Security: The Eyes Have It

Developments in video surveillance technology have accelerated in recent years.

By Michael Bendis, CPP
From the August 2017 Issue

In the past, security technology advanced slowly. Security video started with film cameras that, upon pressing an alarm button, snapped pictures every few seconds until the film ran out. Then the film could be developed and serve as evidence of an event. Years later, cameras could be viewed live when connected to a monitor. Then came recording of video on tapes, color advancements, and higher quality.

surveillance technologySecurity video surveillance systems have undergone rapid technological advancements in recent years. The primary reason for this is twofold. First, the digitization of video, which converts video into IP data, makes it much easier to manipulate and analyze. Second, the industry has adopted certain standards for video, allowing advances to be applied industry-wide, thus fostering innovation.

These advancements in video technology are changing the capabilities of security as well as how security operations function. Security and facility management departments can accomplish much more than before while enabling their personnel to be more effective and efficient. The following are some recent technologies making an impact.

Video Analytics. This technology is the automatic analysis of video by a system to detect and alert personnel of certain events that are happening within the camera view in real time. A simple analytic is basic motion detection. The system can automatically generate an alert if motion is detected by the camera. Some of the more sophisticated analytics include the system being able to recognize the direction of a person or vehicle, someone putting down a package and leaving, a sudden crowd formation or dispersion, or loitering.

Analytics can change the way security operates. In the past, a dedicated security guard would watch a bank of monitors trying to notice any unwanted behavior. Now with analytics, security guards can be automatically alerted when a questionable situation is detected, greatly increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the guard. In addition, analytics can be performed on recorded video instead of fast forwarding through hours of video trying to find what is needed.

Low Light Capability. Traditionally, security camera designs had to take lighting into account to ensure camera views were usable, especially in exterior applications. If camera light levels were not adequate, cameras would not be of any use. It was typical that a significant portion of a camera system budget went toward lighting upgrades.

Cameras now have technologies that can accommodate extremely low light levels. Typically, no lighting upgrades are needed when installing new cameras, even where there is virtually no lighting. Extremely sensitive cameras can use any available light or even generate their own infrared light to illuminate a scene. Thermal cameras, which detect heat signatures of people and animals, do not need any visible light. These technologies make video monitoring possible in areas that in the past were cost prohibitive.

180° and 360° Cameras. Many manufacturers make cameras that can view 180° or even 360° around. This is accomplished through the use of several camera sensors and lenses whose images are “stitched” together automatically. These cameras are being installed in locations where pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) cameras have traditionally been used. The reason being, is that with PTZ cameras video is only recorded where the camera is pointing. For instance, PTZ cameras were common in parking lots and automatically panned from side to side to cover the entire lot; recordings only showed where the camera was pointing at that time. As a result, incidents in the lots were either missed or only a few frames captured while the camera continued to pan. With 180°/360° cameras, the entire lot can be viewed and recorded constantly.

Mobile Access. Video systems have utilized the proliferation of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets to provide additional capabilities. Apps have been developed for these devices that enable users to view the video system on them. Traditionally, a security guard was required to staff a security monitoring station and another guard would be needed to conduct building tours or respond to issues. Now with monitoring on mobile devices, a single security guard can both conduct building tours and respond to issues while still having the ability to monitor security systems. In addition, if an incident or issue is encountered while on patrol, a video recording can be initiated from the mobile device camera which is then archived on the system for later review.

Security Robots. Security system manufacturers have recently developed security robots, which are remote controlled motorized devices on wheels that have cameras and other technologies (e.g., two-way communications) installed on them. Security personnel can control the robot from anywhere to conduct building tours or respond to issues or alarms. Cameras attached to the robot aid in remote navigation, provide visual information to security, and can be recorded. These are useful in locations where access can be difficult or in hazardous areas such as cleanrooms and chemical plants. Some companies already utilize telepresence robots for operations and allow the security department to access them after hours or in an emergency. These devices could supplement a security force where a full-time guard may not be necessary.

UAVs, or Drones. One of the latest applications of video systems is their use on unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. While camera carrying drones are popular for the consumer market, these are beginning to make their way into professional security departments. Particularly in situations in which large sections of exterior areas need to be monitored, drones can provide a quick and effective means of video monitoring.

As an example, large secured areas common in the power generation or private recreation industries typically have a substantial perimeter that needs to be monitored and secured. Since the installation of cameras along such a large perimeter is likely cost prohibitive, security departments have used vehicles to periodically tour the perimeter to ensure its security. With drones, no additional personnel are needed to perform this check. The drone can be dispatched to provide a visual account of the area and pre-programmed for autonomous tours.

The recent advances in camera technology and systems have changed how security can be applied to facilities. More options are available, and the ability to do more with less is becoming increasingly attainable. However, there are limitations, advantages, and disadvantages to each technology, and it is prudent to ensure that there is a clear understanding of any solution prior to procurement and implementation.

surveillance technologyBendis, senior associate with Syska Hennessy Group, Inc., has a wide range of experience in the security management and consulting industry. For 25 years, he has worked in both consulting and corporate security environments. His specialized experience includes CCTV, video recording, access control, alarm monitoring, burglar alarm, emergency communications, radio, weapons/explosive screening, dispatch support systems, and IT systems. A Certified Protection Professional (CPP), he is also a member of ASIS.

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