IP Case in Point: Safe Shoppers

Advanced surveillance technology helps retail giant get tough on theft


The right combination of surveillance technology is paramount for an industry that is constantly being threatened by criminals who walk out the door with billions of dollars worth of merchandise every year. The National Retail Federation reported that retail losses from theft and fraud hit $41.6 billion last year - an all-time high. Employee theft accounted for $19.5 billion (47 percent); shoplifting $13.3 million (32 percent); administrative errors accounted for $5.8 billion (14 percent); and vendor fraud was $1.7 billion (4 percent).
The impact of small-time criminals and organized crime groups has served as a wake-up call for retailers that need to find new ways of cracking down on theft. Fortunately, many retailers are getting wise and taking advantage of new surveillance technology that helps deter, detect and prosecute criminals. In the National Retail Federation study, roughly half of the 139 U.S. retailers surveyed say they are now tracking organized retail crime activity. The survey indicates that 95.7 percent of retailers' loss prevention systems include burglar alarms; 87.1 percent include CCTV; and 84.9 percent use digital video. Other methods used include check screening, armored cars, point-of-sale data mining software and hidden cameras.

The ability to decrease criminal activity in the retail environment has innumerable benefits. A crime-free environment is crucial to shoppers, who want to feel safe and secure in their preferred shopping destination - and to employees, who need to feel a sense of security in the workplace. Also, by reducing the amount of stolen goods, retailers will not have to mark up prices or find other means to make up for lost revenues that could, in the end, hurt consumers.

Simon Property Group, the nation's largest retail landlord that welcomes approximately 2.8 billion visitors to its malls each year, understands the retail security risks, which is why the company has invested in technology to protect its people and properties while cracking down on crime.

Understanding Risk
Simon Property Group maintains an extensive portfolio of shopping centers that range from regional malls to Premium Outlet Centers, The Mills, community/lifestyle centers and international properties. The company currently owns or has an interest in 323 properties, which comprises 244 million square feet of gross leasable area in North America, Europe and Asia.
John Petruzzi, vice president of corporate security and emergency management, is responsible for overseeing the security programs for Simon Property Group's real estate. His job is to be the eyes and ears that protect the company's customers, employees, retailers and brand. In order to stay current on cutting-edge technologies that provide the best security measures for Simon Property Group's centers, Petruzzi sought help from IPC Technologies Inc., a systems design/project management company that, through its parent company IPC International Corp., specializes in shopping center security.

"With so many properties, it is imperative that a company agrees on and adheres to an overall security philosophy and security tools from the same pool of partners across the board to create a more effective and cohesive security system," says Charlie R. Pierce, president of IPC Technologies Inc.

IPC Technologies has acted as Petruzzi's extended security team throughout the entire analysis, planning and installation process. The company is responsible for designing systems, writing specifications, interviewing contractors, providing standards for equipment and processes, handling logistics for installation and service, training, and establishing a national service program for the ongoing service of the systems - mall by mall.
Every Simon Property is different. For example, each piece of real estate has distinct layouts, retail stores and exteriors, which translates to very different security needs. In order to best understand the security needs of a property, security experts from Simon and IPC Technologies conducted site assessments to understand what security systems were in place and what needed to be added or changed. During the assessments, experts assessed how many security officers were being used, what hours they worked, how they worked and whether the existing system needed to be supplemented with security software and/or cameras. All decisions were predicated from the results of the risk assessments among the full gamut of shopping center types - from those that required only one officer in a community center, to 35 officers and/or cameras in a 2 million-square-foot facility.

Designing a System That Works
Simon uses hundreds of security cameras in its overall security design. Its CCTV system may be a either simple analog system, a hybrid system or a fully digital program. When the security team designs a system for a particular property, they have a three-tiered system from which to work, all of which are predicated on the risk assessments. Tier 1 is a lower-risk facility that will include a standard analog system, and is usually inexpensive to install.

Tier 2 may mean a hybrid system that leverages a comprehensive legacy system that is in need of upgraded security technology to strengthen its vulnerabilities. A Tier 2 system usually includes both network and analog cameras that work together with the help of video encoders, which digitize video from existing analog cameras.
The hybrid approach enables the security team to use the existing legacy system without completely replacing it, which is a costly proposition. Sometimes legacy systems are adequate until more high performance technology is needed to control criminal activity. For example, in retail settings, the majority of crime happens on the exterior premises, such as in flat parking lots and parking decks. In these cases, the team installs cameras with license plate recognition technology. In other scenarios, properties may have the need for megapixel cameras or other intelligent video analytics solutions.

Tier 3 designs are 100-percent digital - from the camera, to the controlling system, to the storage systems. Storage is optimized through the use of RAID 5, hot swappable hard drives and usually begins in the 5-10 terabyte range. Additionally, Tier 3 systems include a full, one-gigabyte fiber optic backbone, which allows for extensive coverage and long-term growth factors, while keeping budgets tight. In some cases, properties that have a Tier 3 system are new properties, where a system is being installed for the first time. In other cases, the property is a higher-risk facility that needs higher quality images across the board and intelligent video with analytics software.

Technology At Work to Keep The Public Safe
Statistically, the majority of criminal activity at shopping centers occurs on the exterior of the facility, however, the safety and security of shoppers and employees inside the center is of equal importance. This is why it is necessary to have the right mix of security tools in place. On the inside of a center, security experts might deploy cameras to monitor common areas, such as hallways, food courts and escalators, but not necessarily the retail store itself. In most cases, stores have their own security systems; however, the store's staff works hand-in-hand with Simon's security team, if necessary, to help attack a security issue from all angles.
Petruzzi and IPC Technologies deploy the most appropriate security tools that will work best to achieve the desired results. IPC Technologies referred Simon to Axis Communications for the network cameras. Whether he needs a megapixel camera like the AXIS 211M for high image quality, or a pan/tilt/zoom camera like the AXIS 233D that covers many angles and works well in an area with light variations, Petruzzi puts into place the technology that bests fits the needs of a property.

For example, a property may have a flat lot with an area of more than 3,000 feet to monitor, or perhaps a security team is monitoring an entranceway where a wide-angle view is needed, in which case the AXIS 223M may be the right fit.

IP-based surveillance systems are ideal in many of Simon's properties because of the flexibility they offer. The security team is able to easily plug-and-play network cameras where they are needed most, especially if there is an existing infrastructure in place.

Network surveillance also enables Simon's security team to better manage video and use it to work with external law enforcement agencies because of its central management feature. For example, an IP-based system enables police and other emergency responders to view video before they get to the scene of the crime, which enables them to make better decisions.

Simon shares information regularly with the police, especially as organized retail crime has become more prevalent over the last five years. The Simon team works closely with the National Retail Federation and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track professionals who target various regions across the country. A sophisticated surveillance system helps provide quality images that enable law enforcement officials to crack down on crime and prosecute offenders.

"This is all about managing risk," Petruzzi says. "Security is not only about reducing criminal incidents; it is also about the ability to prosecute repeat offenders. I use all the tools in our toolbox - whether they are analog cameras, video encoders or a variation of network cameras to mitigate risk and create a safer environment for our customers and employees."

About the author: Fredrik Nilsson is general manager of Axis Communications, a provider of IP-based network video solutions that include network cameras and video encoders for remote monitoring and security surveillance. This is article part of a 10-part series that features in-depth case studies illustrating the design challenges integrators face when implementing network video solutions in the real world. Previous articles have included case studies on wireless installations, complying with enterprise IT, large storage needs, large bandwidth needs and scalable systems.