Body-worn cameras (BWC) have been available for some time, but are usually associated with police services or security operators that are active in public areas. The benefits of these devices is that operators have video from every situation, clearly demonstrating who did and said what. For those cameras that are connected in real time to a control room, it offers operators the ability to manage a situation by dispatching additional resources, be it armed response or medical services.
Many of these cameras have additional functionality, such as the ability to record on the device or stream live footage to a control room, provide the location of the wearer and so forth. But are these devices suitable for an estate environment as well? After all, an estate is where people live and would want to feel relaxed and at home, not under constant watch.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked a few BWC vendors for their insights into whether these devices are suitable for estate security, as well as what is on offer today. Our participants are: Forbatt SA, Jaco Nel from Vantage MDT, Kevin Croft from Starbase, and Shaun Stanley from Doculam.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What do body-worn cameras add to the guarding function in residential estates, assuming you think they add value in this type of environment?
Croft: BWC add a number of advantages to residential estate guarding. Firstly, many complaints (from residents or visitors) are in the form of a ‘he said, she said’ argument. And while many of the guard houses have CCTV cameras, these are not able to record audio. Using a BWC allows for the recording of both audio and video directly from the guard’s point of view.
Secondly, many of these guards are required to do patrols around the estate. Having a BWC on them during these patrols allows them to collect evidence immediately in the event that they discover something unusual. In many cases, security guards are accused of looting a scene before reporting it to their superiors. Wearing a BWC can confirm whether or not this actually happened.
Lastly, BWC footage can help supplement access control data to confirm identities of anyone going onto and leaving the estate. This is extremely useful in determining who may have been involved in an incident.
Forbatt SA: The BWC is becoming more important to security in residential estates. Compared to fixed cameras, the BWC is more flexible in its ability to deal with all kinds of emergency issues, such as stealing, disruptions, fighting etc. Security guards wearing these cameras can attend an event and record photos and videos for evidence, but there are also more functions available in today’s BWC.
Nel: BWC improve evidence collection at the scene of a crime or incident. This means that complaints against guards can be better investigated and the visual evidence is proven to improve conduct by both guards and civilians – control rooms can recognise behavioural patterns with guards and ensure better training.
Stanley: They are absolutely useful. Often you will find confrontational situations where residents blame security personnel for mistreating them or handling a situation incorrectly. The footage captured on the body worn cameras allows the management of the security company and residential estate to obtain a factual account of each event.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: As with any other technology, there are cheap BWC and there are good BWC. What does an estate manager or estate security manager need to look for when considering BWC? What are ‘must-have’ benefits and technologies in a BWC, and what are nice-to-have extras?
Nel: For the South African environment, a compact BWC is the best solution. Some BWC have a combination of different components (camera, separate microphone etc.), and the risk of failure is much greater. Quality can be an issue and I would suggest any company purchasing several BWC to test the product first. A good quality BWC will have an IP68 rating and should pass a drop test.
The must-have benefits would be the ability of the BWC to record a full shift, record audio and video, have infrared night vision, be able to take pictures and have GPS tracking integration which is synchronised with the video footage.
The nice-to-have extras, which could also be essential for certain estates, would be the ability to dial into the BWC from a control room through the 3G/4G module and a panic button. These features do increase the price somewhat.
Croft: Must-haves include password protected media and ideally internal (inaccessible) storage. They must also be built tough so they don’t break when dropped. Data removal also needs to be as easy as possible. Ideally, the guard should be able to drop the camera into a docking station which will charge it and download the media files automatically.
Nice-to-haves include infrared night vision (if intended to be used at night time), real-time live viewing and a built-in screen to review files on the camera itself.
Stanley: After introducing one of the first body-worn cameras to the South African market four years ago, there has been an influx of various models and makes of cameras, from online businesses offering a range of cheap cameras to the manufacturers around the world approaching the SA market directly. Considering it took the USA and the UK more than a decade to go through this learning processes, I believe South Africa is in its infancy and customers are easily mislead when making a purchase. The key components to making a decision on a BWC is quality of image, quality of battery life, firmware and device protection from operators. Then you need to look at the software platform for management of footage, protection of footage and storage of footage. Then consider the quality of the internal components of the camera and the after sales service from the company offering these solutions.
Forbatt SA: Kedadcom provides two options for BWC camera, one is a Wi-Fi model, the other is Wi-Fi and 3G/4G model. The choice depends on whether you have Wi-Fi coverage over the whole estate. We also recommend ensuring you have audio and video recording and snapshot functions.
The nice-to-have extras are the touchscreen for easy operation, IP67 and drop-proof protection in case of different kinds of unexpected situations, and a panic button for popping up the alarm video in the control room.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: How do BWC send data to control rooms (Wi-Fi/3G/GPRS/etc)? Is it necessary to have on-device storage or can everything be transmitted in real time?
Croft: In an ideal world, the cameras would automatically send the data to the control room via Wi-Fi (much cheaper) or via the cellphone data network. However, this isn’t currently possible in South Africa due to the limited network coverage and the high cost of data. Therefore, it is imperative that data is stored locally on the camera itself.
Live viewing is a different story, however. Although it does face the same challenges as wireless data transfer, the requirements for uninterrupted data transfer are much lower. With our live view model, there is only data transfer at the point where the control room has logged into the camera (saving unnecessary costs).
All that being said, live view is more likely to be relevant to other security situations (armed response, metro police, special forces units etc). For residential guarding, the most likely scenario that would require live view is for checking up on guards to ensure they are carrying out their duties correctly.
Nel: Data can be transmitted to the control room via USB cable, wireless or 3G/4G. The on-device, storage is necessary for full shift recording. As with all camera solutions, the 3G/4G option is great for proactive intervention or monitoring from a control room in real time, but can become very expensive through GPRS networks and many BWC on one site using wireless can create a bottle neck on the network. It would be best to use the 3G/4G option for the panic button and proactive monitoring.
Stanley: WiFi/3G/GPRS/etc. are all features currently available in some models of cameras, but I would be very reluctant to say that there are many products that are market ready. Although cloud storage is available in your higher-end cameras, very few institutions, especially law enforcement agencies are willing to outsource their storage due to confidentiality. Residential estates and their guarding companies would more than likely feel the same way for fear of repercussions and invasion of privacy lawsuits should footage be made public.
Devices that have real-time streaming capabilities also have built-in storage capabilities, the user has a choice of both options but would need to decide on a data storage procedure. If customers are wanting to live stream from an officer wearing a camera, data charges would become a factor for consideration as charges are high and clients would need to factor this into their decision-making process. The use of Wi-Fi can reduce this somewhat, but would be relevant to each application and the availability of Wi-Fi. It is however a great function to have available in a camera.
Forbatt SA: It is absolutely necessary to remotely access the BWC from the control room to view a situation in real time so that the operators can guide the guards in each situation and call for backup if necessary. Real-time video is delivered to control room via Wi-Fi/3G/4G. Kedacom offers its own protocol with auto video adjustment technology to deliver better video even in areas of poor bandwidth.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Do BWC store and/or transmit only video or is other data recorded as well – such as GPS coordinates, audio etc.? What does your range of BWC offer in terms of data that can be recorded or transmitted?
Stanley: Our entry level model allows our customers to capture and store an HD quality visual and audio file, which is stored on a device and then transferred via manual download to a software package which will then be stored on an external hard drive or server. The high-end cameras can perform these functions and have the ability to stream images to devices or cloud software through Wi-Fi or 3G communications. Some can be integrated to some of the more popular video management systems.
Forbatt SA: All Kedacom BWC, no matter which transmission mechanism is chosen, can store and transmit video, audio and GPS coordinates. When an emergency occurs, the control room can check the positions of security guards on a map and then can communicate with other security guards via audio and direct them to the site.
Nel: Our BWC will store and transmit video, audio and GPS coordinates. A distress signal can also be transmitted via the panic button.
Croft: All units are able to record both video and audio together. Our mid and top-end units also store GPS information (which is displayed on a Google Maps interface). Our top-end unit both stores and transmits video, audio and location data so the control room operator can assist the guard in the best way possible.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What BWC do you supply and what are the main features of your range? What accessories do you supply – such as battery chargers, video download options etc.?
We offer the following:
• Qualcomm 8 core 1.5 GHz processor with a customised android OS,
• IP67, waterproof, dust-proof, 2-metre drop protection,
• KTWP protocol for improved 3G/4G/Wi-Fi transmission,
• 13 MP snapshot resolution, IR and LED light for night monitoring, 2 MP video recording,
• 2.2-inch touch screen display, and
• GPS positioning function, panic button/ important files tag button.
The accessories include earhook cameras and button cameras. The docking station is also the recommended option for video, audio and snapshot downloading, and it supports up to 24 slots for BWC for simultaneously auto charging, auto upgrading, auto time sync and auto uploading of video, audio and snapshots. It also can be used to manage the users for each BWC.
Nel: We supply the Along range of BWC. The main features are:
• IP68 rating and 2 m shock resistant,
• Wide-angle camera view,
• GPS built in,
• 3G/4G transmission,
• Wireless transmission,
• Infrared for night vision,
• Video and audio recording,
• Panic button,
• 12-hour recordings, and
• The ability to rotate or change batteries.
We supply batteries, chargers, clips, belts and car kits for mounting. We also offer a portable data station for 8 or 20 cameras where footage can be downloaded and the units charged simultaneously. The stations offer a 7-inch or 17-inch LCD for viewing footage.
Croft: We have four units on offer at the moment. Our entry level model is the E8 which includes all the standard BWC features one would expect (audio/ video recording, photograph capture, IR night vision, white light, laser guided recording). This unit has an interchangeable battery and comes with a spare battery and a charging unit.
Our most popular unit is the X2. This unit has all the features of the E8 but comes with a built-in battery that is capable of recording for up to 10 hours. These two units are also compatible with small external lenses. These lenses are useful in situations like VIP protection (where the cameras need to be less conspicuous). They are, however, not intended to be used as ‘spy wear.’
The next model is an X4. This is similar to the X2, however it includes a built-in GPS. The top of the range model is an X6. This camera has a full set of connectivity including Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth and GPS all built into the camera.
The software to manage the downloading and storage of media is included with our cameras (at no extra charge) and we offer a 10-camera docking station (for charging and downloading media).
Stanley: Doculam supplies the Watchdog body worn cameras which include:
• 32G/64G built-in storage capacity,
• 8-hours of battery life,
• A 30-second pre-record function to protect an officer who is taken by surprise,
• Photo snapshot for evidence purposes,
• Officer protect passwords,
• Setting protection on the devices to prevent tampering, and
• Our software platform for file storage and organisation.
Accessories include a variety of mounting options, including a chest harness and in-car mount, a single or 8-port docking station for charging and image download, charging connectors for desktop and mobile applications. Our top-end range, which will be available soon, will feature all the above and include Wi-Fi, 3G/4G, GPS for live streaming and software with both stand-alone and cloud storage capabilities.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What back-end does your system require? Do you offer a ‘full solution’ including storage and software, or can your systems be integrated with third-party management platforms?
Croft: Our software back-end will run on any Windows 7 or later computer. We don’t dictate which storage system to use as all our customers have vastly different requirements. It can, however, be as simple as a laptop with and internal hard drive (for small numbers of cameras) and adding an external hard drive for larger numbers of units. Our management software can also be set to upload the files to an FTP server for an additional backup.
Third-party applications are capable of being integrated into system as the operating system on the cameras is similar to that of an open source mobile phone. We haven’t had to do anything like this to date, however, because the standard system is sufficient to cover most of our clients’ needs.
Nel: We offer a complete solution. Our software does not require licensing and is purchased with the hardware. Our system can be integrated with third-party management platforms and vice versa.
Stanley: The back-end will depend on the application. Standalone systems come with software and are downloadable to a hard drive or external server for storage and file management purposes. If you are looking for cloud reporting, this is available with some brands of camera, which will also allow you to link direct to your own existing server – which will require integration. There is a possibility for unique third-party integration, but you would normally find most development has been done around your more popular VMS platforms. All custom third-party applications would require development and integration with the involvement of developers.
Forbatt SA: Kedacom offers the full solution including all the hardware and software. This includes the BWC and its management software for configuration or footage download, a central management VMS and client software, central storage (IPSAN), and the docking station. We also offer a NVR for the medium to small solutions like residential estates. The NVR provides ONVIF functionality to access the third-party management platforms.
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