Integrating loss prevention systems for improved awareness

While watching news coverage in the last 12 months of everything from the 40th anniversary of the moon landing to the recent deaths of politicians, newscasters and celebrities, it struck me how far we've come in the evolution of video. The footage from even a decade ago looks old fashioned; footage from the late 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s looks downright archaic on today's large screens with their brilliant displays.

Those of us in the field of retail security and loss prevention have a special appreciation for these advances. It wasn't long ago when looking at video to try and identify thieves meant searching through hours of grainy, black-and-white footage using multiplexers and VCRs.

Today, with crystal-clear pictures, digital recording, event-triggering and other advancements, these systems are tremendously more useful than in the past. But the technology has surpassed the point where we're merely concerned with clear images and ever-larger hard drives. We're moving quickly toward a point of true convergence and integration, where all types of loss prevention systems -- digital video, intrusion alarms, EAS, merchandise protection and others -- will have the ability to contribute valuable data and functionality as part of an interconnected, event-driven solution. For years, as technology in each category advanced, loss prevention professionals have looked for ways to integrate their previously disparate systems and, in doing so, increase the value of each. Point solutions have been created, but the future looks even more promising.

There are already many opportunities for retailers to take advantage of inter-connected and integrated systems. In simpler forms, intrusion alarms and EAS systems interfaced with video systems can bookmark, for instance, each time an alarm occurs or a fire exit or receiving dock door is opened. The ability to quickly pinpoint these events enhances the value of both the intrusion and video surveillance systems.

A more advanced variation on this theme involves protecting receiving docks, cash offices and other critical areas with 24-hour active alarm devices, using dedicated keypads or card readers to control access. This type of authentication helps to ensure staff compliance with safety and security policies and procedures. Knowing their activities are monitored serves not only as a deterrent to employee theft but also prevents unwanted behaviors such as propping these doors open or using them instead of the appropriate store entryways and exits. This makes for a much more robust system and leverages the use of equipment such as the intrusion alarm panel around the clock; it takes advantage of security technology systems that might otherwise be active only after-hours. Again, a direct or "virtual" link to the video system ensures that exception events may be reviewed efficiently, further enhancing the program.

In recent years, retailers have looked to their security vendors to develop increasingly sophisticated solutions. One example is the use of an "alternate frequency" EAS tag to create silent alerts when merchandise or other assets pass through a doorway. By selectively placing these tags and then automatically linking the events to video, retailers can be notified instantly of a potential internal theft event. Moreover, they can easily gather the data they need for an investigation and prosecution. This solution has already proven to be particularly effective at protecting bulk prescription drugs in a pharmacy environment. Of course, the standard frequency tags continue to generate an audible alarm, so the system operates normally for detecting shoplifting and organized retail theft.

Some retailers are integrating an advanced public view monitor with differentiated inbound and outbound EAS alarms to capture and distribute live video of the people who set off alarms, which serves as a further deterrent to theft and also improves store employees' responsiveness to the alarms.

Another retailer is testing a solution that notifies a central facility if the EAS system in a store is turned off. The benefit of integrating 24/7 monitoring and EAS is the real-time visibility it gives to potential theft situations in any store across a retailers' chain. Monitoring EAS also helps to verify proper operation and ensure prompt service -- which improves the effectiveness of the program.

Thanks to the ubiquity of network connections in modern security equipment, effective integration is not only possible, it is becoming practical. The challenge to retailers, manufacturers, and consultative providers alike is to work together to identify the most effective set of solutions for today's connected store.

One thing is even more crystal clear than the displays on the latest screens: We cannot settle for stand-alone functions or needless complexity, but must focus on holistic solutions that deliver value, visibility and asset protection in these bustling environments. Everyone gains from the success when the benefits of the total program greatly outweigh the sum of its parts.

About the author: Steve White is vice president and general manager of CheckView at Checkpoint Systems Inc.