Omniscient Security Video

Omniscient Security Video

Today’s all-seeing video surveillance systems offer dramatic improvements in situational awareness

Seeing what’s out there is the beginning of situational awareness. Over the years, video surveillance technology has steadily raised the level of situational awareness available to security teams, and today’s video technologies are pushing the envelope again. “Situational awareness is the ability to perceive your operational environment in such a way as to comprehend threats and opportunities so that appropriate action can be taken,” said Donald R. Zoufal, safety and security executive with Chicago-based SDI, a security systems integrator specializing in government, education, transportation, utilities and real estate facilities. “Different operations face different threats and vulnerabilities, and require different levels of situational awareness.”

An incident commander needs a total overview that is updated constantly. Then again, the security dispatcher working in the security center on a business campus must know where the security officers are, who is on patrol and where, and who is on break. Each security officer has his or her own requirements for situational awareness.

Today’s video tools enhance situational awareness for everyone by delivering more detailed, clearer video through megapixel cameras and by wirelessly sending quality video to smartphones and tablets carried by security officers across a property. Video analytics technology is enabling cameras to take over some of the monitoring tasks previously handled by security officers. Intelligent video systems don’t get tired or lose concentration. These tools are able to integrate with other physical security tools through physical security information management or PSIM software applications. Overall, these technologies make it possible for security to provide value to the business organizations being protected, which ultimately makes better security more affordable.

Megapixel Cameras See Farther, Better and Clearer

Megapixel cameras collect more information than conventional analog and digital cameras. Each megapixel contains one million pixels that can store image information. For example, a five-megapixel camera can store five million pieces of information about an image.

Megapixel images are also deep. A user can literally zoom into part of a picture—without a zoom lens—to study the details of a face or to check on an unauthorized vehicle. “The image quality of megapixel cameras has greatly increased the usefulness of video for a range of real-time and forensic uses,” said Zoufal. “For instance, at airport security checkpoints, people regularly claim that someone stole a wallet from a tray riding along the X-Ray machine’s conveyor. TSA discovered that megapixel cameras can produce video detailed enough and clear enough to follow a wallet from the time it is placed inside a tray until it is retrieved, making it possible to determine if such a claim is true or false—and if true, to respond.”

Megapixel cameras can provide situational awareness beyond security, as well.

“For example, if I’m paying a crew to clean an airplane between flights, I can use the security camera to make sure that service is provided in a timely way,” said Zoufal. “A supervisor can also monitor that camera to make sure the baggage handlers are taking reasonable care while loading luggage onto the plane.”

Send Video to Smartphones and Tablets

Dispatchers in security command centers can now capture video clips of incidents and send them over wireless networks to smartphones and tablets carried by officers in the field. Officers responding to incidents can review the video to ensure they are properly prepared for what they will encounter at the scene. That kind of situational awareness can be crucial to an officer’s safety.

“The megapixel images are not grainy or difficult to understand,” Zoufal said. “I can also push images or even streaming video out to the rest of the world. If something happens that the CEO or other company officer needs to know about, they can access that information in real time—expanding situational awareness beyond the security group.”

Anyone can simultaneously access the part of a megapixel image that interests him or her without sacrificing the overall image, all while supplying overall situational awareness.

“This ability is leading to more informed decisions and more effective responses,” Zoufal said.

Older PTZ systems cannot do that. If one person pushes in on part of the scene, everyone accessing the camera must look at that image. Nothing else is available, and overall situational awareness has been lost.

Smart Cameras that See and Tell

Video analytics programmed into a camera or a camera system can trigger an alarm if a camera sees certain images. For instance, airports have one-way corridors through which passengers exit from a terminal on their way to the baggage area. A video analytic can watch the corridor to make sure no one is going in the wrong direction—into the terminal. Should someone try to get into a terminal that way, the camera will trigger an alarm.

Analytics can sweep areas looking for abandoned packages, fights, people and areas where no one should be between certain times and more.

Video analytics have been around for a number of years, and have developed two reputations. Some security people complain that analytics produce too many false alarms, while others insist that they are effective in certain applications and thereby frees officers to handle other tasks. Who is right?

“Both sides are right,” Zoufal said. “You have to fit the application to your facility. An analytics application that produces a one percent false positive rate would alarm 10 times while viewing 1,000 people. That’s not bad. At a large airport, however, 100,000 people might pass through checkpoints every day. With that many people, a one percent false positive rate would produce 1,000 false alarms and keep a couple of security officers busy all day.

“The quality of video analytics has improved steadily over the years. The manufacturers know the problems and are working to solve them.”

Integrating Video with Other Physical Security Systems

The development of physical security information management or PSIM systems has enabled security centers to consolidate control of various security systems into a single computer application with a single control screen. A PSIM application might, for instance, produce a map of a facility showing the location of an access control door alarm. An officer monitoring this system could perhaps click on a camera icon near the location to bring up video showing the location.

“You can set the system to pull up video 15 seconds before an incident, making it possible to see what happened,” Zoufal said. “A PSIM system could track patrolling security officers and tell you where the nearest responder is.

“The idea of relating video systems to other systems like access control, pressure sensors, mapping systems and other physical security technology is a growing area and PSIM is a platform that enables this.”

While it is true that these four tools— megapixel cameras, wireless mobile video communication, video analytics and PSIM—have been around for several years, they have matured in their usefulness. Today, these tools can, alone or in combination, enhance the effectiveness of any security team that needs a higher level of situational awareness.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Security Today.

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