One In the Same
Reliable, easy-to-use security technology in demand
- By Travis McGee
- Feb 05, 2007
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
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
"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
"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.
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
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.