Advancement from analog to digital technology and the introduction of sophisticated software is changing the concept of video surveillance. Better functionality, increased integration capabilities, faster retrieval, lowered storage costs and better utilisation of security resources are just some of the benefits.
The biggest driver, however, is the proven capability of these solutions to lower risk and increase the safety of staff and assets - intelligently.
Organisations want to increase safety and security, and boost response times to potentially hazardous situations. A primary benefit of digital video surveillance solutions is that they can now integrate seamlessly with access control systems, fire alarms and building management systems. Thus, an alarm originated by any one of these systems can immediately be monitored and actions can be taken to minimise risk intelligently.
For example, rather than simply opening all doors in a complex such as an airport in the case of a fire alert, an intelligent surveillance system that is integrated to the access control system can identify the source of the alarm as well as the immediate danger zones and open exit avenues to accommodate the situation.
Motion and behaviour - redefining risk detection, specialised software also enables organisations to look after defined areas in specific ways. Motion tracking and object behaviour algorithms enable security staff to specify what represents suspicious behaviour and handle only images where such behaviour occurs. The network will 'learn' a typical camera scene, enabling it to recognise and record anomalies, abnormal motions and unusual behaviours and send alarms. Advanced image analysis software can also be activated to search video for user-defined objects.
For example, if an item such as a briefcase (which could contain an explosive device) is left unattended or an object such as a painting or other valuable item is removed, alarms are triggered and certain actions, such as the locking or opening of doors, will be activated.
The technology must also monitor entrances, exits or thoroughfares, sending alerts when traffic flow changes or is unusual - ie, if an exit is used as an entrance or vice versa, or thoroughfares are subject to unusual or congested traffic flows. An intelligent surveillance system will thus be able to, for example, not only alert personnel to an intrusion but identify the direction from which an intruder entered a site and send alarms to notify the relevant security personnel.
Storage, retrieval, mobility boost
Reducing costs and speeding problem resolution, the storage and retrieval functionality in advanced digital systems has taken a quantum leap forward compared to analog methods. Compression algorithms allow more footage to be stored on hard drives and retrieval is a mouse click away. Images can now be stored on local HDDs, RAID 5, external RAID arrays and SANs, allowing customers to maximise their existing investment. In addition, database partitioning ensures storage hardware is maximised. Recordings of high-risk areas, for example, can be programmed to be kept for say 30 days, while data for lower risk is only saved for, say, seven days.
A key benefit is that digital CCTV systems are now IP ready. Specially designed for low bandwidth conditions with built-in Web servers, they enable viewing of live or recorded images (with audio) over a client device such as a PDA, allowing security staff freedom of movement and the ability to monitor situations as they develop. Staff can also control pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) functions on the cameras over a TCP/IP connection with an Internet Explorer Web browser.
Lowered risk and increased safety is priceless. The advantages of these systems over older analog solutions are clear and rapid adoption is expected over the next couple of years. Although a 'rip and replace' approach is sometimes the only answer, organisations can expect to see their investments break even over a two to four year period. While financial considerations are important, however, lowered risk and increased safety is priceless.
Neil Cameron is the systems divisional manager at Johnson Controls South Africa.
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