Video surveillance gets smart

Integrated systems evolve from mere watchers to security enforcers

Late at night, someone approaches the door of a government facility. A security camera tracks the person’s movement but does more than simply pass the image on to a guard. It runs the video through a facial recognition program that checks against criminal watch lists and gets a hit.

The person tries to break in. The perimeter breach sets off a sensor and triggers alarms across the facility. The access control system locks the doors to the building, and two more cameras start tracking the individual, providing a 360-degree view of the would-be intruder’s actions. At the guard station, a computer screen flashes an alarm, and all response employees receive text messages on their cell phones warning them of the attempted break-in.

That scene isn’t science fiction. Video surveillance is evolving from a reactive into a proactive technology. More companies are offering systems that monitor security situations and enforce pre-emptive security measures across entire organizations.

“We’re not simply looking to capture the bad guy walking into the building,” said Tim Ross, co-founder and executive vice president of sales and marketing at 3VR Security. “We want to capture his face as he walks in the door. We want to signal an alert and stop him.”

That approach represents a departure from the use of traditional closed-circuit TV systems that relay images to people who must notice security events and apply security policies consistently. “Up to this point, people didn’t think that a camera system could do anything more than record and store,” said Brooks McChesney, president and chief executive officer of Vidient Systems.

One reason for the shift is that the public is growing more aware that IT is an essential part of physical security, said Mariann McDonagh, vice president of global marketing at Verint Systems. Another is the proliferation of video networks using IP. Video data is now in the same format as other sensor data.

“The connection of the video with other data is where the power comes in,” she said. “It gives you a more complete picture of what’s happening. You can treat it like any other data. It empowers decisions. We can make more intelligent decisions based on what we see and move to correct it.”

The systems aim to integrate all threat and response information into one alarm that will provide guards with all necessary information about the situation, McChesney said. Many systems are already working toward such integration.

For instance, 3VR analyzes all video data through a custom-built search engine in real time and automatically alerts guards and acts based on a customer’s security policies, Ross said. The results appear immediately on a security dashboard on the guard’s computer screen.

People would not run their businesses without good phone or computer systems, and security systems are no different, said Sandra Jones, principal of Sandra Jones and Co., a consulting firm that specializes in the convergence of physical and digital security. “It starts becoming a logical, economical investment,” she said.

The new approach shows camera owners the great value in updating their existing infrastructure, McChesney said. Buying all the components to build an intelligent surveillance system a la carte costs more money and doesn’t have the technical interoperability, information-sharing ability and easy interface of an integrated system, Ross said.

Better eyes, better security

Intelligent video surveillance systems solve a common problem of traditional video surveillance and analysis systems — scalability, said Tim Ross, co-founder and executive vice president of sales and marketing at 3VR Security.

People can see only so much raw video at once and process much less, Ross said. Intelligent video management systems enable users to understand as much as 10 times more data because they can look at mug shots instead of raw footage, for instance.

The systems make forensics work easier, Ross said. The company’s products use real-time indexing through a custom-built search engine, which can review hundreds of thousands of hours of data in seconds.

Another benefit of intelligent systems is that they free guards from the drudgery — and their employers from the cost — of watching screens when nothing is happening, said Brooks McChesney, president and chief executive officer of Vidient Systems.

Intelligent video management systems have other uses in addition to security, said Mariann McDonagh, vice president of global marketing at Verint Systems. Airports use them to review operations on the tarmac and initiate changes to improve efficiency, she said. Managers and employees use video clips to illustrate their case during contract negotiations.

--Michael Arnone

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