High-Tech AV Brings Lady Liberty To Life
No longer allowed to climb from pedestal to crown due to life safety precautions, visitors at the Statue of Liberty now view the monument from the inside looking up, thanks to the creative use of AV technology.
CHALLENGE: Devise and install an AV solution in less than two months that addresses safety concerns and supersedes the traditional climb to the crown.
SOLUTION: Design a video information display system that combines AV hardware and customized software to produce an interactive multimedia experience for patrons and a communications tool for park rangers.
NOT SINCE the Statue of Liberty (SOL) opened to public tours have visitors been permanently restricted from making the journey from the bottom of her pedestal to the top of her crown — until 2001. Immediately closing the historic monument after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the National Parks Service (NPS) no longer permits visitors of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York Harbor (the number of which has grown to an average of more than four million per year) to make the arduous trek up 354 steps to Lady Liberty's crown.
Although NPS opened the island 100 days later, it kept the statue off-limits to tourists for more than two years while it took time to rethink its evacuation strategy. After addressing all of the major concerns identified in its security upgrade analysis, NPS reopened the SOL on Aug. 3, 2004, after the $17 million renovation project was completed but with a surprising new twist — no one would be allowed above the pedestal observation deck, otherwise known as the 6P level (the highest point at which there are two stairways down). Although he admits 9/11 definitely pushed the organization's renovation efforts into high gear, Frank Mills, assistant superintendent at the SOL, says the NPS has been aware of the potential fire and life safety hazards for decades, given the monument's limited number of paths of egress, and was already in the midst of reassessing the situation before the terrorist attacks. “The National Parks Services has realized that the overcrowding on the stairways, inconvenience of the long wait lines, and overall dissatisfaction of visitors have posed problems for many superintendents,” says Mills, who has been with NPS for 29 years. “Plus it was very uncomfortable for a significant number of people who would get vertigo, claustrophobia, overheated, or feel as if they couldn't change their minds once they started. I'd also say that about 99 percent of visitors were greatly disappointed when they reached the crown because the view was so limited through small glass windows.”
Given the fact that so many visitors were already dissatisfied with the original experience coupled with the desperate need for an emergency evacuation plan overhaul, NPS pursued an unconventional approach to solve its problem — one that required the expertise of a professional visitor experience consultant as well as a creative AV vision. It enlisted the help of ORCA Consulting out of Clermont, FL, a firm run by a group of former Disney employees, to carry out an operational planning analysis and implementation strategy. Glenn Polly, owner of AV systems integration firm VideoSonic in New York, answered the call for a creative AV solution that could somehow make visitors get past the feeling of being shortchanged under the new ground rules. Specializing in providing design-build, interactive AV solutions, Polly's firm designed an AV system that gives park rangers a script, teleprompter, touchscreen control pedestal, and monitor to lead virtual tours of 30 visitors at a time via a 3D multi-media show displayed on multiple LCD panels.The AV vision takes shape
After putting up fire walls, installing sprinkler systems, building additional stairwells, and taking other precautionary measures to ensure tourists' safety, the ORCA and VideoSonic team removed the nonstructural portions of the flooring inside the SOL and installed an anti-glare tempered glass ceiling to provide an unobstructed view of her interior. Above the ceiling, Polly installed approximately 40 lighting fixtures that are programmed and automated to highlight different interior elements as rangers describe them.
Using three 40-inch Samsung 403T LCD displays, mounted with brackets from Chief in portrait mode side to side, Polly first created a billboard system that serves as a digital signage meet-and-greet area. Polly looked to Metalworks to custom-build bronze surround to frame the monitors in order to match the original bronze surface of the SOL.
Next, he designed and implemented a way-finding system, made up of nine LCD monitors, including seven 20-inch Sharp LC20E1UB monitors mounted with Lucasey brackets located on the first level and two 30-inch Zenith L30W36 units on the second floor. On these screens, an orientation map shows visitors where they are in relation to the exhibits, concessions, elevators, rest rooms, and most importantly, the exits.
Both the billboard and way-finding systems are tied into the life fire safety system. When a fire alarm sounds, these screens automatically switch to provide evacuation instructions. In addition to visual indicators, audible enunciators and strobes complement the displays. All elements are tied into an emergency backup system that conforms to UL924 specifications, which dictate that a life fire safety system must be able to run for 90 minutes from its own battery backup.
Because of the tight two-month schedule on the AV portion of this project, Polly persuaded UPS manufacturer On-Line Power to deliver the large (3,500 W, 5.0 kV) WR5.0 UL924-rated UPS in three weeks as opposed to the typical 10-week lead time. “Because it was used as a supplemental exit signage, we engineered the system to be fully redundant,” says Dennis Flood, CTO of VideoSonic. “There is no single point of failure in the AV system with the exception of the UPS. This level of redundancy is generally only seen in broadcast facilities, and there is no code that mandates it. But for such a high-profile application with life safety requirements, we felt there was no other way to do it.”
Realizing the power of integrating AV and IT technologies, Polly knew this was the perfect setting for his firm's customized video information display system (VIDS), which controls all of the AV elements. One critical component of this system is the VSA Video Loss Detector from Burst Electronics, which is a small black box that sees two video signals simultaneously from two sources and instantly switches the signal in case one should fail. By doubling up on the video servers (Dell 360 Precision Workstation PC), the system features an additional level of redundancy to ensure performance. (For more details on the VIDS, see sidebar.)
“For the 6P experience presentation, we extended the VIDS architecture to include real-time control from a custom touchscreen application,” Flood says. “This application also controls the architectural lighting system that illuminates the interior of the statue for viewing through the glass above the 6P ceiling. Rangers are prompted with the script for the presentations as they change scenes while light and video content support the rangers' speech.”
While speaking through an Electro-Voice RE-90P podium microphone, rangers use the 12.1-inch touchscreen monitor from Elo TouchSystems as a teleprompter. Audio is distributed along with composite video to each of the screens through Crest amplifiers and JBL Control 1 speakers.
“What we're looking at is basically a one-box solution that replaces a DVD player, time clock, and a Crestron or AMX-type control system,” Polly says. “We handle most of the backbones of our systems as if it were an Ethernet network where all of the video, audio, and control signals are run on low-skew Cat5e UTP [Comtran 2347].”
Polly used baluns to run all of the video distribution from the display servers to the monitors on Cat5e — Intelix V1 for composite video and the Intelix V1A2 for composite with audio. For high-resolution video (UXGA), an active Magenta 450S balun transmits the video signal as well as serial control to the monitor or touchscreen using the same Cat5e UTP.Making it happen
With less than two months to complete the AV design and installation, VideoSonic had to move quickly. While two graphics artists and two programmers worked on pulling together the software side of the show, Polly had two technicians on the island every day to oversee the electrical contractor, who pulled all of the cable, and the general contractor, who hung all of the brackets for the displays. VideoSonic technicians did the final connections, mounting of the video screens, and tweaking. They also built the rack, a Middle Atlantic WRK-44SA-32, off site, which contained the computers and switching equipment, including an IPS-15M Internet Power Switch from Western Telematic and Ethernet switch from HP.
Although the accelerated schedule was challenging, a greater obstacle proved to be purely logistical. Because there's obviously only one way onto the job site, VideoSonic had to transport all of the equipment by boat. “Everything had to be sniffed by a dog or go through X-ray and security every day,” Polly says. “We were subjected to a lot of scrutiny by security. Every box carried on and off the island had to be inspected daily. They were very concerned about preventing any kind of foul play during the construction project.”
And because it's a national landmark, VideoSonic had to take extreme care in mounting hardware and running wires to ensure that the historical features of the SOL were preserved. “We could not make any penetrations into any granite surfaces,” he says. “Everything had to be done suspended from structural steel ceilings above or by way of securing something into the grout.”
Since August, Polly says the system has lived up to the owner's expectations, performing 24/7 with no downtime. Mills says NPS got exactly what it wanted on the system, but was equally impressed with the way VideoSonic interacted with his employees. “We're very satisfied with the sharpness and integration of the system,” he says. “They made us an AV product that is top notch and very worthy of being at such an international monument.”
Even after the reopening, VideoSonic will continue to provide ongoing service that includes updating the software and making content changes as necessary during four to six routine visits per year.Black Box with Brains
Controlling all of the AV components from one small black box, the customized video information display system (VIDS) from VideoSonic is a hardware and software digital signage solution that allows users to easily create and manage media for multiple screens and sites. Display templates can include MPEG-2 and MPEG-1 video content, Shockwave Flash, Bitmap Overlays, Dynamic Text “tickers,” and live web content. The front-end of VIDS is a web portal where users can log in and access their display network. Once in, users can upload content, lay out templates, and schedule content on any of their displays. The playback “clients” then connect to the server and download templates and content.
On the playback side, VIDS is not married to any particular playback hardware. The playback servers at the Statue of Liberty were built around Enseo's Alchemy GFX cards, which, along with Enseo's “On The Air” software, actually composite the VIDS templates and output four video channels per card. The servers on this project have up to eight channels each and can play MPEG-2 video encoded at up to 15 Mb/s, which is about twice the quality at which DVDs are encoded.
Ellen Parson is a contributing writer and editor to Pro AV. She can be reached at email@example.com.