On the Fence
Why IP video is more relevant for border surveillance; open architecture opens the way
- By John Merlino
- Apr 01, 2017
Pending legislation on immigration presents a prime
opportunity for government agencies to rethink how
to use technology to mitigate risks at our borders and
key entry points. Like the Rapid Fielding Initiatives
deployed by the Army to address the immediate and
critical need for more hardened body and vehicle armor to protect
our troops, border agencies need to find ways to shorten the evaluation
and procurement curve to more quickly deploy technologies
that can combat the many challenges they face. With more than 7,000
miles of border to patrol, it’s clear that surveillance technology can
serve as an essential force multiplier. But what kind of surveillance
technology would do the most good? And how can we value-engineer
those solutions to address future threats without putting more stress
on taxpayers and federal funding initiatives?
Acknowledging the Limits of Analog
Traditional analog solutions often fall short in meeting the dynamic
demands posed by open stretches of land and marine borders. DVRbased
storage is prone to failure, leaving agencies with dangerous
gaps in coverage and the burden of replacement costs.
The average video quality captured by analog cameras often
makes it difficult to identify known terrorists or other individuals of
interest on government watch lists. And most importantly, since the
technology isn’t network-based it’s difficult to retrieve and share relevant
video in a timely manner, which can seriously hamper response
time to threats.
Why IP Video is More Up to the Task
IP video, on the other hand, excels in the very areas where analog
comes up short. Instead of DVR storage that has finite capacity and
must be retrieved manually, IP video streams across existing network
infrastructure to cloud storage or a server farm in a data center. The
digitally formatted, open-protocol video data can then be shared remotely
across multiple authorized agencies from any secure device
with a browser—a desktop, laptop or mobile device such as a smartphone
or smart tablet.
To ensure recording continuity, many IP cameras even support
onboard memory cards for failover in case of network outages. To
save on bandwidth consumption and storage, IP cameras support a
number of compression standards—from Motion JPEG to extremely efficient H.264.
Image clarity is another area where IP
video cameras excel. HDTV resolution cameras
(780p and 1080p) as well as multi-megapixel
cameras give border agencies a level
of detail that far exceeds traditional analog
cameras. Digital zoom capabilities further
enhance image acuity without pixelization.
Both of these features are critical when trying
to identify and pursue individuals and
objects approaching our borders.
But perhaps the most powerful aspect of
IP video is its open standards architecture.
The technology can be integrated with other
systems—including ground-based radar,
airborne drones, fence controls, etc.—on
an aggregated sensor collection platform to
enhance border security and provide a common
This supports cross-agency exchange of
vital data and delivers more comprehensive
situational awareness to help border agencies
achieve their objectives. An open architecture
approach also allows third party
developers to add sophisticated video analytics
to the video management system that
can send real-time alerts to border agencies
to help them forestall potentially threatening
Baseline analytics today include motion
and audio detection and various flavors of
perimeter and cross-line detection. These
analytics can be tied to geo-spatial mapping
programs to automatically stream video to
remote agents or surveillance drones to help
them locate the source of an event. This creates
a level of integrated domain awareness
that cannot be achieved with proprietary
Getting the Right Information
to the Right People
Analytics allows users to quickly sift through
countless hours of video to access what is
most relevant. One of the most useful analytics
for checkpoints is license plate recognition
which can scan hundreds of thousands
of vehicles and compares them against a
watch list database in real time.
Forensic retrieval analytics allow agents
to define search parameters—such as a certain
type of vehicle or anyone wearing specific
attire. The application then retrieves all
video that matches that information. This
was how government agencies were able to
process thousands of hours of video from
multiple sources which ultimately led to the
identification and capture of the Boston
Analytics like heat mapping, dwell time
and facial cataloguing already assist the retail
industry in tracking customer behaviors
and alerting security to suspicious shoppers.
That same kind of business intelligence in
the hands of government agencies can be tailored
to forewarn frontline patrols and identify
potential threats to our borders.
A More Cost-effective
Future for Border
The total cost of ownership for non-adaptive
DVR and analog solutions often surprises
end users. In addition to replacing DVR devices
every few years due to wear and tear, the
proprietary nature of the technology leads to
gaps in sharing information and forces reliance
on inadequate, older technology.
A more practical solution would be to
rely on onboard memory cards. Not only
does this robust edge-based technology provide
resilience and continuity of operation in
the field, it can reduce the overall footprint
of the solution and thereby its total cost of
ownership. When you add video analytics to
the edge, cost of ownership drops even further
since you’re offloading processing overhead
and energy cost at the data center while
realizing the benefits of adaptive technology
that is less likely to become obsolete.
In fact, future-proofing border surveillance
solutions is the foremost driver for the
adoption of IP technology. Even more important
than cost-efficiencies is how these
advanced analytics tools not only help border
agencies better manage and respond to threats
in the current environment, but are also capable
of quickly adapting to future changes that
might occur in the threat landscape.
Fast Tracking Adaptive
We’re no longer in a world where a single vendor’s
solution can address all possible contingencies
nor can we afford to lock ourselves
into solutions that aren’t dependable and
adaptive over the long haul. This realization
is leading federal agencies to recognize the
benefits of adopting a best-of-breed mentality
when procuring surveillance technology.
Sourcing solutions based on open architecture
accomplishes a number of objectives.
It decreases the odds of obsolescence
because agencies can add on ever-more
sophisticated features, such as intelligent
analytics, to ensure that the solutions they
put in place today remain relevant as new
threats arise to challenge our country’s security.
And lastly, it allows agencies to fast
track procurement because adaptive platforms
built on proven IP components can be
more rapidly fielded, giving border agencies
the contemporary tools
they need right NOW to
defend our borders.
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Security Today.