Using remote video surveillance reshapes physical security
- By Steve Surfaro
- Feb 01, 2012
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
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
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
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
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
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
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Security Today.