Guarding the Mainstream

Guarding the Mainstream

Remote video-guarding can actually improve overall security

It’s well-documented that effectively monitoring security cameras is difficult. Human operators routinely suffer from fatigue and lack of focus, even after short periods of time, which results in missed events. Even with increased manpower, the problems persist. As a result, video surveillance systems have largely become forensic tools that help organizations reconstruct an incident after it has occurred instead of preventing the incident from occurring—until now.

In the past several years the security industry has seen remote video-guarding emerge in the mainstream, helping transform video surveillance systems into proactive tools that can help prevent incidents. While many names have been used to describe this service, it’s important to understand how it’s different from traditional video guard tours and video escorts. Remote guarding is event-driven, relying on video analytics to notify a remote operator when a specific event has occurred—for instance, trespassing, loitering or crowd formation—instead of a schedule-based, periodic set of observations similar to video guard tours.

Event-driven systems are far more likely to catch the threat in real time, bringing attention to the right place at the right time.

With the emergence of remote guarding, small and medium-size businesses now have access to guard-caliber security at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, remote guarding can actually improve overall security. The result is better security at a lower cost, regardless of the size of the company.

What has changed over the past few years leading to the mainstream emergence of remote guarding? How is technology helping and what are the benefits to end users, integrators and monitoring companies?

What Has Changed?

Extensive installation and maintenance costs, along with an unpredictable falsealarm rate, have historically made video analytics a tool for only the largest and most advanced organizations. And while video analytics have been used to augment on-site guard forces and internal command centers, the high number of false alarms has, until now, prevented remote guarding stations from using it cost-effectively.

The introduction of advanced, adaptive analytics has dramatically reduced the false-alarm rate, making it possible for remote guarding companies to scale their operations cost-effectively. And by eliminating the need for user calibration, adaptive analytic systems are now as easy to install and maintain as are traditional, unintelligent systems without analytics. This eliminates another critical barrier for many mainstream customers: extensive installation and maintenance labor costs.

What Are Adaptive Analytics?

Adaptive analytics uniquely identify people, vehicles and boats by comparing multiple characteristics of an object’s appearance—texture, silhouette, unique visual features—with representations synthesized from a database of hundreds of thousands of examples of people, vehicles and boats in motion in all weather and lighting conditions.

By focusing on objects and classifying them based on multiple characteristics, adaptive analytics dramatically reduces system false alarm rates, allowing remote guarding companies to scale their operations efficiently. Adaptive analytics also eliminates the need to calibrate the system, in many cases making analytics systems as affordable as unintelligent systems without analytics while at the same time delivering better security than a guard, at a fraction of the cost.

Remote Guarding Costs

Remote guarding have evolved in the last several years, making the services affordable for mainstream customers.

Originally based on guard-tour and video-escort pricing, remote guarding services started out billing end users a fixed fee for every channel. But because guard tours and escorts are scheduled activities, with predictable operator times, the original fixed pricing model did not account for the variability in event-based activity that comes with video alarms. As a result, fixed pricing created a cost and profitability imbalance for early remote guarding companies— sites that had more activity, and therefore more events, produced the same amount of revenue even though they were more expensive for the remote guarding company to manage than sites without a lot of activity.

As a result, most monitoring companies today charge a modest monthly percamera fee that includes a fixed number of event responses. An event surcharge is then added for each alarm managed over the allotment included in the base monthly fee. While monthly fees and event surcharges vary, end users should budget approximately $25-100 per camera per month, depending on the size of the installation, included services and built-in event packages.

Some remote guarding companies have taken this a step further and offer tiered pricing depending on the analytic technology used at the site. For example, organizations that deploy analytic solutions recommended by their monitoring companies will often get lower monthly fees than a solution that was not selected by the monitoring company. The reason for tiered pricing is simple.

Regardless of whether an alarm is generated by a viable threat or whether it’s a false alarm from environmental noise, the cost to manage the event is nearly the same for the remote guarding company. Therefore, tiered pricing based on technology encourages integrators and end users to select the most accurate analytics technology available, not necessarily the cheapest. This results in the lowest total number of false alarms and therefore the lowest end user costs in the long run. So it’s important that:

  • Integrators and end users work closely with monitoring partners to select an appropriate analytic solution with the lowest possible false alarm rate for the customer’s environment; and
  • End users and integrators recognize that the cheapest analytics technology might not be the best choice in the long run because lower accuracy generates more false alarms and ultimately higher monitoring fees.

Measuring Payback, Savings

Remote guarding solutions are typically justified in one of three ways:

  • Loss prevention from ongoing theft and vandalism;
  • Reduction in guard force expenditures; or
  • Best-practice protection against catastrophic loss.

When implementing a remote guarding solution to eliminate ongoing theft and vandalism, or to reduce guard force expenditures, it’s important to examine both time to payback and annual savings. In both cases, time to payback is typically measured in months, not years, and annual savings can be tens of thousands of dollars. Here’s a realworld example.

A national auto parts salvage company recently deployed a remote guarding solution to combat organized theft. This auto salvage company stores damaged vehicles in open lots and auctions off high-value parts. With dozens of lots spread across North America ranging in size from four to 80 acres, the company’s physical assets are an ideal target for thieves. More specifically, the company found that some dismantlers who were entering their sites legally during business hours to look for parts were returning after-hours to steal those very same parts.

In an initial attempt to reduce loss, the company hired guards to patrol individual sites. But because its salvaged vehicles are stored in large, open facilities, even guards were ineffective at preventing thefts. The company finally turned to a remote guarding solution. By deploying an intelligent surveillance system with outsourced professional video guarding, the company was able to eliminate ongoing theft and its guard expenditure, which saved it tens of thousands of dollars a year and paid for the system in less than three months.

Recognizing the savings from preventing loss—stopping its theft problem— and reducing its guard force, this end user was able to calculate both time-to-payback (the period of time before the cost of the system and monitoring is completely offset by the avoided losses for the same period) and average annual savings to justify the system.

A third and final way customers are justifying remote guarding solutions is their ability to protect against catastrophic loss. For example, if an oil and gas, utility or communications provider suffers a breach at one of its main facilities, the service disruption could be catastrophic. Similarly, if a remote power substation or transportation line is taken out of service, what is the financial and public impact of the incident? With 24/7 monitoring and response capabilities, remote guarding organizations can provide any company with security that is better than guards alone, in any location.

Selecting a Provider

Over the past several years, a wide variety of remote guarding providers have emerged. When considering which partner is best for you and your end user, it’s important to understand several key factors about each provider’s operation:

  • What is the skill set of the partner’s typical operator? Does he or she have law enforcement training or physical guard experience? Because remote guards must be able to intervene and prevent an incident before it occurs, it is important to verify that a provider’s operators know how to respond appropriately on behalf of your end user, not just verify that an event is happening.
  • Does the provider have experience with analytics systems, not just performing guard tours and panic-button response? Because remote guarding relies on video alarms to identify events, it’s important that the remote guarding providers understand how best to work with you and your end user to apply analytics technology to meet their specific security needs. This includes selecting the proper analytics technology as well as setting appropriate expectations.
  • What types of customers does the remote guarding company serve? Different security environments require different responses. If your end user is a municipality or housing authority, find out whether a remote guarding provider has experience partnering with law enforcement. If your end user is an auto dealer, find out if the provider has delivered both security and customer service simultaneously to a single customer.
  • Does the remote guarding company reward you for your part of the solution? In contrast with the situation several years ago, most remote guarding providers now share recurring monthly revenue with their integrator partners. When developing an initial relationship with a provider, it is essential to establish an end user pricing and revenue-sharing model that will extend beyond the installation.
  • Who interacts with the end user? Because you are bringing your end users to the remote guarding partner, it is important to discuss and agree on a customer interaction model. While certain end users may want to communicate with only you, many end users will want to establish a relationship with the remote guarding provider—so establish clear guidelines and protocols upfront.

Because your reputation with the end user is dependent on the remote guarding partner you select, take the time to perform detailed reference checks, visit the partner’s facility if possible and establish the correct business relationship up front that fits both your needs and the needs of your end users.

What Does This Mean?

Remote guarding has become mainstream and beneficial for a wide variety of deployments. Adaptive analytics now make it possible for service providers to operate effectively and profitably by scaling their operations efficiently. And adaptive analytics have eliminated the need for users to calibrate systems, reducing installation risk and labor, and making it possible for most businesses to afford an intelligent, active system. When considering a remote guarding solution, be sure to:

  • Select the right remote guarding company—one that has highly trained operators with experience responding to events and with your types of customers;
  • Engage the remote guarding partner before selecting an analytic technology to ensure the lowest number of false alarms and therefore ultimately the lowest total solution cost; and
  • Select a remote guarding partner that allows you, the integrator, to share in the recurring monthly revenue.

The right remote guarding service provider can assist you and your end users with a cost-effective solution— delivering better protection than guards at a fraction of the cost.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Security Today.

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