Professional video surveillance: From basic recording to advanced video monitoring

A look at video surveillance usage options, including the advent of remote video guard tours

Users also have to consider the drawbacks and shortcoming of self monitoring. Depending upon the nature of the facility being monitored and the technology deployed, the number of alerts or notifications that might be transmitted can be quite large and will often become a nuisance to a user. They may be awakened in the middle of the night for what will often be a false alarm. If the user's cell phone is turned off -- i.e.,, if the user is on a plane, in a concert or simply not within range of a cell tower -- critical alarms can be missed. Cell data plans may not provide sufficient bandwidth to view quality video and even if they do, the cost to the user can be quite high.

If the security of the facility being monitored is not critical or the value of the goods being protected is low, this may be a reasonable option. However, the inconvenience to the user coupled with the possibility of missing an alarm makes this a poor choice for real security.

Professional remote video monitoring
A better choice for remote video surveillance is the use of a professional monitoring facility. Using this approach, the user is provided with what amount to be "remote guarding". Video notifications are sent to a facility which is staffed by trained operators who can identify if there is indeed a real threat and respond as necessary. They may need to contact an on-site guard, notify the local authorities (police, fire), make an audio announcement to the affected area affected, call the facility owner, or perform any other action required to aid in ending the threat and reduce potential losses.

A key element to making any video surveillance have real value is the ability to provide some intervening response in the event of a viewed threat. In some cases that might be accomplished by notifying local authorities or an on-site guard. The advantage of having a professional monitoring center able to connect to and view live video from a camera is that the operator can witness the event in real time and provide invaluable information to the responders, for instance, descriptions of the perpetrators or vehicles and which way they went upon leaving the scene. If the video surveillance system includes PTZ cameras (Pan Tilt, Zoom) the operator can remotely reposition some of the cameras for optimal views or to follow the threat as it moves throughout the area. This cannot be accomplished by simply sending a photo or short video clip to someone's PDA or cell phone.

Another method of response is to have the monitoring center operator make a voice announcement via VOIP (voice over IP) using speakers on the client's property. This can be of great value in cases where no immediate physical response is available such as remote locations. It lets a person at the site know that their actions are under surveillance and that authorities have been dispatched. Often, this can mitigate or even eliminate the threat before problems are created and damages occur.

Today's remote video facilities are staffed 24/7 with operators trained to use video surveillance and familiar with how to interact with law enforcement. A good remote video monitoring staff acts as a filter for false alarms by viewing video and determining if further action is required. This means that fines levied for the unnecessary dispatch of local authorities are reduced and often eliminated.

A professional monitoring center would certainly look at the video during alarm events, but the operators can also view the cameras at a facility on a scheduled basis, performing a "tour" as would be done by an on-site guard. During these video tours, they can look for security-related issues such as people and vehicles present in prohibited areas. Video tours conducted by professional operators can also enhance safety by identifying other hazards; they might identify fallen electrical wires, blocked stairways or emergency exits, and lighting outages. Those same operators can perform other services similar to guards; one common method is to use the available cameras to chaperone employees safely to their vehicles when leaving work late or to closely monitor the after-hours delivery of goods.

Professional video monitoring facilities themselves are designed specifically for this purpose. They are built to operate round the clock and throughout the year, regardless of holidays, power failures, weather events, etc. They incorporate technology to insure reliability and constant operation, even in the event of a disaster. Some even have a fully operational and remotely located disaster recovery site that can be used in the event that the primary facility is down for any reason.