The big five in estate security

January 2013 Integrated Solutions, Residential Estate (Industry)

Effective security in South Africa remains a challenge. Unlike many western countries, we are faced with circumstances and realities here that make protecting people and properties unique. As a nation we rely heavily on guards and conventional CCTV systems to protect us. This has been the case for years, but our notorious crime statistics are testament to the fact that this is failing.

Now, overlay this with the fact that we have more walled developments and especially golf courses than most countries, which over the last 20 years developers have fenced in and built into lifestyle estates.

The result is a R50 billion a year industry, with us ranking as one of the very top spenders in the world with a staggering 806 security personnel per 100 000 population ... and crime keeps increasing.

Talking of estates now, in my experience they typically use the same three elements for security and have been employing this strategy for years:

* Perimeter security fencing (some with zone alarms).

* CCTV camera systems (many with motion detection).

* Physical guarding services.

These often work in combination and have fundamental weaknesses that we will explore. Some estates have historically spent enormous amounts of money on security and CCTV systems but have neither been able to crack down on incidents nor see any return on investment to measure their success.

Residents and homeowners associations (HOAs) are now fed up and are starting to ask hard questions about where their spend has gone.

The big five

1. Reliance on guards. Guards have two jobs to do. The first is observational, observe and report. The second is much more adrenaline pounding, fight or flight, respond, react, chase, apprehend. It is a lot like being an anaesthetist, 99% of the time work is the same old boring routine, but the last 1% is terrifying. Sadly, our brains are not designed to do the first part, the non-stimulating routine stuff, so we slip into what is called Theta frequency or meditative day dreaming It is completely normal.

So, the expense and reliance on humans to constantly monitor and detect threats either by watching a screen or patrolling a fence is a big mistake. Even the military is automating its guarding these days.

The solution is to take that same budget and use it to implement an E-guarding system that detects incidents before they happen, a system that continuously observes and monitors 24/7 in all conditions, taking all the pressure off the guards. It has proven itself over and over and makes complete financial sense. Now your guards have a real job to do, they will know exactly what to respond to and when.

2. Beams, walls and fences (with zoning). It is astounding how much estates can spend on this. Walls get higher, fences get doubled and budgets go up. Here I see the problem as follows: the fence/wall in itself now becomes a barrier that needs to be armed because it cuts visibility and needs to be protected as an asset itself. Security staff often rule out threats, underestimating the odds of penetration.

Further, often sections are zoned or have beams, alerting the control room when triggered. This is crazy. Guards rush to a zone that has gone into alarm with no information at all to use, it is much like a beam or sensor going off at home…what was it, a dog, people, how many, going in or going out, or just a false alarm? It is critical that zones or beams can give information to the response guys to verify, and the proven way to do this is through video so that they know exactly what is happening and how to react. It is very simple these days to connect fence inputs and beams to camera inputs that trigger the video at the same time, simple and worthwhile.

3. Streaming CCTV video cameras (with motion detection). I have seen it time and again, some poor operator sitting in a control room staring blankly at 120 (very impressive looking) camera images with a job description that gets him fired if someone gets past a camera and he does not pick it up.

Now, add motion detection to this scenario. The HOA decides to spend budget to help detection by adding software that picks up movement. I know of one customer that has exactly this and dealt with on average 2500 false alarms per night. And that is not unusual. It does not work.

The solution is proper video analytics. Make sure you can give each of your cameras a real job description. So many companies claim that they can do this and it is a dangerous claim. It is relatively simple to analyse video data from a CCTV camera, work out that something is moving and box it, but it creates havoc for controllers due to false alarms. This is where analytics is really put to the test, it should only report when an alarm is real. So make sure you know what you are buying and get to see it working in all conditions first.

4. Complex networks = error prone systems. Running a network, whatever type it is, outdoors over a 7 km stretch that combines electric fences, zones, sensors, CCTV cameras, guard check systems, power sources and whatever else an estate may have chosen for security is a nightmare to install and maintain. There is just too much that can go wrong, especially with an IP camera system (not to mention an HD camera system which quadruples the problem). You see, IP was not designed to carry video. It was designed to send spreadsheets at most. So, trying to stream 120 cameras from all over the place back to one point where one collects and processes video is not smart. If something goes wrong anywhere, it is going to quickly bring the system down. Also, video is going to be affected by anything that happens between the camera and the server (the head end).

Sadly many estates that have decided to invest in great technology have spent as much on their infrastructure and backbone as they have on the system. It does not need to be this way.

The solution is smart camera systems with internal storage that process video at the pole. By moving as much processing and storage as possible away from the head end to the camera makes it 90% lighter on the network and dramatically reduces network traffic, bandwidth requirements and overall infrastructure costs. Best of all, even if your network is down your cameras are not.

5. Total cost of entry and ownership. If you add up all the budgets associated with the four points above you will quickly find that many estates have been burned and have spent vast amounts on fences, systems and networks that have not solved their problem. So many technologies and suppliers have over promised and under delivered, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of homeowners. Bad news gets around fast and sometimes this can affect not just the morale of the community, but can also impact on the market value of properties in the estate.

The solution is that HOAs and estate managers should not believe that they cannot afford the best technology. It is time to think differently about this challenge and shift our approach completely. It is simple. Take the overall annual spend on guarding as well as the budget for technology and roll them into one. Then, with a clean sheet, re-allocate and you will find that it all adds up fine. In fact, I will bet that there are probably some significant savings with a better solution overall.

So, speak to other estates that have been successful and find out how they have done it. Ask to visit sites and see for yourself what can be done. Do not overspend on stuff that is not core to a solution, like expensive robust networks or software that has not proven itself. Finally, do not buy until you have seen a solution working on your site at 3 am in pouring rain on a windy night. Then you will know you are covered.

For more information contact VideoIQ Africa, 0861 VIDEOIQ,,

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