Remote or offsite monitoring services have been available to estates for several years with some estate managers being in favour of offsite monitoring and others opposed to it in favour of keeping everything onsite and under their control. And then there are those who prefer a hybrid approach using onsite and offsite services to strengthen their security posture.
With the world moving to cloud services at a manic pace, it’s only reasonable to ask whether more (or most) estates will join the move to remote services. (Of course, many estates already make use of remote services to one degree or another.)
However, the question is not really about remote or onsite. Craig Peel, GM of Mantis Security, says, “I don’t think it is a matter of convincing them of the viability of remote monitoring services, but fully understanding the actual needs of the estate, the role played by a control room in the overall operation of the estate, beyond just security functions. From this information we determine how each of these could be done from a remote location without impacting on the value-added components of the control room.
“If the answer is that the value-added components cannot be effectively managed remotely, then it may be best to leave the control room onsite. However, even if the control room should remain onsite, consideration should be given to looking to a remote facility being a failover to the onsite facility and how best this can be implemented.”
While offsite alarm control rooms are decades old, the same does not apply to other systems and technologies. However, with the Internet-of-Things (IoT) growing at a dramatic pace, the number of ‘things’ that can be monitored via technology is almost endless. This applies to security technology, from camera, perimeter and even fire alarms, but also to monitoring non-security technology, such as generators, water pumps, networks, servers, diesel levels, water levels, etc.
Peel adds that any form of operational equipment or system that operates according to set programs and parameters can be monitored today and events or changes in status of the monitored system can be reported to the control room. Whether onsite or offsite, automated notifications can be sent via cellphone, emails, apps etc. Some local management platforms can even make a voice call to the appropriate people in case of a serious event.
The viability of remote VMS and AI
Given the economies of scale of remote operations, the costs of having a remote VMS or remote AI-based video analytics is far less than having the same installed onsite. That is why alarm monitoring services can offer low rates, the same technology and people serve multiple customers; hence, the same applies to surveillance, access control and so forth.
There is a catch that we all know about, however and that is the reliability of the connection to the remote site. What happens when the Internet goes down? What happens when Eskom strikes, as seems to be happening more regularly these days? With only remote control rooms or event management systems, an estate could be literally and figuratively left in the dark. Although, Peel argues that network or Eskom failures can be just as devastating to local operations if there is no fallback plan.
A reality check for South Africa
“The effective planning of the CCTV system and associated alerts in terms of operation, when either the local fibre connection or the electricity supply goes down, is equally important, otherwise the system is not functional until re-instated. Unless the system can continue to operate during a power failure, the estate’s risk profile changes and may require additional physical security personnel until it is restored.”
When it comes to power backup, Peel advises the use of UPSs/inverters coupled to a generator to ensure continued power during a mains failure. When it comes to network connectivity, a wireless connection to a location on a different grid to the local network would improve the likelihood of maintaining connectivity and operation of remote services.
A remote, or shared service (like AI-enhanced video analytics) can offer many benefits compared to the same system setup onsite. Peel explains that the AI learns from each interaction and when this learning is based on multiple client environments, the improvements in the system are faster and more noticeable, resulting in better performance and efficacy.
To get the best of both worlds, a hybrid solution may include onsite analytics (in cameras or on the estate’s VMS, for example), where suspicious activity is sent to the cloud service for more intense scrutiny and evaluation. This significantly reduces the instances of false alarms, according to Peel and therefore delivers a more focused and reliable service.
As part of the planning process, he adds that estates could look at failover/overlapping system such as Videofied to provide cover when the electricity or fibre connections are down, as these devices are not reliant on Eskom or a network connection (apart from the GSM networks).
Decisions: remote or not
Estate managers and their security managers cannot simply make the decision as to onsite or offsite services over a coffee break. There are many issues to consider, the main one being the safety of residents and legitimate visitors on the premises. The decision, says Peel, is very much led by the assessment mentioned above.
“One of the considerations may be whether they have the space to house an effective control room, onsite, but will largely depend on the added value the operation onsite provides to other functionality and duties, such as enrolment of tenants, etc. Where the only role of the control room is responding to events on a black screen and to notify somebody on site, it is more cost-effective to do this remotely where the operator can monitor numerous clients, thereby reducing the costs.
“One the other hand, if the range of duties required of the operator is to be fully operational and focused on a single client due to the range of value-added functions being performed, then this could be done onsite more effectively in most cases.”
When it comes to the remote services Mantis offers to the residential estate market, Peel lists the following as a starting point:
• Artificial intelligence via an edge device attached to existing CCTV system or via cloud-based AI, depending on the specific needs of the client, the systems in use and number of cameras to be managed (making use of the Deep Alert system or the INNOVI system).
• Alarm/device monitoring making use of Permacon monitoring and transmission devices.
• Videofied alarm system with built-in video verification and no reliance on mains power.
• Network and IP address monitoring system.
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