Reality television

Digital video technology joins the physical security arsenal

Digital video surveillance finally seems set to become a centerpiece of physical security systems, a prospect that was unlikely even a year ago. Questions over issues such as image quality and the bandwidth needed to carry the video over data networks dogged the technology.

Some people argue that those issues still haven't been fully addressed. Despite that, digital video is riding a swell of interest as its cost continues to come down, bandwidth and storage space get more affordable, and demand continues for technologies that can bolster emergency response and facility defenses.

Digital video's appeal is obvious. Older analog video systems require constant monitoring by on-site staff and frequent switching out of finicky tapes to record the video. Digital video can be sent over standard networks so that many surveillance sites can be managed from one location, and the video files can be stored on computer hard disks for near-instantaneous retrieval.

Market research firm Datamonitor sees digital video surveillance as a worldwide market worth $7.4 billion by 2007, a 55 percent yearly growth from $1.3 billion in 2003. The firm's analysts expect the public sector to account for as much as 22 percent of that future market.

"I think we are right at the beginning of the take-up of this," said Bruce Dewitte, product manager for Northrop Grumman's Infrastructure Protection Division. "It will start this year and really blossom in 2006."

Eye on the future

Leading the charge are companies like iMove, which manufactures what it calls wide-area surveillance solutions. Typical surveillance cameras can only pan, tilt and zoom over a relatively narrow field, and many such cameras are needed to cover a broad area.

By comparison, far fewer of iMove's FlexG spherical sensors, each of which uses an array of imaging systems, are needed to continuously cover the same area.

For example, to keep an eye on an area three-quarters of a mile long by half a mile wide, company officials say an iMove solution using just nine of the company's FlexG sensors will do the job. It would take 242 closed-circuit TV cameras to do the same.

The company recently completed a major pilot project for a Navy facility that wants to replace its current video surveillance system, which can't cover enough of the facility's perimeter for staff to see who or what triggers most of the alarms.

With the lessons learned from the Navy project, iMove officials hope they can release a production version of the new solution within the next year or so.

"The target [markets] are such things as nuclear national assets, port security, airports and similar facilities — anything involved with external coverage," said Rick Mandrell, iMove's chief operating officer.

Video surveillance cameras produced by IPIX, which similarly provide complete, continuous coverage of an area, were used at President Bush's inauguration in Washington, D.C., in January. They were also used to guard the G8 Summit held last June in Sea Island, Ga.

Eventually, digital video surveillance cameras will attach directly to a standard IP network, making deployment much simpler. These so-called IP cameras, which most of the major camera manufacturers have started to make, include all of the intelligence needed to act as a self-contained node on the network as well as the software needed to compress and encode the digital video. Some even include Web server software and operating systems, which eliminates the need for separate servers to process the images.

Until these newer technologies make a bigger impact, current users of video security technologies will have to find a way to get the most out of their existing investments.

"Many of the surveillance cameras that are in place are still analog. They cost a lot, and customers are looking to use that existing investment," said Lisa Ciappetta, product marketing manager specializing in video surveillance for ADT Security Services. "And the fact is that analog cameras still produce images with the better detail. Digital cameras are getting there, but they are not there yet."

Switching channels

The need to incorporate existing analog cameras in current digital video installments means the focus is still on the network's video recorder, which takes the analog video feed from the camera and digitizes, compresses and encodes it before sending it out onto the IP network. Also important is finding the analysis software that makes the best use of the digital video.

A test of a digital video system at the Jacksonville, Fla., International Airport — funded as part of a $28 million Transportation Security Administration program to develop airport security systems

Eyes on you

Law enforcement is one area where the use of video surveillance systems is attracting attention, both good and bad.

In New Orleans, Mayor C. Ray Nagin included video surveillance as part of a seven-point plan to fight crime he proposed in 2003. The city's pilot video project, begun last April, distributed several dozen high-resolution IP cameras throughout a 25-square-block area. The cameras were connected to a police command post via a wired backbone network and a mesh wireless network supplied by Tropos Networks.

In the area where the video system was installed, the murder rate fell 57 percent and auto thefts dropped by 25 percent during a six-month period in 2004, compared with the same period the previous year when the cameras were not present, said Chris Drake, a project manager in the Mayor's Office of Technology.

"The digital video system can't take credit for all of that because the police are always doing things to counter crime," Drake said. "But even the district commander said the video system was far and away the biggest contributor to the fall in the numbers."

Elsewhere, the city of Brentwood, Calif., deployed a citywide digital video surveillance system as a way to deter robberies and burglaries. The system operates via a secure, wireless 802.11g wide-area network backbone based on Cisco Systems' wireless bridges and access points. Police patrol cars were outfitted with Cisco client network adapter cards so officers on the beat could receive the video on their in-car computer systems.

The system was designed to be as standard and open as possible so that it wouldn't go out of date quickly and could be updated easily as new technologies came along, said Lt. Kevin King, who heads the project for the Brentwood Police Department.

The standards-based approach was also important for convincing retail businesses to sign on to the project. A major part of its success depends on businesses being able to tie their own in-building surveillance systems into the city's wireless system, said John Isaac, vice president of sales and project manager for Clare Computer Solutions, the integrator for the Brentwood project.

However, these types of law enforcement applications have drawn their share of criticism. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, believes "the untrammeled use of video surveillance is a problem that needs to be controlled," said Jay Stanley, an ACLU spokesman.

Isolated use of cameras to protect private property is not a big problem, he said, but large networks of cameras operated by the police or other government organizations raise privacy concerns that must be addressed with clear policies.

"You need rules to govern when cameras are turned on, what they can be used for, what the zoom limits will be, whether night vision will be used and so on," Stanley said. "You also need rules for how long the video will be retained, who has access and how the rules will be verified and enforced."

He added that studies done in the United Kingdom, where law enforcement agencies have used video for years, raise questions about how effective surveillance cameras are in combating crime or preventing terrorism.

— Brian Robinson

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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