By Jillian Ruffino
Published in the August 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
For many, the idea of surveillance calls to mind George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. This book introduced the phrase, “Big Brother is watching you,” into the common lexicon, a reference to the fictitious leader of a totalitarian government. This omniscient and omnipresent regime is able to watch over every aspect of the population at all times. The story’s vision of the future has terrified many readers since it was written.
The world was a different place when Orwell penned the book in 1948. While the first nuclear bombs had been detonated three years earlier, the threat of worldwide nuclear warfare was minimal, particularly since, at the time, the United States was the only country in possession of this technology. The very real concerns of modern day terrorism did not yet exist. Also, few would suspect high school and college students would someday murder each other in large numbers. And portable, easy to steal computers with vast storage capabilities were still the dream of an imaginative handful.
As James Church, director for development, marketing, and sales for SYColeman Corporation, a division of L3 Communications based in Crystal City, VA, explains, “Technology advancements are helping the ‘bad guys’ as much as they’re helping anybody else. The proliferation of intrusive technologies in the hands of these people—a terrorist possessing weapons of mass destruction, for example—is a very dangerous situation.”
Steve Surfaro agrees. This group manager, strategic technical liaison for Panasonic Systems Solutions Company, located in Secaucus, NJ, claims, “Unfortunately, the relative freedom and globalization of human interaction has made it easier for potential dangers to be exposed to population and asset centers.”
Surfaro also cautions, “Facilities with the most pedestrian traffic and combined assets are considered targets.” He cites such examples as transit facilities, financial centers, corporate and industrial properties, schools and universities, large sports venues, and energy facilities.
Surveillance isn’t always designed to catch big time criminals involved in highly complex or physically dangerous operations. Dave Underwood, president of Exaqc Technologies, Inc, headquartered in Indianapolis, IN, addresses a more mundane, but certainly common, problem surveillance addresses: theft. “Surveillance can reduce shrinkage and improve the bottom line,” he says.
The latest video surveillance technology can help to address the variety of threats that exist today.
Video surveillance can be effective, because it has the ability to cut across every type of barrier (language, culture, etc.) and condense the security of a facility into a simple visual. Just how simple this visual is relies on the latest video surveillance technology.
The biggest trend in surveillance is the movement from analog to digital video. TFM Facility Technologist Tom Condon of System Development Integration, headquartered in Chicago, IL, explains, “Digital systems remove all of the roadblocks of analog. They transmit images through a digital data stream over Internet Protocol (IP) instead of the old, dedicated coaxial cables analog used.”
Some other “roadblocks” of analog systems include a limited number of cameras that can be viewed at one time. With digital video surveillance, all cameras are simultaneously available.
Analog video can also only be viewed in a specified office, whereas all video recorded and stored digitally can be screened instantly from any location on an authorized personal computer or device. The need for tapes or CDs is eliminated.
Church’s company manufactures Praetorian—three dimensional immersive video that stitches together live images from multiple views. He asserts, “The state of technology today is allowing us to change the way video surveillance is used. It is evolving from being preeminently a forensic tool that helps facility managers investigate an incident after the fact into a technical collaborative that helps with preemptive decision making.” When an incident does occur, investigations are faster and simpler.
For example, with his company’s system, facility or security managers can patrol a building virtually and view what is happening live. This can be done remotely with equipment operated in a manner similar to TiVo, in which it can be watched live or rewound. The view is comparable to that of a video game, except the doors entered and the corridors inspected are real and are shown in real time. In other words, the facility manager (fm) can digitally tour the facility without actually being on the premises.
Video surveillance is now capable of doing more than ever before. Surfaro says, “The use of built-in intelligent video analytics in cameras enhances the use of video surveillance as an identification tool. Additional features such as motion detection allow systems to be configured more efficiently by decreasing bandwidth/transmission and recording requirements.”
Switching from analog to digital video necessitates changes in a facility. With careful planning, facility managers can avoid time consuming stumbling blocks.
Condon explains, “Digital video is not like most computer systems; it requires tremendous amounts of computing power. A user will need a high capacity server to prevent it from ‘bogging down.’”
He recommends fms check networks early for capacity. With video imposing a strain on servers, networks can crash.
Managers should also have their networks tested. “Many managers find they need significant network upgrades,” says Condon.
Once server concerns have been addressed, the process of installing a digital surveillance system has several steps. The first is to optimize the placement of cameras.
Church advises facility managers not to rely on the technicians installing this equipment. “You often don’t get the views you need for whatever your purpose is,” he explains.
The second step is to select and tailor the system’s analytics. Church counsels, “Whether it’s a video based analytic (like motion detection) or a breach analytic (which alerts when a line has been crossed) it needs to be on the right cameras and set up for the activity that is of concern to the facility.”
Finally, facility managers must consider the management platform that will collect all of this information and sound an alert when analytics detect activity. “When a motion detection alarm records someone moving through a facility at night when they shouldn’t be, it needs to bring that immediately to the facility manager’s attention,” says Church.
Information technology (IT) departments will likely work with facility managers and security specialists in the installation process and beyond. Condon, however, advises facility managers to obtain the necessary computer skills to implement and maintain up to date security systems. “The facility manager must evaluate and implement the systems needed to run the facility. This puts a tremendous burden on those who do not understand computers. Today, it is important to get training above and beyond the basic skills managers require.”
He also warns that IT departments may not be able to comprehend the facility’s needs as well as its fm. “Today’s technologies are far too facility centric for IT staff to understand their functionality and their value to the fm’s mission.”
In Surveillance We Trust
Speculating on the future of security, Church predicts, “Both video and non-video sensors will increase.”
And he doesn’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. “When the purpose of surveillance is to raise quality of life in a community, it can make people safer and services more efficient.” Hopefully, it can do this without Orwellian consequences.
There’s no way to predict the consequences of increased surveillance, but for now it is an excellent tool in a facility manager’s arsenal against security breaches.
This article was based on interviews with Church, Condon, Surfaro, and Underwood.