By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Nora Chan is a woman on a mission.
At age 72, she said she wants to retire. But she tells the Northwest Asian Weekly that her job isn’t finished yet.
Chan is the founder of a nonprofit, Seniors in Action Foundation (SIAF), which provides help to seniors living in the Chinatown-International District (ID) and throughout the city, to engage them in community service.
SIAF also promotes public safety in the ID by setting up surveillance cameras in the area. Chan helped to install 14 cameras around Chinatown back in 2011. Now, three of those cameras don’t work, and all the cameras need to be replaced.
“You know how technology gets outdated after only a few years … that’s why we need new cameras,” said Chan.
Enter the Seattle Chinatown Public Safety CCTV Community Project, which aims to reduce crime, increase resident safety, and improve the business environment in Chinatown.
The project is ambitious — 100 percent coverage of all outdoor areas in Chinatown, including alleys with night vision closed-circuit television (CCTV). That’s an estimated 43 cameras.
Project Manager Donny Kwan said, “It’s not just about cameras. It’s about a solution … so that we can attract more visitors to the neighborhood, and increase business to the area.”
The challenge is, the cameras are spendy. Initial estimates put the cost of the entire project at $300,000.
“The (City) government did not give us a penny because of the Privacy Act,” said Chan. Currently, she is applying for a grant from the Historic South Downtown Community Preservation & Development Authority (HSD). The HSD is a state-created agency responsible for preserving, restoring, and promoting the health, safety, and cultural identity of the ID and Pioneer Square.
Prior to the 2011 installation, Chan said she went door-to-door and got permission from business and property owners.
“Business has not been good in Chinatown.” Chan points to the increase in homelessness in the area.
“When they (the homeless) disturb the seniors and businesses, breaking windows and damaging property, that really disturbs me.”
“Most of these places are mom and pop businesses — they don’t have thousands of dollars to donate for a better surveillance system.”
But Chan said every little bit helps. She is thankful for the $80,000 in commitments she has been promised so far.
“These are from my friends — private individuals who don’t even live in Chinatown, but they have a love for the people here, and their heart is in Chinatown.”
Chan met with an engineer on March 18 to decide on the best equipment to use. She described the proposed cameras as being similar to those currently used in Hong Kong and Japan.
Instead of a single camera, Chan said each location will have a cluster of cameras that will capture video from every angle. The existing cameras don’t capture a wide enough angle and are in a static position.
It would have come in handy in the Donnie Chin investigation, Chan said.
Chin was murdered in 2015 and the case is still unsolved. A camera or cameras pointing in every direction would have captured the shooting and helped the police to track down his killers.
“The current system is obsolete,” said Kwan, who is volunteering his time and helping Chan with her vision. The new cameras will shoot in high definition, be more reliable, and be easier to maintain.
Kwan and Chan are looking for a camera vendor — they have talked to three in the greater Seattle area so far — who will also install the system.
Even the most sophisticated equipment needs a person to monitor and manage the footage. Currently, any footage recorded on ID cameras is not actively monitored. And it is examined only when there are reports of crime.
Chan said a couple of employees at the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) used to volunteer to manage the camera footage. But those people no longer work there and the CIDBIA said it simply doesn’t have the manpower to continue. Kwan and Chan are exploring other ways to manage the cameras, including hiring someone part-time.
“We are looking for reliability and accountability,” Kwan said.
Chan is planning to hold a fundraiser later in the spring to raise the money needed for this project.
“Even $5 helps,” said Chan. “It doesn’t matter the amount that people donate. Just that they do and it shows me that they care.”
For more information about this project, contact Nora Chan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruth can be reached at email@example.com.