It is no secret that false alarms are one of the biggest headaches presented by electronic security systems. At the very least, they are an annoyance to business and homeowners, not to mention a drain on reaction companies’ time and manpower. Video verification is emerging as one of the most potent weapons in the fight to eliminate (or at least reduce) false alarms.
“Video verification allows a customer or a security company to verify an event or intrusion that took place at a home or business,” explains Wynand Beneke, managing director at Videofied SA. “99.9% of all alarms generated by intrusion detection systems on the market today are false/nuisance alarms. Security companies do not have to respond to these if they have a way of verifying that it was only a dog or a bird that caused the event. This allows them to focus on the positive activations and prioritise their response to verified alarms.
“Human nature is a powerful thing, and when security officers respond to false alarms at the same site over and over every day, they become complacent. This carries over to all the other 99.9% of false alarms and the poor officer never knows when he is faced with a real threat. Video verification eliminates all of this, by giving priority to positive events and sharing the correct information to the armed response officer. Video verification is definitely growing and more people see the value of priority response over the normal blind reactions.”
Video verification comes in many forms and sizes, ranging from large to small CCTV systems or conventional alarm systems with built-in video verification. Most systems on the market have their own proprietary software, but local alarm monitoring software packages are starting to cater for different brands and software packages to be integrated onto their own platform.
“This makes it ideal as all communication to the control room operator takes places at one single station,” says Beneke. “Standalone video verification systems make it easier for the control room to do video verification. The current infrastructure of the control room is equipped to change all of its existing customer base to video verification, whereas CCTV-like systems would rely on more and more staff with bigger fibre pipelines as the client base switches to video.”
While the industry is moving toward adopting video verification solutions, it is a big ship to turn and will still take some time to change, in Beneke’s view. “The market is seeing new options with lots of innovative ways of applying old and new equipment to do video verification,” he says. “Most security companies are attempting some form of video verification, but not all of them are able to scale the solution to customers.
“CCTV-type video verification needs larger infrastructure and manpower to monitor, and is not easy to scale with the current state of online communication in South Africa. It is very challenging to implement some sort of video verification in every home and business in this country.”
It is, however, possible to take advantage of existing kit to add video verification in some form at any customer, he continues. “If he has an alarm then he can add a CCTV system with remote access for the armed response to view the site. We at Videofied have launched our new priority response add-on kit which can be connected to any existing alarm system. This allows the user to still use his current system with remotes and keypads, but with the added benefit of video verification without having to replace his system or add expensive CCTV equipment.”
What you want and what you need
“Home users are all following the masses and think that what they want for security is to get footage on their phone so they can do self-monitoring with this footage. We are completely against self-monitoring solutions,” states Beneke. “What good is a video on your phone when you are in a meeting, sleeping or in the shower? Will you be acting as your own armed response; how fast is your car, are you carrying a firearm and is it worth it?
“What users need is for the footage to go to an armed response company that can act efficiently on the information provided. This is real security with priority response – no longer do they have to go out to false events but only react with multiple vehicles to positive incidents, saving time and lives.”
Video verification relies on a couple of factors to be effective and to add value to a security solution. The first is electrical power, as without it video verification will not work. “How many homeowners can run generators and UPS systems at home to provide additional power for the security system?” Beneke poses. “Your video verification system can be disabled with a flick of a switch on the outside at your power meter box. Most of these boxes are not even locked, providing easy access to the power supply to your property.
“The second challenge is the communication network. It is suggested that you have a good copper or fibre line to have the most effective video verification solution. Well, I have no doubt that the network infrastructure in this country will improve, but at the current state it is not ideal. Many homes do not have high-speed copper or fibre lines – this could be due to lack of infrastructure, theft of cables or any other reason. The network at the control room is also crucial: the more customers you have the bigger the network pipeline has to be, making it more difficult to scale the solution to all customers.”
Videofied SA has looked at the challenges and has developed an advanced system that can run for up to a year on its own battery backup without the need to charge the batteries. “This is ideal for those problematic power cuts. Our system also does not rely on any hardware infrastructure but can be used for a backup solution and have two mediums of communication. Videofied is also ideal for the control room infrastructure as the current control room can change all of its sites to video verification without adding any additional staff or network capabilities.”
Value through integration
Sentian, a Cape Town-based developer, takes a different approach, one that is more hands-on and offers a different value proposition. “There are lots of remote monitoring sites in Cape Town as well as in Johannesburg (the two areas Sentian is currently concentrating on), which essentially entails manual video verification,” explains co-founder, Tigue Little. “It’s all well and good for those who can afford to spend a couple of grand a month on a video verification service, but there are many who simply want to receive an alarm signal and access their cameras to verify what’s happening on site, and aren’t willing to spend that much for it. That’s essentially where we come in.”
Little believes Sentian’s solution offers a lower barrier to entry as well as features not available in some of the closed systems that are available. “You’ve got some systems where you get sensors that have a camera built into them. That hardware approach works to a degree, but generally it’s got a lot of limitations and is quite pricey because every single sensor has to have a camera on it. Also, it’s not a normal CCTV camera, so it might only send through ten snapshots of what triggered the sensor. Those sensors are traditionally internal only, so that’s fine for indoor sensors but you don’t have the functionality that is standard with CCTV,” he states.
Sentian’s biggest differentiator is the fact it’s built from the ground up to integrate with commercial hardware available on the open market, and supports features like local archived footage, event based video search, high-definition video and cloud storage. Instead of being limited to only the baked-in functionality of a particular piece of hardware, it can take advantage of the feature set of each piece of equipment, such as infrared cameras and the likes.
The Sentian system captures a 12-second clip of each incident – six seconds before and six seconds after an alarm is triggered – and pushes the clip to the user so they can view it through an app on their smart connected device. They can then access the video feed and stream it in real-time as well as have it stored in the cloud.
The plummeting prices of entry-level CCTV cameras makes this solution attractive not only in the home security market, but also in commercial applications like farms and warehouses, where Little says it is gaining traction. “When we started this five years ago it was typical to spend R1000 on a camera, now you can sell an HD 720p camera for R300 and still be making a 100% margin on it.
“What we’ve banked on and what we find is not only cheaper for the client but gives them a lot more functionality, is having CCTV but linking to as many sensors as possible. Our typical install will have six to eight cameras that cover the perimeter and you can have as many sensors as you want linked to one camera, which represents a big saving,” he says.
On a case-by-case basis, Sentian can also integrate its system with an armed response company’s control room, in order to give them access to the same captured video clip as the client receives.
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