One In the Same

Reliable, easy-to-use security technology in demand

AS security issues continue to filter down through the American educational landscape, almost all educational institutions are responding to the need for security. From small, rural public schools to large universities, advanced security technologies are being applied in waves.

With the trend seeing no end in sight, it has become clear what schools are looking for in security systems: high performance value, advanced technology, reliability, robustness and ease of use. All of these issues factor into the choices being made at schools across the country, with each facility placing a higher priority on certain factors over others.

Reliability is an issue central to the growth of security technologies at all levels since a system must work at all times.

Take the University of Florida. Officials have a large campus to keep under surveillance with a technical staff and sought-after technology. One of those technologies is an enterprise-level DVR, providing high-quality images and cascading units connected together. The DVR runs high-level software to ensure steady growth as the system keeps up with the university itself. In fact, the school has a dedicated Safety and Security Department at the College of Veterinary Medicine to evaluate and implement various technologies. When the university first began revamping its entire system, 52 cameras were installed to cover offices, buildings and parking lots, which, in total, exceeds 200,000 square feet.

Security personnel wanted a DVR for network cameras to set picture resolution. Officials wanted individual settings for each camera input, so they chose the Mitsubishi DX-TL5000U and set speeds at 960 fps for live images and 240 fps for recorded images with each of the 16 video inputs on every DVR set individually.

Fixing the Issues
Though the university has a dedicated and trained staff, there were simple, overriding issues that needed to be addressed: reliability and ease of use. Reliability is an issue central to the growth of security technologies at all levels since a system must work at all times. The ease-of-use factor is equally important. Many facilities do not have highly trained operators, and those that do want to be able to set the units up for operation and plug-and-play afterwards. Certainly, these are concerns for large university installations and in small local elementary and secondary schools as well.

Schools Employ Security
In Madill, Okla., the middle school recently replaced an existing system that had suffered lightning damage. With insurance funds handling the cost, chief concerns for the small school became reliability and ease of use. John Carter, head of technology for the district, is based at the school and is the security system's main operator.

"We wanted to be able to hook a DVR up to our existing cameras, position it in our server room and be able to access pictures with the simplest interface," Carter said. "Because of the software application that came with our DVR, we are able to access the unit directly from our computers; it's very easy."

The system is comprised of 16 RIM cameras and a new DVR. Carter said the system expansion with the right choice of equipment has paid multiple dividends.

"We started out with cameras on our buses, and we felt that security measure was effective, if for nothing other than a deterrent," Carter said. "To extend our security plan to the school we consulted with a contractor, KGB Computing (now called Edge Systems Inc.), to work a detailed diagram of the school campus and determine camera placement. Then we did a demonstration test on which model of DVR to choose, keeping in mind our main goals -- that we wanted it to be reliable and easy to use."

At another small installation in Oklahoma, the Tishomingo High School principal spent more than a year researching available contractors and systems to ensure the school installed an easy-to-operate system at a high performance value.

With no previous security system, the high school started from scratch. Principal Leo McCallay said the school took note of security concerns across the country and felt the timing was right to implement a system that gave the school what it needed at an affordable and competitive price. After getting support from the superintendent, McCallay interviewed several different contractors to determine who would best provide a simple surveillance system. The contractor choice was based on products, price/performance factors and ease of use. The resulting system includes 16 Panasonic cameras and a Mitsubishi DVR.

"The software that we use is very user friendly," McCallay said. "It took only a couple of minutes to learn how to operate and navigate the system. And since it's Internet based, I can pull it up on my computer quickly. We've been happy with its performance."

The software allows access to live and recorded images remotely -- simultaneously, if needed. For more sophisticated operation, the system is capable of allowing full control and programming of the DVR remotely -- including everything from changing the quality of video images being recorded to what is recorded, along with motion detection and other features being a global software, it works with all Mitsubishi, networked, nine-to-16 camera DVRs, and provides the ability to access hundreds of DVRs translating into access of thousands of cameras. The software also features synchronized video and audio playback, live network audio, simultaneous connection of multiple DVRs for large installations and support of more PTZ protocols.

More Features
Though not implemented at the schools, networked surveillance systems are adding access control as a feature in sophisticated applications. With remote access being possible, there may be reasons a facility wants to restrict access to certain images from certain locales. The way to do this is to implement authorization codes, allowing only specific operators to log in at a specific location and access specific cameras recording to the DVR. Some operators, typically system administrators, will have global access to all images from any location. This keeps certain operation points from becoming crowded with extra personnel. For example, one location may be able to access live images, but not archived images. The possibilities for fine tuning is seemingly endless.

Ironically, as technology and performance capabilities continue to go up, prices come down on advanced security systems, which is making the technology available across all levels. Behind the scenes, what makes the products user friendly, reliable and simple is a vast and sophisticated research and development effort probing the boundaries of what the technology can do. Large companies like Panasonic bring imaging advancements mode in R&D.

Mitsubishi, a $30 billion international company, relies on Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL), the North American arm of its R&D effort. The purpose of the facility, located in Cambridge, Mass., is to generate intellectual property for the company and to extend the technology into the product groups within the company. Research efforts at MERL focus on five technology areas, including computer vision, featuring the observation of people in images; digital communications, featuring wired networks and wireless transmission; digital video, featuring encoding, decoding and analysis of video; off the desktop interaction and display, featuring novel devices and interface concepts; and sensor and data systems, featuring novel sensors, communication and system architectures. Each of the areas is then split up into two parts: the research lab and the tech lab.

What the Future Holds
Innovative products will take surveillance technology into the future. Surveillance techniques, such as 3-D face recognition, result from efforts at research and tech labs. Many feel 3-D facial recognition is not precise enough yet to be implemented across all levels of facilities, but work continues. Other ideas, however, may also bear fruit. Innovations like audio-visual event detection, camera network calibration, and object detection and tracking are showing great promise and, as the software improves, these features can be expected in future versions of DVR software. In the meantime, the lab develops software libraries relating to the research, which different divisions in the company have access to and can provide feedback on.

In the end, high-powered research finds its way into DVRs and cameras being installed today, whether in large corporate networks, world-class universities, or small rural middle schools. The aim, of course, is to make a small school or facility in a rural town as secure as the most sophisticated government facility in Washington. Whether the industry actually gets there remains to be seen, but it looks like the demand for easy to use, reliable, yet sophisticated security technology will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.

This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Security Products, pgs. 38-40.

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