Video Surveillance and Data Monitoring: The Basics

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According to consultant John Kingsley-Hefty: "The key is building a tape swap and storage schedule that rerecords the tapes equitably. Tapes will wear, over time, to the point of failure. Color-coding by day and/or shifts, and numbering by week works well. The key is designing your system around your required video storage retention schedule. To ensure that tapes are rerecorded according to the proper sequence and schedule, shuttling tapes per day or week to a separate secure area—or in some cases, offsite—works well."

A big cost consideration is frame rate, which affects our tape requirements or storage and bandwidth requirements.

How many frames per second do you need for your surveillance project? It depends. Thirty frames per second, used by televisions in the U.S., is the gold standard, but it's often unnecessary, says Aaron Chesler, NiceVision's director of sales for the Eastern region. But video quality with 15 fps is usually good enough he says. With 15 fps, you also use only half as much bandwidth and disk space.

You can use various architectural tricks for helping reduce storage and bandwidth requirements. For example, you may find that in some instances you can store digital video locally (on a DVR near each camera) rather than streaming it all back over the network to a central location.

What about using fake cameras, deactivated cameras, or hidden cameras?

All of these strategies may have a place in your overall surveillance plan. Fake or deactivated cameras are an attempt get the deterrence value of surveillance without incurring the expense of video storage and maintenance. Hidden cameras, obviously, aim not to stop illicit behavior but to catch it on tape.

However, all of these strategies create risks of different sorts. Douglas Durden, manager of safety, security and asset retention at Mallory Alexander International Logistics, thinks fake cameras can impart a false sense of security. "Let's say someone is standing in front of what appears to be a camera. If a guy pulls a gun and takes a person's wallet, you should be able to pull it up on tape [but you can't]. Then you have to tell the person it was a fake camera," he says. Lawsuit, anyone?

Walter Palmer, founder and principal of PCGsolutions, a retail loss-prevention consultancy, also advises caution. "One of the things you have to be careful of is, do you have an obligation to provide certain levels of security? If you don't have cameras and something occurs or you have dummy cameras, could you be liable for negligent security?" he asks. The short answer is yes.

All things considered, attorney Jennifer Shaw of Jackson Lewis thinks there are limited circumstances in which fake cameras are appropriate, but generally they do more harm than good.

Here's an illustration of similar risks created through covert surveillance. In November 2004, nurses at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles were in a break room when, according to accounts, they spied a thin beam of light coming from a clock. They were shocked to discover a hidden camera with a tiny lens behind the number nine. The nurses immediately spread the word to their colleagues; eventually they discovered a total of 16 hidden cameras in the clocks of break rooms, a pharmacy and a fitness center, among other locations.

In addition to the fact that the nurses hadn't been informed about the cameras, they were also upset because some of them changed their clothes in the break rooms. They felt that their right to privacy had been violated. In a press release, a California Nurses Association spokesperson said, "This is a pervasive problem throughout the hospital that is a disgraceful violation of the legal privacy rights of the RNs and reflects a deplorable attitude of the hospital administration towards its caregivers."

Hospital officials defended their actions—they claimed the cameras were installed for security reasons, that it was standard practice in hospitals, that they had planned on informing the nurses and that the cameras hadn't been turned on. They also noted (see the first tip) that the nurses' employee handbook, which all must sign, states that surveillance might be used.

Ultimately, the messy situation might have been avoided if hospital execs had informed the nurses of their plans beforehand, explained that the cameras were for their safety and made them overt instead of covert. By neglecting to inform the nurses until the cameras had been discovered, the hospital aroused suspicion and ill will. The bottom line on hidden cameras is that there may be a place for them, but CSOs need to weigh the risks and use such strategies with due caution.

How do I determine the return on investment for surveillance equipment and efforts?

It is not possible to create a generic return case for video surveillance because, while its applications overlap, they are also varied. At the Pathmark Stores grocery chain, Pedro Ramos, director of loss prevention, looks at inventory shrink and insurance fraud (customers taking pratfalls), among other issues. Sheila Bramlitt, director of corporate security at First Horizon National, must focus on cash theft and safety (armed robberies). At Genzyme, a manufacturing and R&D venture, CSO Dave Kent monitors assembly lines and corporate espionage.

Having said that, here are five ROI rules of thumb that apply to these sources and others.. Some of these rules pertain to all surveillance, while others are specifically about the differences between CCTV systems and IP-based digital ones.

*The more things a video surveillance system does, the higher the ROI. What software applications, or even business activities, exist to extend the usefulness of the surveillance infrastructure? Training? Marketing? Find those that are realistic and attach a value to them.

*Digital video surveillance scales well. The larger your planned installation, the more remote sites you plan to monitor from a central control room, the more efficiency you can create and the faster your return will come.

*Cost calculations favor digital video over closed systems. "The economics of storage favor standard IT infrastructure," over closed systems such as DVRs, says Bob Degen, senior vice president of corporate security of First Data. "The equipment functions better with less repair. It's easier to expand on. We're in the process of building a command center. We'll put all alarms, images, sound and voice over the Web to that centralized site. That will create huge advantages."

*Integration with other systems will cost more up front but will also facilitate positive ROI. Linking video surveillance to access and safety, especially, could possibly allow you to lower insurance premiums, but also to facilitate response times to crises large and small.

*Cross-threading applications and systems allows you to share the cost burden with other departments. "We partner with safety and business continuity of course, but also, say, our real estate group," says Bramlitt. "If we can partner with them when they're building a new site, we can share the costs and benefits." It makes upgrades an easier sell, she says.

Here are two examples of companies doing detailed ROI analysis regarding system upgrades.

Pathmark's Ramos hesitates to endorse the IP-based digital video hype. His system is, in fact, a hybrid (similar to those of Bramlitt and Genzyme's Kent). Pathmark combines digital and analog, and even uses some tape storage. It's on the cusp of a phase 3 system, but not quite there. Why? "The cost to convert over fully isn't quite where we need it" [as of early 2005], Ramos says. He's not just guessing either. Ramos demanded and is getting an average of about 13.5 percent ROI from his video surveillance upgrade. And, under the right conditions, some of his stores will recoup costs in less than two years, some stores in less than one. "We need a six-month time frame for video storage, and I can't cost-justify a fully digital system with that requirement yet," Ramos says. (Ramos declined to share specific surveillance investment figures.)

Give me some examples of non-security applications for video surveillance.

The new era of video surveillance is comparatively airy and bright, where cameras give CSOs better pictures faster, in any light or weather; where the Internet allows us to log on from home and check in on any of our sites; where sleek technology focuses on business growth; and where it focuses on, say, four business problems at once. Video surveillance suddenly has street cred in marketing, HR, travel services, even customer relations.

Thus, when Dreams bed stores in Britain recently put its system in place, its primary function wasn't even security; it was marketing. The company is measuring foot traffic around the store. The secondary function was security. And the tertiary function was human resources, using the video for training. "That made it a pretty easy sell actually," says Darryl Marshall, an integrator who oversaw the project (which, by the way, he says was led by Dreams' IT project managers).

As digital video quality improves, training rapidly gains purchase as a prime application. Ramos uses his new system to train cashiers and other store-level associates. Captured images of employees doing something well are posted as a method of positive reinforcement, and captured images of common mistakes get tacked up too, as an awareness tool.

In retail industries, especially, marketing wants in on video surveillance. Consultant Jones is working with retailers to map store traffic to improve the flow of customers and increase safety. Others are using the visual data to watch inventory levels.

Companies are cutting travel expenses by using the infrastructure for meetings. Or using it for OSHA-like inspections of restaurants, allowing more inspections with less travel dollars spent. Genzyme's Kent uses video for quality control by monitoring production trains.

A public utility uses cameras to validate trespassing incidents. Police issue tickets and revenue increases. At the same time, costs incurred by the court system fall, because perpetrators don't challenge the visual evidence.

A hump yard, where train cars come off boats and trucks and are assembled into trains, repurposes its video surveillance. Now managers not only watch fence lines for trespassers and would-be thieves, but they manage the logistics of assembling the trains correctly and getting them, literally, on the right track—a job that used to involve several men in towers talking to each other and people on the ground as they looked out over their vast yards with binoculars.

A major transit authority watches its stations, measures footfall and traffic patterns, reconfigures stations to reduce congestion, adjusts train schedules based on the visual data, locates common loitering spots and makes them less loiterer-friendly. All of the following increase: safety, ridership and revenue.

If we go with digital systems, the CIO is going to have to be involved because of the network demands.

New video surveillance technology makes it imperative that the security team and the information systems group work closely with each other. Here are two reasons why: One, many of the new generation of video surveillance vendors are going to them, not you, to sell this stuff. "CSOs are not always driving this purchase," says David Levine, a surveillance systems integrator. Vendors target IT because there's more familiarity with technology, and probably more receptiveness to upgrading it too.

Two, trying to make video surveillance part of the IT network will obviously require heavy participation from IT. Says Levine, "If you try to deploy digital video surveillance without the full support of IT, you're done." Pathmark's Ramos underscores that: "Get IT involved; get them to help you build an ROI model; get them to help develop the best system for your needs."

It's not surprising then that Ramos and every other CSO we spoke with who had dabbled in upgrading their video surveillance claimed to have an excellent relationship with his or her CIO. At Dallas Fort-Worth Airport, Bowens managed the video surveillance upgrade from the IT department. "When I'm asked how I ended up in security," he says, "I say it invaded my world." In the case of the New York State Unified Court System, the team in charge of the surveillance project was the CIO's, not the security officers from the Department of Public Safety (although the two groups did work closely throughout).

But the CIO smartly deferred to the security team on issues he didn't know about. First, he says, the security team determined the most vulnerable locations, determined camera positions, types of cameras—stationary versus pan-tilt-zoom, indoor versus outdoor—and then did a cost impact.

What we have here with digital video surveillance is security convergence—one of the first major security purchases that not only could benefit from but absolutely requires the cooperation of the CIO and CSO.

CSOs can't do this without IT's technological expertise. Bramlitt at First Horizon was ready to cede control of managing the IT requirements—network bandwidth demands, server capacity, storage configurations, data security—to her CIO and CISO.

"We come to mutual agreements on what's adequate," she says. "There's no in-fighting. I understand their business needs; they understand my security obligations."

The CIO is also involved with data monitoring. How is that related?

They're just two different means of watching people. And it's silly to spend a lot of time and energy doing one well while doing the other in a haphazard manner.

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