Omniscient Security Video
Today’s all-seeing video surveillance systems offer dramatic improvements in situational awareness
- By Richard E. Widup Jr.
- Jun 27, 2014
Seeing what’s out there is the beginning of situational
awareness. Over the years, video surveillance technology
has steadily raised the level of situational
awareness available to security teams, and today’s
video technologies are pushing the envelope again.
“Situational awareness is the ability to perceive your operational
environment in such a way as to comprehend threats and
opportunities so that appropriate action can be taken,” said Donald
R. Zoufal, safety and security executive with Chicago-based
SDI, a security systems integrator specializing in government,
education, transportation, utilities and real estate facilities. “Different
operations face different threats and vulnerabilities, and
require different levels of situational awareness.”
An incident commander needs a total overview that is updated
constantly. Then again, the security dispatcher working
in the security center on a business campus must know where
the security officers are, who is on patrol and where, and who is
on break. Each security officer has his or her own requirements
for situational awareness.
Today’s video tools enhance situational awareness for
everyone by delivering more detailed, clearer video through
megapixel cameras and by wirelessly sending quality video to
smartphones and tablets carried by security officers across a
property. Video analytics technology is enabling cameras to
take over some of the monitoring tasks previously handled
by security officers. Intelligent video systems don’t get tired
or lose concentration. These tools are able to integrate with
other physical security tools through physical security information
management or PSIM software applications. Overall,
these technologies make it possible for security to provide value
to the business organizations being protected, which ultimately
makes better security more affordable.
Megapixel Cameras See Farther, Better and Clearer
Megapixel cameras collect more information than conventional
analog and digital cameras. Each megapixel contains one
million pixels that can store image information. For example, a
five-megapixel camera can store five million pieces of information
about an image.
Megapixel images are also deep. A user can literally zoom
into part of a picture—without a zoom lens—to study the details
of a face or to check on an unauthorized vehicle.
“The image quality of megapixel cameras has greatly increased
the usefulness of video for a range of real-time
and forensic uses,” said Zoufal. “For instance, at
airport security checkpoints, people regularly
claim that someone stole a wallet from a tray
riding along the X-Ray machine’s conveyor.
TSA discovered that megapixel cameras can
produce video detailed enough and clear
enough to follow a wallet from the time it
is placed inside a tray until it is retrieved,
making it possible to determine if such
a claim is true or false—and if true, to
Megapixel cameras can provide situational
awareness beyond security, as well.
“For example, if I’m paying a crew to clean an airplane between
flights, I can use the security camera to make sure that service
is provided in a timely way,” said Zoufal. “A supervisor can
also monitor that camera to make sure the baggage handlers are
taking reasonable care while loading luggage onto the plane.”
Send Video to Smartphones and Tablets
Dispatchers in security command centers can now capture
video clips of incidents and send them over wireless networks
to smartphones and tablets carried by officers in the field. Officers
responding to incidents can review the video to ensure
they are properly prepared for what they will encounter at the
scene. That kind of situational awareness can be crucial to an
“The megapixel images are not grainy or difficult to understand,”
Zoufal said. “I can also push images or even streaming
video out to the rest of the world. If something happens that
the CEO or other company officer needs to know about, they
can access that information in real time—expanding situational
awareness beyond the security group.”
Anyone can simultaneously access the part of a megapixel
image that interests him or her without sacrificing the overall
image, all while supplying overall situational awareness.
“This ability is leading to more informed decisions and
more effective responses,” Zoufal said.
Older PTZ systems cannot do that. If one person pushes in
on part of the scene, everyone accessing the camera must look
at that image. Nothing else is available, and overall situational
awareness has been lost.
Smart Cameras that See and Tell
Video analytics programmed into a camera or a camera system
can trigger an alarm if a camera sees certain images. For
instance, airports have one-way corridors through which passengers exit from a terminal on their way to
the baggage area. A video analytic can
watch the corridor to make sure no one
is going in the wrong direction—into the
terminal. Should someone try to get into
a terminal that way, the camera will trigger
Analytics can sweep areas looking
for abandoned packages, fights, people
and areas where no one should be between
certain times and more.
Video analytics have been around
for a number of years, and have developed
two reputations. Some security
people complain that analytics produce
too many false alarms, while others insist
that they are effective in certain applications
and thereby frees officers to
handle other tasks. Who is right?
“Both sides are right,” Zoufal said.
“You have to fit the application to your
facility. An analytics application that
produces a one percent false positive
rate would alarm 10 times while viewing
1,000 people. That’s not bad. At a
large airport, however, 100,000 people
might pass through checkpoints every
day. With that many people, a one percent
false positive rate would produce
1,000 false alarms and keep a couple of
security officers busy all day.
“The quality of video analytics has
improved steadily over the years. The
manufacturers know the problems and
are working to solve them.”
Integrating Video with Other
Physical Security Systems
The development of physical security
information management or PSIM
systems has enabled security centers to
consolidate control of various security
systems into a single computer application
with a single control screen. A
PSIM application might, for instance,
produce a map of a facility showing
the location of an access control door
alarm. An officer monitoring this system
could perhaps click on a camera
icon near the location to bring up video
showing the location.
“You can set the system to pull up video
15 seconds before an incident, making
it possible to see what happened,” Zoufal
said. “A PSIM system could track
patrolling security officers and tell you
where the nearest responder is.
“The idea of relating video systems
to other systems like access control,
pressure sensors, mapping systems and
other physical security technology is a
growing area and PSIM is a platform
that enables this.”
While it is true that these four tools—
megapixel cameras, wireless mobile video
communication, video analytics and
PSIM—have been around for several
years, they have matured in their usefulness.
Today, these tools can, alone or in
combination, enhance the effectiveness
of any security team that needs a higher
level of situational awareness.
This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Security Today.
Richard E. Widup Jr. is the president of ASIS International.