting. As a uniformed officer, I was able to tour major conventions in Dallas and see cutting-edge technology. In the 1980s I walked through the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention and saw the first demonstrations of High Definition Broadcasting.
I try to attend as many technology conferences as I can. Venues such as InfoComm give me an understanding of where the technology is going, and how it may lend itself to projects I am working on or may work on in the future.
My career has also evolved into being the department liaison with architects and engineers on new construction projects, be it a police headquarters, police patrol stations, 911 center, fusion center, and training rooms. Attending InfoComm and other technology shows helped to advance the design of these construction projects so that they could provide space for these new technologies. It is far easier to put extra conduits, wall boxes, and wall support blocking in during construction than to try to retrofit a building later.
How is AV/IT convergence impacting your day-to-day work? Are you equally “fluent” in both areas?
Paul Schuster: AV/IT convergence is here and unavoidable.
There was a time when AV equipment could be turned on and run until the power supply burned out. Now it seems that most AV equipment has an embedded controller and software, and when the end user calls to say the system is not working, the first response is to “RE-BOOT” the system.
Back in the 1980s there was discussion of whether Ethernet or IBM would win the IP Network wiring topology. Ethernet won and advancements in compression and bandwidth continue. New standards are proposed and adopted, but I am still wary of cutting-edge solutions that want me to be the first test site.
We have an IT department that is separate from the police department. With convergence they want a say into the type AV systems we purchase, yet they want to keep video traffic isolated from the data network due to bandwidth limitations.
The challenge has been to identify that fine line where responsibility for troubleshooting is. Is it a computer network problem or a problem displaying a video on a video wall? Luckily, I know just enough about IP networks to follow the discussions, understand the structure of the system, and be able to determine who can fix any problems. I don’t have to actually configure any networks; there are others that can do that.
What is your involvement with emergency paging/notification systems and or security in your facility?
Paul Schuster: Being the police department, we have police handheld and car radios, but commanders get most of their information from BlackBerrys. Likewise, our staff have personal mobile phones and smartphones.
Since I am involved with planning our police facilities, I coordinate security systems and emergency notification with our evacuation plan. Due to the nature of our business, we look at everything from potential bomb threats to medical emergencies.
The design of our buildings must resist attack and yet not impede our being accessible to the public. Our security systems must assist us in identifying potential threats, crimes in progress, and have the ability to on a moments notice create a lock-down situation.
We are starting to see digital signage become a part of that equation. We are also expanding the use of video from a facility focus to a wider surveillance of city hot crime spots.
What troubleshooting tools do you regularly use in your facility?
Paul Schuster: A lot of our control equipment is from the Dallas manufacturer AMX. Like other manufacturers, there are options of controlling systems through the network using IP.
Due to previously mentioned network conflicts, we have created a separate network to link AV systems throughout the building. Our implementation is still ongoing.
The AMX touch control screens in each room have simplified the end user experience in using our systems, and have greatly eliminated some of the calls for how do I use this system or “I’m having problems.” But my big “pet peeve” is that no matter how simple you make the interface, you still have the user that fails to realize that when they are through with their presentation, they have to push the button that says “shut down.” I am constantly checking systems to see who left the projectors running.
Likewise, it seems that no matter how many people I train to use the systems, if a new user asks one of the trained persons how to work the system, the previously trained person will claim ignorance and say “call Paul Schuster." I guess that is called job security?
What AV equipment/gear are you interested in procuring for your facility in the next year?
Paul Schuster: Our police headquarters was new in 2003. It replaced the police headquarters we had since 1914, which is where Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement in November 24, 1963. (We now have police officers on the department to whom the Kennedy Assassination is just an historical footnote, they weren’t born yet.)
Anyway, ten years has passed since we installed $600,000 worth of AV Systems in the new police headquarters. We would like to replace our conference room projectors, luckily we installed HDTV 16:9 screens back then. Tube TVs need to be replaced with HDTV LCD monitors; we have mounts and outlets high on the walls to accommodate them.
Our In-House Private TV Network has been upgraded for HDTV, but awaits the conversion of the TVs. (Once we go HDTV private, we will get calls from end users that their home TVs they brought to work to watch cable at lunch won’t work, and so it goes.)
Our Dallas Fusion Center was completed three years ago, at a cost of $954,990. It includes a Christie Micro Tile 6 x 12 cube video wall. At that time end user computers were still analog VGA signals, so our switching solution and KVM devices were analog. We hope to upgrade those to digital signal switching.
Our newest project is to add a city-wide security camera system for high crime areas. To date about $3 million has been spent installing remote digital cameras on city light poles, some mobile trailers, and on our police helicopter. We also will monitor video from covert “bait cars” to capture auto theft suspects, and at some point will start to look at integrating police in-car cameras that are already deployed.
In the future we may expand our video network to link with private security cameras, such as banks, to be able to see crimes in progress and to update officers on what to expect when they arrival on the scene. All of this will need to be monitored in a room at the police headquarters, and I am one of a team looking at how that should all be integrated, designed, and what the cost will be.
We have two new police facilities under construction and they will have some AV requirements. Our police headquarters security cameras are all analog, so we will be looking at upgrading to digital.
In our large conference room, which we use for press conferences, the TV networks are starting to complain about our building connections for their TV trucks. Since the wiring was for analog, they now want digital.
All in all, I should be busy for the next couple of years.