Lone Star Video

Investment in easy-to-use surveillance yields benefits throughout the stores

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 management.

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 their applications.”

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 tracking.”

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 purposes.

“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 video formats.

United officials said they see value in the system’s combination of picture quality and frame rate.

“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 IT department.

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 mobiDEOS.

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.

System Benefits
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 is installed.

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 is down.”

Reynolds offers a suggestion for other retailers looking to expand their video surveillance and to embrace new networking technologies.

“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 the fact.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Security Today.

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