Guarding the Mainstream
Remote video-guarding can actually improve overall security
- By Mahesh Saptharishi, Ph.D.
- Oct 01, 2011
It’s well-documented that effectively monitoring security cameras is difficult.
Human operators routinely suffer from fatigue and lack of focus, even after
short periods of time, which results in missed events. Even with increased
manpower, the problems persist. As a result, video surveillance systems have
largely become forensic tools that help organizations reconstruct an incident
after it has occurred instead of preventing the incident from occurring—until now.
In the past several years the security industry has seen remote video-guarding
emerge in the mainstream, helping transform video surveillance systems into proactive
tools that can help prevent incidents. While many names have been used
to describe this service, it’s important to understand how it’s different from traditional
video guard tours and video escorts. Remote guarding is event-driven,
relying on video analytics to notify a remote operator when a specific event has
occurred—for instance, trespassing, loitering or crowd formation—instead of a
schedule-based, periodic set of observations similar to video guard tours.
Event-driven systems are far more likely to catch the threat in real time, bringing
attention to the right place at the right time.
With the emergence of remote guarding, small and medium-size businesses
now have access to guard-caliber security at a fraction of the cost. Additionally,
remote guarding can actually improve overall security. The result is better security
at a lower cost, regardless of the size of the company.
What has changed over the past few years leading to the mainstream emergence
of remote guarding? How is technology helping and what are the benefits to end
users, integrators and monitoring companies?
What Has Changed?
Extensive installation and maintenance costs, along with an unpredictable falsealarm
rate, have historically made video analytics a tool for only the largest and
most advanced organizations. And while video analytics have been used to augment
on-site guard forces and internal command centers, the high number of false alarms
has, until now, prevented remote guarding stations from using it cost-effectively.
The introduction of advanced, adaptive analytics has dramatically reduced the
false-alarm rate, making it possible for remote guarding companies to scale their
operations cost-effectively. And by eliminating the need for user calibration, adaptive
analytic systems are now as easy to install and maintain as are traditional,
unintelligent systems without analytics. This eliminates another critical barrier for
many mainstream customers: extensive installation and maintenance labor costs.
What Are Adaptive Analytics?
Adaptive analytics uniquely identify people, vehicles and boats by comparing multiple
characteristics of an object’s appearance—texture, silhouette, unique visual
features—with representations synthesized from a database of hundreds of thousands
of examples of people, vehicles and boats in motion in all weather and lighting
By focusing on objects and classifying them based on multiple characteristics,
adaptive analytics dramatically reduces system false alarm rates, allowing remote
guarding companies to scale their operations efficiently. Adaptive analytics also
eliminates the need to calibrate the system, in many cases making analytics systems as affordable as unintelligent systems
without analytics while at the same time
delivering better security than a guard,
at a fraction of the cost.
Remote Guarding Costs
Remote guarding have evolved in the
last several years, making the services
affordable for mainstream customers.
Originally based on guard-tour and
video-escort pricing, remote guarding
services started out billing end users a
fixed fee for every channel. But because
guard tours and escorts are scheduled
activities, with predictable operator
times, the original fixed pricing model
did not account for the variability in
event-based activity that comes with
video alarms. As a result, fixed pricing
created a cost and profitability imbalance
for early remote guarding companies—
sites that had more activity, and
therefore more events, produced the
same amount of revenue even though
they were more expensive for the remote
guarding company to manage
than sites without a lot of activity.
As a result, most monitoring companies
today charge a modest monthly percamera
fee that includes a fixed number
of event responses. An event surcharge
is then added for each alarm managed
over the allotment included in the base
monthly fee. While monthly fees and
event surcharges vary, end users should
budget approximately $25-100 per camera
per month, depending on the size of
the installation, included services and
built-in event packages.
Some remote guarding companies
have taken this a step further and offer
tiered pricing depending on the
analytic technology used at the site.
For example, organizations that deploy
analytic solutions recommended by
their monitoring companies will often
get lower monthly fees than a solution
that was not selected by the monitoring
company. The reason for tiered pricing
Regardless of whether an alarm is
generated by a viable threat or whether
it’s a false alarm from environmental
noise, the cost to manage the event is
nearly the same for the remote guarding
company. Therefore, tiered pricing
based on technology encourages
integrators and end users to select the
most accurate analytics technology
available, not necessarily the cheapest.
This results in the lowest total number
of false alarms and therefore the lowest
end user costs in the long run. So it’s
- Integrators and end users work
closely with monitoring partners to
select an appropriate analytic solution
with the lowest possible false
alarm rate for the customer’s environment;
- End users and integrators recognize
that the cheapest analytics technology
might not be the best choice in
the long run because lower accuracy
generates more false alarms and ultimately
higher monitoring fees.
Measuring Payback, Savings
Remote guarding solutions are typically
justified in one of three ways:
- Loss prevention from ongoing theft
- Reduction in guard force expenditures;
- Best-practice protection against catastrophic
When implementing a remote guarding
solution to eliminate ongoing theft
and vandalism, or to reduce guard force
expenditures, it’s important to examine
both time to payback and annual savings. In both cases, time to payback
is typically measured in months, not
years, and annual savings can be tens
of thousands of dollars. Here’s a realworld
A national auto parts salvage company
recently deployed a remote guarding
solution to combat organized theft.
This auto salvage company stores damaged
vehicles in open lots and auctions
off high-value parts. With dozens of
lots spread across North America ranging
in size from four to 80 acres, the
company’s physical assets are an ideal
target for thieves. More specifically, the
company found that some dismantlers
who were entering their sites legally
during business hours to look for parts
were returning after-hours to steal
those very same parts.
In an initial attempt to reduce loss,
the company hired guards to patrol individual
sites. But because its salvaged
vehicles are stored in large, open facilities,
even guards were ineffective at
preventing thefts. The company finally
turned to a remote guarding solution.
By deploying an intelligent surveillance
system with outsourced professional
video guarding, the company was
able to eliminate ongoing theft and its
guard expenditure, which saved it tens
of thousands of dollars a year and paid
for the system in less than three months.
Recognizing the savings from preventing
loss—stopping its theft problem—
and reducing its guard force, this
end user was able to calculate both
time-to-payback (the period of time
before the cost of the system and monitoring
is completely offset by the avoided
losses for the same period) and average
annual savings to justify the system.
A third and final way customers
are justifying remote guarding solutions
is their ability to protect against
catastrophic loss. For example, if an
oil and gas, utility or communications
provider suffers a breach at one of its
main facilities, the service disruption
could be catastrophic. Similarly, if a
remote power substation or transportation
line is taken out of service, what is
the financial and public impact of the
incident? With 24/7 monitoring and
response capabilities, remote guarding
organizations can provide any company
with security that is better than
guards alone, in any location.
Selecting a Provider
Over the past several years, a wide variety
of remote guarding providers have
emerged. When considering which partner
is best for you and your end user, it’s
important to understand several key factors
about each provider’s operation:
- What is the skill set of the partner’s
typical operator? Does he or she have
law enforcement training or physical
guard experience? Because remote
guards must be able to intervene
and prevent an incident before it occurs,
it is important to verify that a
provider’s operators know how to
respond appropriately on behalf of
your end user, not just verify that an
event is happening.
- Does the provider have experience
with analytics systems, not just performing
guard tours and panic-button
response? Because remote guarding
relies on video alarms to identify
events, it’s important that the remote
guarding providers understand how
best to work with you and your end
user to apply analytics technology to meet their specific security needs.
This includes selecting the proper
analytics technology as well as setting
- What types of customers does the remote
guarding company serve? Different
security environments require
different responses. If your end user
is a municipality or housing authority,
find out whether a remote guarding
provider has experience partnering
with law enforcement. If your
end user is an auto dealer, find out if
the provider has delivered both security
and customer service simultaneously
to a single customer.
- Does the remote guarding company
reward you for your part of the solution?
In contrast with the situation
several years ago, most remote
guarding providers now share recurring
monthly revenue with their integrator
partners. When developing
an initial relationship with a provider,
it is essential to establish an end
user pricing and revenue-sharing
model that will extend beyond the
- Who interacts with the end user? Because
you are bringing your end users
to the remote guarding partner,
it is important to discuss and agree
on a customer interaction model.
While certain end users may want to
communicate with only you, many
end users will want to establish a relationship
with the remote guarding
provider—so establish clear guidelines
and protocols upfront.
Because your reputation with the
end user is dependent on the remote
guarding partner you select, take the
time to perform detailed reference
checks, visit the partner’s facility if possible
and establish the correct business
relationship up front that fits both your
needs and the needs of your end users.
What Does This Mean?
Remote guarding has become mainstream
and beneficial for a wide variety
of deployments. Adaptive analytics
now make it possible for service providers
to operate effectively and profitably
by scaling their operations efficiently.
And adaptive analytics have eliminated
the need for users to calibrate systems,
reducing installation risk and labor,
and making it possible for most businesses
to afford an intelligent, active
system. When considering a remote
guarding solution, be sure to:
- Select the right remote guarding
company—one that has highly
trained operators with experience
responding to events and with your
types of customers;
- Engage the remote guarding partner
before selecting an analytic technology
to ensure the lowest number of
false alarms and therefore ultimately
the lowest total solution cost; and
- Select a remote guarding partner that
allows you, the integrator, to share in
the recurring monthly revenue.
The right remote guarding service
provider can assist you and your end
users with a cost-effective solution—
delivering better protection than guards
at a fraction of the cost.
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Security Today.
Mahesh Saptharishi, Ph.D., is the chief scientist and CTO for VideoIQ, overseeing core technology architecture and development efforts.