The City of Houston’s Metropolitan Multi-Service Center (MMSC) at West Gray serves as one of the largest early voting sites in Harris County, Texas. It is also a year-round anchor site for government and non-profit programs and services for people with disabilities. The city has installed the center's first IP video management system, to make safety and security a top priority for voters, staff, building tenants and the patrons with disabilities.
The Metropolitan Multi-Service Center at West Gray traditionally relied on staff to physically conduct security rounds on its expansive property. Over time, the center needed improved, real-time situational awareness to keep patrons safe and to secure the premises during elections – which require nationally mandated regulations for voting sites.
- Milestone Systems XProtect® Expert open platform video management software integrates partner technologies to provide 24/7 monitoring of the election activities as well as the park’s facilities.
- Cameras from Hanwha Techwin America
- A server from Razberi Technologies
- Analytics Platform risk management software from Haystax
- Microphones from SoundSecure
- A workstation from Dell Technologies
The combined solution allows the City of Houston to share data across jurisdictions and departments.
Milestone Systems was selected along with Hanwha Techwin’s cameras to provide 24/7 video monitoring. 23 Hanwha Wisenet models cover all entrances at the center as well as remote areas on the big property. Hanwha’s P Series AI cameras were deployed in the main lobby and public spaces for 4K video coverage, object detection and feature extraction for forensic search on gender, age, clothing color, bag, glasses, masks and other characteristics.
SoundSecure delivered 20 omni-directional microphones that can pick up sound from approximately 12 feet in all directions. Combined with video input, the audio alerts staff to security events and provides evidence. Using a central workstation from Dell Technologies, front desk staff can easily monitor camera views and audio throughout the facilities. The system looks and listens for anomalies that are outside the norm then alerts the front desk.
Using software and equipment from the multiple security manufacturers, the City of Houston was able to mitigate risks at its polling site during May and November elections. This scalable technology can decrease election incidents and protect the disability community who use the center daily.
The center is used as a location for local, state, and federal elections held in Harris County — during both the early voting period and on election day. Opening approximately two weeks before official election days in May and November, MMSC serves as an early voting site to accommodate up to 8,000 voters per voting year.
According to a report from the Harris County Election Security Task Force, five incidents occurred at MMSC during the 2020 presidential election early voting period and on election day, including voter intimidation, the use of sound amplification devices within 1,000 feet of the polling location, and a request for help with traffic and pedestrian control. A total of 77 incidents were reported among all 122 early voting and 806 election day polling locations.
As one of the largest voting sites in Harris County, MMSC was required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct a risk assessment to identify threats and security vulnerabilities at voting sites throughout the region, and to ultimately develop an action plan to mitigate risks. In 2020 another regional need was identified by the Homeland Security Grant Program Notice of Funding Opportunity, which stipulated that grant recipients must address election security within at least two grant-funded projects: one addressing cybersecurity and one focused on soft targets.
To meet cybersecurity requirements as a polling location, the City of Houston team installed a Razberi Core Milestone recording server, which handles high-throughput video recording for 24/7 surveillance and storage. Razberi CameraDefense provides antivirus and malware protection without compromising the video software performance. Plus, Razberi EndpointDefender integration delivers automated cybersecurity and device hardening for network cameras.
To protect MMSC as a polling location, a situational awareness platform from Haystax was deployed, allowing the city to share data across jurisdictions, including law enforcement, fire department personnel, emergency managers, special events personnel, analysts, and more. The system shows a visual map interface enabling safety professionals to easily see police, fire, emergency medical service calls, road hazards, and more key resources in the area.
Before the security upgrade, the center relied strictly on staff rounds to make sure areas were clear and people were safe. With more than seven acres to cover, it was impossible to solely rely on human interaction to check the premises. Now MMSC can be alerted in real-time if an incident occurs, without waiting for an incident report to be filed. Not only has there been a significant improvement in the daily quality of life, but the voting process can also be monitored more effectively on site by staff and remotely by law enforcement.