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Woodlands agrees to have Homeland Security surveillance cameras installed

November 30, 2018

The Woodlands Township will soon have a new, Big Brother-ish safety feature around several highly used areas — Department of Homeland Security surveillance cameras.

On Wednesday, Nov. 28, the township’s board approved in a 5-0 vote a interlocal agreement between the township and Montgomery County to install a series of surveillance cameras that will be operated, funded, installed and managed by the Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The cameras will be placed onto existing light poles around areas of the township that are used for festivals, public events and gatherings and that may be the potential target of terrorists. The total cost of the program is listed at $300,000, all of which comes from federal funding and costs the township nothing.

Darren Hess, director of the Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the agreement is part of a broader program to enhance public safety at locations and events around the United States, including in The Woodlands. The cameras will be typical outdoor surveillance cameras with long, focal lenses. The cameras will not record any audio or sounds, only photographic images, Hess noted.

“It is a new initiative that we are uptaking now to provide camera systems in the name of public safety,” Hess said in a telephone interview. “The Department of Homeland Security recognizes these (areas) as potential targets, something we’ve seen across the nation. This is to provide enhanced safety during events like the Ironman (Triathlon) and others.”

According to John Powers, assistant general manager for community services with The Woodlands, the cameras are solely a project of the Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the township is merely complying with a request to beef up security measures around specific areas of the township.

“We are just letting them install their (surveillance) cameras on light poles in the Town Green Park and along the Woodlands Waterway, the active event centers where a lot of people congregate,” Powers explained. “(They’ll be placed) Where festivals and special events occur. On the waterway, they will be installed between Grogan’s Mill Road and Six Pines Drive.”

The agreement between Montgomery County and The Woodlands includes provisions guiding the installation and other details of the cameras and their use. The deal is for four years with automatic renewals on a yearly basis. The Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will install and set up the camera network, as well as provide any routine maintenance needed. In addition to those guidelines, township staff are prohibited from interferring with the cameras in any manner, including obscuring them, turning off the power to the cameras or other activities that would impede the camera’s functioning.

Hess did not say exactly how many cameras would be installed, only that initially 15 to 20 would be placed on light poles in the designated high-traffic public areas. There is a possibility more cameras could be added in the future, he noted.

The cameras will be connected to a control center where they can be turned on and images obtained as neccessary, Hess said, but the system is not expected to be monitored 24-hours a day but only for large events such as festivals, concerts, athletics events and other activities which draw large numbers of attendees. When those events are occuring, a remote monitoring station will be set up in the township and manned by law enforcement personnel who will watch the camera feeds for safety issues.

“It is a routine deal…it is in the interest of the overall public safety,” Hess added. “We want people to feel safe at big events.”

jeff.forward@chron.com

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