Video verification strategies: Bringing video into a central station

In previous coverage on this topic from ESX 2010 (see part 1 of this article), examined police response trends to video verification, and while police response and standards is an outside factor that central stations and security dealers are facing, there are in-house stepping stones for central stations too.

Picking products

According to Jim Loyd, the vice president of sales and marketing for Grand Central Station (GCS) in Hayward, Calif., and a speaker on the ESX video verification seminar, one of the first things that has to be decided upon is product selection. Walk any security industry tradeshow floor (but especially ESX), and you'll see a plethora of companies offering video surveillance and remote monitoring products to security dealers and central stations. Loyd said that GCS took a tier approach to product selection to solve this challenge.

On the low-end is what he calls mobile video. For GCS, they use Xanboo to offer their customers video verification and remote monitoring. The product can push video (and alarm system access) to a customer's cellular telephone. One step up, at what Loyd calls the mid-tier, is Videofied's system which integrates PIR detectors with very simple cameras. The Videofied system integrates with an alarm system and gives monitoring personnel small video clips. The system uses cellular GSM connections and the units are battery powered, so Videofied's technology is popular for remote locations and installations where power and cabling present challenges. The downside of the Videofied system is that the clips are so small and compressed that central stations say the video has no real value for criminal identification purposes, but it can be used to verify or dismiss an alarm-in-progress.

For high-end, more robust remote video monitoring and event verification, GCS uses Immix Systems' Sureview platform. The system is a full-fledged video system providing better video, and Loyd said the platform allows his firm's central station to provide services like remote concierge, virtual doorman and virtual guard tours. A number of stations said they have integrated Surview and similar competitive products right into their station's automation software.

Loyd said that the three-tier product line has allowed them to offer different levels of service to their clients, and he said that most customers are commercial. The station has been able to land national accounts with this offering, but also can remain nimble enough to service small businesses. Loyd said that has meant a great growth opportunity for GCS, and he advises firms to develop compensation structures for sales persons that would encourage the sale of remote video monitoring and event verification.

Effect on central station operations

Wanda Valenteen, the central station manager for The Protection Bureau and another panel speaker at ESX 2010's video verification seminar, said that in addition to picking product, central stations need to review their contracts. "You need video specific contract verbage, because video is a different monster," Valenteen said. "You have to protect your operators and your company."

Valenteen said that as a station manager, she also had to consider how that effected her station operators. The company has been using Videofied's products and notably landed the protection of a high number of empty buildings for the Detroit Public Schools. Adding video meant time on incident increased, and Valenteen said she needed to review that increase and price video services accordingly. A regular intrusion alarm incident might take a total of 90 seconds of an operator's time, Valenteen said, but with video, sometimes they don't receive the video clips until 90 seconds later, due to the lag time of the system sending the video over a cellular network.

She said her operators also had to consider how they interacted with police dispatch. Just saying "I have a video verified alarm" isn't enough, Valenteen said. Until dispatchers are familiar with this technology, operators often will have to explain what they are seeing on camera as the alarm is occurring. That info, she said, gets dispatchers attention.

On the plus side, Valenteen said that doing video verification of alarms boosted the morale for The Protection Bureau's operators. "They now feel like they are partners in law enforcement."

The techie impact

Another speaker on the CSAA-presented panel was Mark McCall, the director of information technology for United Central Control (UCC), a wholesale central station based out of San Antonio, Texas. McCall said that central stations considering video services need to pay close attention to what the technology means for their communications infrastructure.

McCall agreed with Loyd that it's best to create product tiers (his station uses Xanboo, Videofied and OzVision systems), but he said IT managers need to consider how video systems integrated with existing central station automation software.

"Simply popping up a new software window with the proprietary DVR client is not a good integration," McCall said. "You need a consistent panel interface for your operators. Without a common interface, you'll face much more difficult training, and you may also have signals communication problems, and you might even have a lack of alarm history."

Beyond automation systems integration, McCall says to watch out for the technical impacts related to your network, your ISPs, overall bandwidth, and storage of the video clips (remember, he said, this is evidence!).

McCall's top recommendation is to double your efforts -- and by that he means adding redundancy. He advises stations to consider having dual Internet service providers (ISPs) with an IT design that allows automatic failover between those ISPs. He also advised attendees to "consider redundant firewalls, routers, network switches and redundant servers for your video management systems. You must eliminate single points of failure."

Sometimes the technical aspects of video verification and remote monitoring aren't in the station but at your clients' facilities. Your clients must consider their own ISPs when installing a video system to be managed by a central station.

"If you're doing a commercial system, they shouldn't be on a shared network and they shouldn't be on a throttled system," McCall said. "If they can handle a 512 Kb feed, which is what I'm seeing as standard from most DVRs, they should be good." If they have less bandwidth, UCC may point a client toward simple video verification rather than full-fledge remote monitoring and guard tours, which are more bandwidth intensive for the customer's facility.

As an IT manager he said he is watching bandwidth all the time. At UCC, there is even a set of "gauges" indicating current bandwidth consumption of his central station so he knows if there are bandwidth problems instantly.

As to the often asked question of how long to store incident-associated video, McCall said he matched the video retention police with the retention police on their automation system. For UCC that means five years, keeping in mind they are only storing the relevant clips. He uses common video file formats like M-JPEG and MPEG, and he said those file formats have been commonly accepted by law enforcement without question.

As the session concluded, one thing was clear -- video is a huge opportunity for central stations and alarm dealers, but it's not a business area to jump into lightly. Stations and dealers need to make a clear plan and consider how it will affect their operations and infrastructure before they make the leap.