The Facility Technologist: Solving Facility Management Challenges

By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the November 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

One interesting aspect of today’s facility technologies is the fact that many of them can be used to solve multiple facility management (FM) challenges. Video analytics, for example, is not only a security tool, it can also help facility managers (fms) run their sites more efficiently while increasing revenue at the same time.

First, here’s a quick primer on how video analytics work. Video analytics is software that is loaded on a server and connected to a video camera. The software analyzes each frame of video for changes and assesses the number of pixels changing and the patterns of the changes. The software then responds to the changes based on the rules set in advance by the user. There are multiple ways to tell analytics software what types of changes are noteworthy.

For example, fms could create a virtual fence by drawing lines on the screen with the mouse. Then the fm sets parameters for the activity inside the area that has been defined. The user can tell the analytics software to sound an alarm if anyone enters the area. Or the fm could set a rule indicating that walking people are acceptable, but cars are not. Some systems will allow users to set speed ranges, so that a slow moving vehicle is acceptable, but if it accelerates over a certain speed, an alarm will be created.

There are many possible configurations, depending on the analytics package. Analytics can tell a person from an animal, understand the size and direction of an object or person, and can even detect behaviors like when a person falls down or is unresponsive.

The alarms can then trigger various actions, such as alerting an operator, sending an e-mail or text message, or triggering external systems like alarm horns. Different analytics packages have different features and varying degrees of ability to differentiate between characteristics.

For many security applications, analytics can offer a solution to some vexing problems. For example, some facilities have large open areas that need to be protected from trespassers. For facilities with a large perimeter that is difficult to guard, like an airport or large office complex, analytics essentially becomes a robotic security guard that never sleeps—yet it costs less than hiring staff.

But fms have found other uses for analytics that have nothing to do with security. The same analytics technology that enables security applications also can provide other valuable information.

For example, at McCormick Place convention center, video analytics are used to analyze traffic patterns of convention attendees. Cameras mounted in the ceilings look down on the crowd and track movements. The system yields information that is used to manage traffic patterns, which helps the convention center better plan for maintenance and security. It also helps convention organizers determine which exhibits attract more people. Other fms use similar approaches to analyze traffic in facilities, both vehicular and pedestrian.

Another use for analytics is in parking enforcement. A certain type of analytics, Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR), uses a special camera connected to a computer that runs analytics software. The software performs analytics on images of vehicles to determine license plate numbers, and then it compares those numbers to a list of plate numbers loaded by the user—all in a fraction of a second. Mobile versions use a camera mounted to the exterior of the vehicle connected to a laptop inside.

Some facilities use ALPR as a way to open parking gates without requiring a keycard or transponder. The mobile version can be very useful in parking management, where manually looking for violators is cumbersome and time consuming. With analytics, an authorized vehicle can drive at a brisk pace through a very large parking lot in very little time.

Many companies are working on even more sophisticated uses like facial recognition (which is available now, but has suffered from performance issues). Analytics is a powerful technology that will continue to evolve and will likely offer even more amazing capabilities in the future.

Condon, a Facility Technologist and former facility manager, is a contributing author for BOMI Institute’s revised Technologies in Facility Management textbook. He works for System Development Integration, a Chicago, IL-based firm committed to improving the performance, quality, and reliability of client business through technology.

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