On the Fence

Why IP video is more relevant for border surveillance; open architecture opens the way

Pending legislation on immigration presents a prime opportunity for government agencies to rethink how to use technology to mitigate risks at our borders and key entry points. Like the Rapid Fielding Initiatives deployed by the Army to address the immediate and critical need for more hardened body and vehicle armor to protect our troops, border agencies need to find ways to shorten the evaluation and procurement curve to more quickly deploy technologies that can combat the many challenges they face. With more than 7,000 miles of border to patrol, it’s clear that surveillance technology can serve as an essential force multiplier. But what kind of surveillance technology would do the most good? And how can we value-engineer those solutions to address future threats without putting more stress on taxpayers and federal funding initiatives?

Acknowledging the Limits of Analog

Traditional analog solutions often fall short in meeting the dynamic demands posed by open stretches of land and marine borders. DVRbased storage is prone to failure, leaving agencies with dangerous gaps in coverage and the burden of replacement costs.

The average video quality captured by analog cameras often makes it difficult to identify known terrorists or other individuals of interest on government watch lists. And most importantly, since the technology isn’t network-based it’s difficult to retrieve and share relevant video in a timely manner, which can seriously hamper response time to threats.

Why IP Video is More Up to the Task

IP video, on the other hand, excels in the very areas where analog comes up short. Instead of DVR storage that has finite capacity and must be retrieved manually, IP video streams across existing network infrastructure to cloud storage or a server farm in a data center. The digitally formatted, open-protocol video data can then be shared remotely across multiple authorized agencies from any secure device with a browser—a desktop, laptop or mobile device such as a smartphone or smart tablet.

To ensure recording continuity, many IP cameras even support onboard memory cards for failover in case of network outages. To save on bandwidth consumption and storage, IP cameras support a number of compression standards—from Motion JPEG to extremely efficient H.264.

Image clarity is another area where IP video cameras excel. HDTV resolution cameras (780p and 1080p) as well as multi-megapixel cameras give border agencies a level of detail that far exceeds traditional analog cameras. Digital zoom capabilities further enhance image acuity without pixelization. Both of these features are critical when trying to identify and pursue individuals and objects approaching our borders.

But perhaps the most powerful aspect of IP video is its open standards architecture. The technology can be integrated with other systems—including ground-based radar, airborne drones, fence controls, etc.—on an aggregated sensor collection platform to enhance border security and provide a common operating picture.

This supports cross-agency exchange of vital data and delivers more comprehensive situational awareness to help border agencies achieve their objectives. An open architecture approach also allows third party developers to add sophisticated video analytics to the video management system that can send real-time alerts to border agencies to help them forestall potentially threatening scenarios.

Baseline analytics today include motion and audio detection and various flavors of perimeter and cross-line detection. These analytics can be tied to geo-spatial mapping programs to automatically stream video to remote agents or surveillance drones to help them locate the source of an event. This creates a level of integrated domain awareness that cannot be achieved with proprietary analog technology.

Getting the Right Information to the Right People

Analytics allows users to quickly sift through countless hours of video to access what is most relevant. One of the most useful analytics for checkpoints is license plate recognition which can scan hundreds of thousands of vehicles and compares them against a watch list database in real time.

Forensic retrieval analytics allow agents to define search parameters—such as a certain type of vehicle or anyone wearing specific attire. The application then retrieves all video that matches that information. This was how government agencies were able to process thousands of hours of video from multiple sources which ultimately led to the identification and capture of the Boston Marathon bombers.

Analytics like heat mapping, dwell time and facial cataloguing already assist the retail industry in tracking customer behaviors and alerting security to suspicious shoppers. That same kind of business intelligence in the hands of government agencies can be tailored to forewarn frontline patrols and identify potential threats to our borders.

A More Cost-effective Future for Border Surveillance

The total cost of ownership for non-adaptive DVR and analog solutions often surprises end users. In addition to replacing DVR devices every few years due to wear and tear, the proprietary nature of the technology leads to gaps in sharing information and forces reliance on inadequate, older technology.

A more practical solution would be to rely on onboard memory cards. Not only does this robust edge-based technology provide resilience and continuity of operation in the field, it can reduce the overall footprint of the solution and thereby its total cost of ownership. When you add video analytics to the edge, cost of ownership drops even further since you’re offloading processing overhead and energy cost at the data center while realizing the benefits of adaptive technology that is less likely to become obsolete.

In fact, future-proofing border surveillance solutions is the foremost driver for the adoption of IP technology. Even more important than cost-efficiencies is how these advanced analytics tools not only help border agencies better manage and respond to threats in the current environment, but are also capable of quickly adapting to future changes that might occur in the threat landscape.

Fast Tracking Adaptive Technology

We’re no longer in a world where a single vendor’s solution can address all possible contingencies nor can we afford to lock ourselves into solutions that aren’t dependable and adaptive over the long haul. This realization is leading federal agencies to recognize the benefits of adopting a best-of-breed mentality when procuring surveillance technology.

Sourcing solutions based on open architecture accomplishes a number of objectives. It decreases the odds of obsolescence because agencies can add on ever-more sophisticated features, such as intelligent analytics, to ensure that the solutions they put in place today remain relevant as new threats arise to challenge our country’s security. And lastly, it allows agencies to fast track procurement because adaptive platforms built on proven IP components can be more rapidly fielded, giving border agencies the contemporary tools they need right NOW to defend our borders.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Security Today.

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