Lone Star Video
Investment in easy-to-use surveillance yields benefits throughout the stores
- By Del V. Salvi
- Dec 01, 2010
Management team members of the United Supermarkets
chain in north and west Texas are big
believers in the value of video surveillance, as
evidenced by their investment in the latest technologies
such as megapixel cameras and video
delivered to smart phones. The investment is providing big benefits
for the chain, and not just for loss prevention.
At United Supermarkets, video is a tool for almost every department,
from human resources and marketing to operations and risk
Helping to make video accessible and useful to the broad base of
users at the chain is NetDVMS enterprise-scale video management
software with Ocularis Client Lite from OnSSI and MobileCamViewer
software from mobiDEOS.
At 30 of the supermarket’s 50 stores, megapixel cameras networked
to a server provide high-resolution images of the cash registers
and guest service areas, and outdoor cameras see everything
that happens on the loading dock, in the parking lot or in back of
the building. The software enables managers and other staff to access
video from their desktop computers. Integration of the software
with a centralized mobile camera enterprise server running Mobile-
CamViewer software delivers streaming, high-quality video live to
any smart phone. Ease of use makes the system accessible to serve
various needs at the stores.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of time training users because it is
that simple to use,” said Todd Reynolds, United’s director of loss prevention.
“The software is user friendly, and yet it still has a complete
set of accessories and applications. It has all the detail and functions
you need. At our stores, the primary users of the system are not necessarily
trained security professionals.
“They may be store managers or various department managers,
or people from the risk management group, marketing, the construction
department -- they all use the system for various reasons.
Because it is so simple to use, they are able to put it to good use for
Human resources uses the system for employee issues such
as alleged sexual harassment and time-and-attendance. Sales and
merchandising uses the system to confirm whether merchandising
displays have been set up according to a schematic. Management
uses the video as a virtual store walk-through to observe employee productivity and address any other issues.
Video also is tied to United Supermarkets’
exception reporting system that uses software
from Actionable Data Solutions. The
software highlights questionable point-of-sale
transactions and works together with
the OnSSI system to provide related video.
A high-resolution video of a slip-and-fall
claim can exonerate the company from liability.
Several days of video can document an
employee theft situation. According to Reynolds,
a number of incidents have already illustrated
the value of the system.
“Various departments can conduct their
own investigations about the incidents that
occur within their realm of responsibility,
which frees us up to focus on shrink reduction,”
Reynolds said. “They can look at video
from their desks.
“The system is also used for alarm verification.
Monitored systems include burglar
and fire alarms, refrigeration systems and
fake currency bundles in a safe with GPS
If an alarm is activated, video can be used
to verify a situation before officials are dispatched.
“If you get an alarm on your phone, you
can immediately verify the conditions at a location
by accessing the mobiDEOS application
on a smart phone,” Reynolds said.
United stores sometimes use off-duty law
enforcement officers as shoplifting agents,
monitoring video live from specific locations.
Reynolds said megapixel cameras are focused
on high-profile and high-value areas, such as
the cash-handling offices, check-out stands
and parking lots, where higher definition images
are needed for forensic and investigative
“We record events in the store at a degree
of resolution that allows us to see what occurred
and not have to just make our best
guess,” Reynolds said.
The software provides the capability to
integrate the powerful cameras but is flexible
enough to enable use of any type of camera.
Users can choose the latest 5 megapixel model
or preserve their investment in a legacy
analog camera and be sure the OnSSI system
can accommodate the video in either case.
A United System
BAE Technology, the systems integrator, installed
the video system at all United stores.
BAE has been a supplier for United for decades,
a relationship that evolved from the
company supplying background music, computer
network cabling, telephone systems,
security and access control. United uses approximately
40 cameras in each store, with
60 cameras -- and two servers -- used in the
larger Market Street format stores. Several
PTZ cameras are used throughout the stores
to follow suspected shoplifters.
Newer megapixel and other IP-based
cameras are networked to the software along
with existing analog cameras that are used
with video encoders. Lower-resolution VGA
cameras are used to monitor some departments,
such as the grocery department, bakery
and delicatessen. In each application, the
company looks for the most suitable camera
based on picture quality and reliability. The
software supports hundreds of different IP
cameras and encoders, as well as all popular
United officials said they see value in the
system’s combination of picture quality and
“With OnSSI, you are getting better picture
quality, more frames-per-second, and
archiving for longer periods of time,” said
Gregory Meyet, commercial mananger and
systems engineer at BAE.
NetDVMS is OnSSI’s multi-site, multiserver
enterprise scale network video recorder
and camera management platform.
Each camera networked to the NetDVMS
platform can be configured independently
for frame rate, resolution, compression format,
recording mode and storage location.
The new systems at United stores include
20 TB of memory, allowing video footage
to be archived for about 30 days. In some
areas of the store, video is recorded only
when there is motion, which helps minimize
the need for storage space. Store managers
have access to each video server through the
NetGuard EVS and can review live images
and play them back from anywhere in the
world. The software is installed on Hewlett-
Packard servers procured through United’s
Archived video can become very valuable
for United in the case of theft, a slip-and-fall
accident or someone presenting a bad check.
“When they realize something has happened,
they can go back in and look at that
transaction or accident,” Meyet said. “The
system in place provides powerful investigation
tools, including the scalable Kinetic
Timeline, and auto-generation of time interval
and motion thumbnails via the time slicer
and motion slicer features.”
United operators use a smart search tool
when they are reviewing a lot of video at
once. The software enables them to select areas
in the field of view for specific scrutiny.
“If anything moves in a specific field, it
will stop and we can focus in on that specific
area of movement instead of watching a lot
of video,” Reynolds said. “If you’re watching
a warehouse and something has come up missing, for example, you can just find a
time period when that object is visible in the
camera view, select go, and as soon as that
box moves, you can see that specific video. It
saves a lot of investigative time.”
Scalability also is an important attribute of
the software system for the supermarket chain.
The system can grow as the company grows,
and it is an easy process to add more coverage
to a store. Each store’s system is also accessible
on the corporate local area network.
“I like the option of exporting video in
various file formats,” Reynolds said. “When
we transfer video to a disk or a USB, it has
the viewer there and that comes with a lot of
digital zoom capabilities. You also can export
still images for distribution to the stores. We
use those a lot as well. We really find the video
export useful, both for sending out alerts and
for providing evidence for law enforcement.”
Smart Phone Video
The MobileCamViewer software works with
a centralized mobile camera enterprise server
to stream video of any store’s cameras to
smart phones such as iPhone, BlackBerry,
Android, Windows Mobile, Nokia, Motorola
and other mobile devices without exposing
the network to possible security threats. The
software system adjusts frame rates and resolution
of streaming video to accommodate
available wireless bandwidth, always keeping
image quality as the primary objective and
frame rate secondary. Managers looking at
the video on cell phones need to see a clear
image of a situation more than they need to
see moving video.
mobiDEOS Enterprise Software is designed
to bring remote video monitoring and
remote intelligence to the loss prevention and
operations team without sacrificing security
or adding work for the IT team. The solution
is transparent to the enterprise network settings.
“With the enterprise server, video can
be streamed to cell phones without modifying
firewall policies nor opening or forwarding
ports,” said Sri Palasamudram, CEO at
Reynolds said he is happy with the quality
of the video he sees on smart phones,
especially from the higher-resolution megapixel
cameras. The smart phone interface
also enables users to dial into a store, select
a camera and control its PTZ position. When
authorized staff enter a user name, they are
provided a list of stores and cameras they
have access to.
Reynolds said some benefits of the systems
cannot be easily measured.
“The thing you can’t measure is the deterrent
factor,” he said.
The closest thing to quantifying the deterrent
effect is to compare statistical information
about a store before and after the system
Another fulfilled goal is connectivity --
to be able to use the corporate LAN to
access storage from anywhere and the
mobiDEOS system for access from an
iPhone or BlackBerry.
“The retail environment provides a rapid
return on investment for networked video
systems,” said Gadi Piran, president and
CTO at OnSSI. “United Supermarkets is seeing
a return on investment value every day,
and instant access to video on a smart phone
enables managers and loss prevention professionals
a higher level of awareness and control
of store operations.
“For United Supermarkets, and for other
retailers of all sizes and types, IP-based
video combines real-time response with
powerful capabilities to investigate incidents
after the fact.”
The systems at United Supermarkets represent
a level of technology utilization that
is cutting-edge for the retail industry. “They
have seen the benefits of it,” Meyet said.
“There is a return on investment. Shrinkage
Reynolds offers a suggestion for other
retailers looking to expand their video surveillance
and to embrace new networking
“My advice would be to get the IT department
involved from the beginning of
the project and have them be an integral
part of all the installations, the procurement,
assembly -- let them get involved
with as much of it as possible,” Reynolds
said. “That partnership needs to exist for
the project to be successful. When you
get them involved in the beginning, they
will gently tell you the do’s and don’ts
from the network perspective,
rather than you
having to hear it after
This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Security Today.