Remote Possibilities

Using remote video surveillance reshapes physical security

A security guard doing his nightly rounds on the perimeter of a power plant encounters a car left in a restricted area outside the security fence. The driver is nowhere to be found. Is this a threat?

The guard takes a snapshot of the license plate on his smartphone, places the image in a secure directory that initiates a search of the license plate recognition database. When the license plate is found, it also brings up an image of the driver license associated with that vehicle. The command center forwards this information to the guard’s smartphone while he continues his tour and eventually locates the owner of the vehicle. He compares the driver license image to the person standing in front of him. If the two match, the security guard politely escorts the individual back to his car and sends him on his way. If the photo and the individual don’t match, or the command center has issued detention instruction because the person is on a watch list, the guard detains the individual until law enforcement arrives.

This flow of information between a central command center and the front lines is a prime example of remote video surveillance in action. The command center observes the video streaming from multiple locations and directs the attention of on-location staff to a particular event. Headquarters may provide additional video content analysis to the field and assist in an ongoing investigation while security in the field provides up-to-date intelligence about the situation as it unfolds.

As remote surveillance technology becomes ever more prevalent in applications ranging from city center security to mass transit safety, we’re seeing more security resources shifting from the command center out to the field. With robust wireless technology and advanced mobile devices, it’s now possible to stream high-quality video in real time to staff on the front lines.

Top Remote Surveillance Configurations

There are a variety of deployment options when it comes to capturing video remotely, storing and cataloguing it, and then displaying it on mobile devices. The three most popular are the managed/ hosted/virtualized approach, the central station automation platform, and the video management system.

  • Managed/hosted/virtualized approach. In this configuration, the video servers are housed in a private or public cloud, where they can be shared and virtualized for more cost-effective use of resources. Instead of dedicating servers just for surveillance, these same servers can be repurposed for other applications on the fly as video storage demands peak and ebb. It’s an elastic cost model because you pay a monthly fee based on actual usage. The advantage of the hosted solution is that your service provider is contractually bound to provide service levels that you may not have the internal resources to guarantee yourself. The agreement not only addresses quality of service and uptime requirements, but also data security, disaster recovery and other critical issues to ensure business continuity.
  • Central station automation platform. This type of remote surveillance solution is primarily event based. It integrates video surveillance with other physical security systems such as intrusion detection and door access control to help you verify that an actual event is taking place. This approach helps avoid any municipal-driven fines for responses to false alarms, which can be a boon to the bottom line. If the central station receives an alert indicating that there’s been motion detected or a door contact opened or other anomaly, the video cameras that are closest to the detected event can stream live images back to the station. The operator can then relay that video to security guards on patrol so that they have the critical situational awareness necessary to safely investigate the event further. The central station operator can also stream the video to company managers who can decide whether to call local law enforcement or handle the situation internally with security staff already on the premises.
  • Video management system. This is the most common remote surveillance solution for medium to large-scale operations with 100 or more cameras. In this case, the complex cataloguing of video and detailed search functions would be handled by an in-house central command center. It might include smart-search technology such as object-left-behind and video analytics that would incorporate such things as license plate capture and recognition systems. Video clips could be sent to mobile devices via email or text messages, allowing the remote security staff to click on a link to view the video stream. Or they could initiate a search of the video database or view a live feed from a particular camera directly on their mobile devices.

Are They Secure?

Security is a justified concern when it comes to streaming highly sensitive video. So it’s important to employ strict security protocols on the network itself as well as on the network cameras and remote mobile devices. The network—whether wired or wireless— should incorporate encryption of the video stream. Every port also should employ authentication techniques such as 802.1x protocol to prevent unauthorized access to the network, hijacking of the video to an unauthorized device or denial of service attacks on the network.

Camera manufacturers are currently taking steps to tighten security even further. The industry is moving toward network cameras that support public key infrastructure similar to those used for physical access control. Certificates and credential verification will be used not only to determine who can remotely access and manipulate the network cameras but also who will be authorized to view that video on their mobile devices. Employing this kind of identity verification process will virtually eliminate the possibility of video hijacking.

Does Remote Streaming Hog Bandwidth?

Another concern that security professionals often raise is in regard to bandwidth consumption. Can the network really handle video traffic streaming to mobile devices without bringing other network activity to a standstill?

The answer is yes.

Because of their small-screen form factors, mobile devices don’t require much bandwidth to render a decent video image. With such a small display, you can actually stream video at a lower frame rate and still have the eye perceive the video as running in near real time. The other thing to consider is that your video management system—whether an in-house system or hosted by a service provider—is smart enough to control the transmission to minimize bandwidth consumption. When there’s limited bandwidth available for video traffic on the network, the video management system can throttle back the frame rate and image resolution on the fly and still provide an adequate stream to the mobile device.

Making a Difference Remotely

Remote surveillance has become a force multiplier for many security situations—from screening and apprehending criminals at venue checkpoints to validating alarms and verifying the identities of after-hours intruders at a retail store or warehouse. They can help track down stolen objects by streaming video to security guards of any activity occurring during the estimated window of opportunity to help focus the investigation. But there are also some amazing out-of-the-box applications where remote video surveillance has saved lives and livelihoods.

  • Medical emergency. Sirens blaring, EMTs rush to the aid of a man suspected of having a stroke. His life hangs in the balance as the ambulance speeds to the nearest hospital some 30 minutes away. As paramedics hook him up to life support, network cameras inside the ambulance are transmitting high-resolution video and vital signs to the emergency doctor on call at the hospital. He quickly triages the patient, confirms their initial diagnosis that the patient was experiencing a stroke, and directs EMTs to administer lifesaving medication. Because of the remote surveillance, first responders are able to avert irreparable brain damage and save the patient’s life in transit. Treatment continues once the man arrives at the emergency room, and he achieves a full recovery.
  • Troubleshooting production line. Manufacturing downtime can cost a company thousands of dollars a minute. So getting the production line back up and running as quickly as possible is paramount. For companies operating multiple remote manufacturing plants, it’s often more cost-effective to locate highly paid support specialists in the home office rather than fly them to a site or hire a full-time expert for each facility. With network cameras strategically deployed on the manufacturing floors, troubleshooters at headquarters can view live video, remotely diagnose a problem, and help in-factory staff resolve it themselves.

For instance, from the surveillance command center the support technician accesses the cameras with the best field of view of the situation, zooming in for a closer look at the warning lights flashing on a control panel. He sends the appropriate schematics and tutorial repair videos to the staff on the ground, talking them through the steps they need to take to fix the problem. Monitoring the live video streaming from the remote cameras, the technician can verify and correct local staff activity in real time to minimize delays in getting the machinery up and running again.

The Increasing Role of Mobile Devices

Mobile devices have become key components of remote surveillance— not only to provide enhanced situation awareness with real-time display and camera control but also to deliver safety and operations information about the resilience of your business. Multiple mobile industry reports predict a significant uptick in mobile device usage in the next five years. These reports forecast that by 2016:

  • Mobile broadband subscriptions will reach nearly 5 billion, mostly on HSPA, CDMA and LTE networks;
  • 75 percent of all physical security network video will be accessed via mobile devices;
  • Almost all smartphones will have touch screens;
  • Smartphone “digital wallets” will account for most in-store purchases made in the UK; the United States is expected to follow suit.

There is a caveat, however, when it comes to relying on the resilience of public and private networks for remote surveillance solutions. The Security Industry Association recently reported that “a surprise earthquake that hit the East Coast last summer not only interrupted cell phone service for millions of citizens, but an emergency cell phone service available only to select federal and municipal employees also failed.” So you should have a backup plan in place in case of catastrophic network disruption.

Shaping Security Remotely

Remote video surveillance balances the best of both worlds: the efficiencies of centralized storage and analysis with the immediacy of feet-on-the-ground investigation. While the command center can do a look-in on a particular location, it can also, more importantly, share information in real time with staff at local checkpoints while they’re in the field. The command center houses the processing power to expedite searches and perform data-intensive analysis. And operators can push those results to mobile devices in real time to provide critical insights to those onsite pursuing an investigation.

With today’s wired and wireless networks becoming ever more robust, capturing full-motion HDTV-quality video is quite doable. Intelligent video management technology helps to conserve bandwidth by streaming video to remote mobile devices at a reduced frame rate and lower resolution without compromising situational awareness.

Security protocols continue to evolve to protect video data on the network as it travels from network cameras to the command center to mobile devices. Implementing port authentication and soon-to-be-available certificate verification infrastructures will allow companies to credential users of their video surveillance system in much the same way they authorize employees to access other programs on their networks.

And finally, with heightened awareness of security threats, so many venues are promoting a campaign of “See something. Say something.” With strategic deployment of network cameras at a facility or event venue, when a bystander reports an incident, eyes on the target can help security verify the situation remotely and stream the evidence to staff on the ground so they can respond accordingly.

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Security Today.


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