A checklist for homeland security agencies making the jump from analog to IP video

Government agencies have experienced a dramatic demand for surveillance technology development to protect people as well as private and public assets. Recent security challenges — from boarding airplanes to protecting embassies — highlight the growing need for increasing security, especially surveillance.

One of the most challenging dilemmas that homeland security managers face is when and how to take the leap from an analog to an IP/digital video system. They want to jump to IP surveillance, but in a cost-managed way that extends the life of existing equipment. For most sites, this migration will take place gradually and, during the process, analog and IP solutions will have to coexist — in some cases, for many years to come.

Five major system areas need to be considered:
- Cameras;
- Transmission and cabling, including power supplies;
- Storage and retrieval;
- Command and control; and
- Integration.

Cameras – Throw Out the Analog or Keep Them

A key consideration for homeland security executives is whether or not existing analog cameras or new IP ones will provide the image quality needed to achieve the functional requirements of the system. Different applications have different requirements — for example, some users require the ability to see and track suspects in changing lighting conditions, while others simply need to see that a corridor is clear. In many migration plans, specific locations of greater vulnerability or image detail requirements are ideal places for IP-based cameras, including megapixel and high definition models. One needs to ask if higher resolution cameras can help at each location.

As part of a co-existence plan, analog-to-digital encoders at the camera end can transform images from an analog camera for digital transmission and storage. The analog control room equipment gets scrapped, but the new IP control room equipment controls the already-installed analog cameras.
Another approach holds down the budget at the beginning — the existing analog equipment, including cameras, control room, video wall and cabling remains untouched. VMS software, integrated with the present keyboard, sits on top of the system to manage the new IP equipment and the already-installed analog system.

Transmission Choices

Coaxial, shielded twisted pair and unshielded twisted pair cable, fiber optics and — to a lesser degree — a variety of wireless approaches, carry most homeland security video. The difference and business advantage of the various transmission schemes are in cost of installation and cost of maintenance. A question to ask is whether or not the new IP cameras will eliminate long-distance analog cabling.

One strategy to handle both analog and digital networks is to transmit all the signals over a single fiber optic cable that is secure and immune to electrical or environmental interference. Installation is dramatically simplified by eliminating the need for multiple fibers, transmitters and receivers.

Not to be forgotten are power supplies. Following a co-existence plan, power supplies that are multi-tap, addressable and programmable have advantages.

Other considerations include the increased bandwidth impact on the enterprise’s network. This is a tricky assignment, and IT can help. Will newer types of compression, decompression or codec, such as H.264, reduce bandwidth traffic load but at a cost of more storage and command center processing? Can the budget afford the increased transmission and storage associated with megapixel cameras?

Storage and Retrieval Challenges

Though being analog-based, most homeland security organizations already have digital and network video recorders for storage and retrieval. However, storage solutions have their own challenges, thanks to myriad features and benefits that can range from common specs to helpful elements such as intelligent PTZ control with preset positions and e-mail or SMS message notification upon motion detection or event alerts.

Security managers are also deploying SD or secure digital storage cards at the camera edge. This is especially important in applications where loss of connection to the rest of the system could lead to lost images.

Regardless, there are several questions to consider before selecting one mode or another on the pathway to IP:
- If the video is being monitored from a remote location (and it typically is), will the system include exception reporting?
- Do files ever need to be shared with other departments, including law enforcement, in real time?
- How much video needs to be recorded, and how long does it need to be kept?

Command and Control Options

There is a lot to consider with command and control. Traditional matrix switching and joysticks are workhorses but — in a fast-approaching software world — a solid next step is the consideration of networked video matrix switchers.

Traditionally, in the leap from analog to digital video, organizations convert analog signals to digital signals by buying and installing rack encoders for their bank of analog cameras. They replace the analog control room equipment with new IP control room equipment. This can be quite expensive at the front end.

Some believe that a better way is to create a coexistent system. In this scheme, the system keyboards connect to a VMS, not the matrix switchers. The analog side of the coexisting system stays untouched — nothing is added to it. However, since the VMS sits on top of the system, operators use their traditional keyboard commands to manage both the analog and digital solutions.

That happens because the VMS interfaces with both the system’s analog matrix switchers as well as the IP cameras. As a result, on the combined video wall, the analog and IP solutions co-exist but are still separate. Transparent to the operator, with no mouse needed, the system sends IP camera images to the digital monitors and analog camera signals to the analog monitors. With this co-existent solution, agencies can begin using an IP solution simply by adding IP cameras, digital monitors and a VMS.


True security systems integration is a goal of most security operations. Beyond relays and interfaces, seamless integration of security video with electronic access control, intrusion, perimeter and identification systems is a beneficial endpoint of any operation and one made simpler through IP.

No matter the speed of the change-over, a solid plan is one in which both analog and IP cameras can coexist. Such coexistence increases Security’s overall situational and domain awareness, improves its operational effectiveness and efficiencies, provides a growth plan that extends the life of existing equipment, and is affordable and easy to manage.

Mark S. Wilson is vice president of marketing for Infinova.