Covering All Ground

Video surveillance stays on guard at shopping centers

New video surveillance technologies reduce mall managers' dependence on costly security guards, minimize false alarms and capture important details. Although theft is an important reason to have a video system, it is not the only issue for a shopping center.

Video also eliminates the payouts of fraudulent slips and falls, a major liability concern of retail outlets. It lets shoppers know they are protected, which is why so many mall operators prioritize the parking lot when developing their video systems. Managers and security staff also can use the cameras to spot traffic tie-ups or other problems in and around the mall.

Typical Shopping Mall Video Systems

Dome cameras are strategically placed to cover all common areas. In most cases, the dome system switches automatically between a color mode for daytime use and a more sensitive monochrome made for nighttime viewing.

This lets one camera provide around-the-clock surveillance, reducing equipment and maintenance costs. Fixed cameras are typically used in various service areas, including loading docks, restrooms and emergency exits.

In addition to increasing security, mall managers often use the system to monitor essential areas and ensure certain mall operations are running smoothly. For example, cameras can watch cleaning crews and staff to maintain the integrity of the mall, fixed cameras placed at escalators minimize liability issues, and a camera in front of the mall monitors the valet service and ensures streets are kept clear.

Cameras also can record cars entering and exiting while monitoring parking deck capacity. If a car needs to be towed, records show whether the car has been there for five minutes or an hour. In the event of an incident, staff also can zoom in on a license plate.

With a surveillance system and a digital DVR, the manager in the back office can view any camera or play back any image at any time, as well as send images over the Internet.

With traditional cameras, outdoor details can often be overpowered by bright light, making it difficult for security personnel to see inside trucks at loading docks or what's going on inside an entrance. Headlights make it nearly impossible to see license plates in the parking deck.

New digital cameras display perfect picture quality equal to the human eye. For example, motion adaptive DNR takes dark images and makes them clear. Digital image stabilization removes the blurs of motion, providing a crisp still image. Today's digital cameras also incorporate a low-light noise-reduction and color-suppression function. Their extended dynamic range feature corrects the problems of darkness and brightness, which render images unreadable. Wide dynamic range provides clear images even under backlight, removing glare problems.

Such technology increases exposure in shadowed areas and decreases exposure in bright areas, delivering a light-corrected image that shows crucial details clearly. It even adjusts for different lighting conditions within the same image.

While ordinary surveillance cameras are affected by glare, refl ections, backlighting and shadows that obscure important details, new camera technologies let users see everything. When installed in a mall lobby, security staff can see clear images of people's faces, even if the afternoon sun or bright refl ections shine right into the camera.

Megapixel Cameras in Entrances, Parking Lots

If the main goal of a camera is to capture a face at the entrance or a license plate in the parking lot, its objective is to produce a clear image. Without clarity, neither facial nor license plate recognition software can be effective.

That is why most shopping centers are selecting megapixel cameras, which provide higher-resolution progressive-scan images, instead of analog PTZ, which provide lower-resolution interlaced-scan images, or even standard digital IP PTZ cameras, for these locales.

The picture quality advantages of megapixel network cameras benefit shopping centers in several ways. In some applications, a megapixel network camera can cover the same area as other cameras but with an improved level of picture quality. For instance, almost everyone is familiar with images captured by CCTV systems in which the quality is so poor that little can be determined from the recording and, all too often, no positive identification is possible.

Megapixel network cameras solve this disadvantage by producing increased resolution and clarity. For example, a high-resolution analog camera provides a resolution of 704x480 while the megapixel camera provides a resolution of 1,280x1,024, a significant difference. In other applications, megapixel cameras cover a wider area than standard CCTV cameras. This means a shopping center can install a megapixel camera with four times the resolution of a standard camera or even a 3.1 megapixel camera with 10 times the resolution of a standard camera.

Shoppers Want to Know They Are Safe

To alert workers and shoppers that a surveillance system is watching over them, many shopping centers display live video on a large screen, which allows people to see themselves on the monitor. A video wall is easy to set up and can be used for multiple purposes.

When not showing surveillance video, these monitors can display a variety of advertising and multimedia messages. These professional monitors differ from standard TVs because their screen protection techniques can display information without the possibility of screen burn.

Leveraging the Advantages of Remote Monitoring

By tying a surveillance system into the Internet, a shopping center can share its video with the local police and allow authorities to access certain cameras, as well as PTZ from dispatch, and respond quickly when needed. In other cases in which remote monitoring is not an option, shopping center security staff can send video to the police so they can respond quickly, knowing exactly where they have to go and with what they are dealing with.

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