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Macy’s miracle on 34th street

With the task of standing guard over a million square feet of retail space, the security system at Macy's provides unblinking protection that gives new

Macy’s miracle on 34th street

May 20, 1997 12:00 PM,
Vince Galdi

With the task of standing guard over a million square feet of retail space, the security system at Macy’s provides unblinking protection that gives new meaning to the phrase “minding the store.”M acy’s at 34th Street on Herald Square — it’s the largest department store in the world, a landmark location, sponsor of the world-famous Thanksgiving Day Parade and a tourist attraction for people from all over the world. From clothing and cosmetics to fine works of art and estate jewelry, Macy’s flagship store is more than just a place to shop, it’s a reflection of New York City’s diversity.

Located in the heart of Manhattan island, Macy’s 34th Street is surrounded by scores of smaller retail shops and office skyscrapers. Macy’s has entrances on four different city streets, so anyone can walk off the street into this prime retail establishment. To help keep a watchful eye over Macy’s 19 floors of retail, office and warehouse space, the store’s security team calls upon a highly advanced security system comprising Panasonic security cameras, monitors and time-lapse recorders.

Over the past few years, Macy’s surveillance system has been updated and expanded under the direction of Don McVicker, Macy’s group vice president of security, and Matthew P. Sack, director of security administration and communications. Working closely with Howard Lass from MSI Security Systems, McVicker and Sack have configured the system so that Macy’s security staff can monitor more than 90% of the total facility from the store’s centralized command center. This includes more than one million square feet of retail floor space, eight street-level public entrances, one employee entrance and all shipping and receiving areas.

Panasonic cameras also monitor all key back areas, including stock rooms, employee cash windows and holding areas, as well as the executive office areas occupied by Macy’s parent company, Federated Stores. Additional Panasonic cameras are strategically located on the exterior of the building to monitor store entrances, display windows and the surrounding sidewalks.

Lass, who has been working with Macy’s security staff for more than 20 years, has been involved with every phase of the system’s evolution.

“The wiring component was probably the biggest and most difficult obstacle to overcome at Macy’s,” says Lass. “We tackled the problem by designing and installing a customized wiring conduit system that runs throughout the store’s structure. It provides organization to what could have easily become a wiring nightmare when working with a system that currently has more than 300 Panasonic cameras and the potential to accommodate a total of 2,000 cameras.”

Macy’s system includes a wide variety of Panasonic cameras, including the WV-CP214 and digital signal processing WV-CP414 series color cameras. Panasonic’s black-and-white WV-BL204 and WV-BL314 series cameras are also employed in the system.

Panasonic’s WV-CP414 with digital signal processing helps the security staff deal with changing lighting conditions. These features include programmable digital backlight compensation, which masks out strong light sources without affecting overall picture quality, and advanced auto tracing white balance, which accommodates the wide variety of lighting inside and outside the building.

The system still includes several WV-1414 black-and-white Vidicon tube cameras that were installed by Lass approximately 17 years ago. “We were never requested to change them because they never stopped working and their pictures still look exceptionally good,” says Lass.

Day-to-day operation and maintenance of the system is the responsibility of Anthony Montes, special projects coordinator, security operations at Macy’s. In fact, no one appreciates the capabilities of the system and its value as a security tool better than Montes and his staff of guards. During the 1996 holiday shopping season alone, Montes and his staff built more than 540 theft cases based upon video footage recorded with the system. Macy’s security staff also works closely with the New York police to “sting” and apprehend suspected pick-pockets and shoplifters who target the Herald Square shopping district.

All surveillance activity is closely monitored in Macy’s centralized security control center 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Guards monitoring the system stay in touch with uniformed and undercover security personnel by radio or pager and through the store’s phone system.

Intense surveillance activity continues even when the store is closed to assure that no one has hidden somewhere in the store’s extensive infrastructure of fitting rooms and displays. As an added measure after hours, guards patrol the store with trained guard dogs under the watchful eyes of the security system.

Macy’s massive security console, which was designed and installed by MSI, houses more than 100 Panasonic monitors in every conceivable shape and size, including the WV-CM1450 high-resolution, 14 inch (356 mm), multistandard color monitor with audio; CT-S1390Y 13 inch (330 mm) color monitor; WV-5470 17 inch (432 mm), black-and-white monitor; TR-930B 9 inch (229 mm), black-and-white monitors; and ST900 9 inch (229 mm) color monitor.

In addition to the centralized control center, there are five additional locations in the building that have “call-up” capabilities. The satellite monitoring systems are located in the offices of McVicker, the director of communications, the regional store director, the internal division and the store manager. Four of the satellite systems consist of a Panasonic monitor and time-lapse recorder; these systems are capable of accessing select groups of cameras. The system in McVicker’s office offers monitoring and switching capabilities on a more extensive scale.

All camera activity is recorded with a bank of 12 Panasonic time-lapse recorders set in the 24-hour and real-time modes. Recorded images are monitored for criminal activity and archived for use in court to help secure convictions and identify repeat offenders. Macy’s uses the AG-RT600 Real Motion VTR, which provides 24 hours of continuous images and sound on a single VHS cassette, and the AG-6740 S-VHS high-density VTR, which captures three times as much information as conventional time-lapse recorders and provides more than 400 lines of resolution.

Future expansionThe extensive security system at Macy’s 34th Street location has been so successful that Montes is presently working on a plan to have other Macy’s stores linked by fiber optics into the command center.

“We are presently looking at integrating fiber video feeds from Macy’s stores located in Brooklyn, NY, and Monmouth, NJ,” says Montes. “This would allow us to assist these stores with monitoring their surveillance systems during and after operating hours.”

The Brooklyn location has approximately 50 Panasonic color cameras; the Monmouth location has approximately 40 installed to date.

In addition, Macy’s security management is presently working with the New York Police Department and community organizations on a plan to install camera systems throughout the surrounding neighborhood. The plan, which is the brainchild of McVicker and Montes, would provide a blanket of protection for the entire Herald Square area. The color cameras would be integrated into Macy’s system and monitored by the store’s security staff, who would instantly notify the police of suspected criminal activity. The proposal is currently under review.

Even without these expansions, the system is impressive. By monitoring such an extensive area, including entrances, employee and office areas and the retail floors, the system protects both merchandise and customers, acting as a silent partner in the security staff’s committment to serve and protect.

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