Video and Access Control Integration

Why your access and surveillance systems are not on speaking terms


Sometimes it’s easy to get really frustrated with our industry. We have known for many years that the integration of access control systems and video systems produces real benefits. Yet, somehow we have managed to continue to build integrated systems the same way we did 15 years ago — one interface at a time.

Why is our industry so far behind when it comes to integration? You disagree? Well, let’s do some comparisons. If you buy a printer this weekend — any of the hundreds of printer models at your local store — do you have to worry about it being compatible with your existing laptop? Assuming your laptop is reasonably contemporary, the answer is “no worries” (That assumes you are not running Vista, but I digress…). If you buy any Wi-Fi device, it connects with all wireless networks. Digital point-and-shoot cameras connect reliably over a USB connection, and your new Blu-ray player connects to your HD television over an HDMI connection no matter whose brand you bought.

In the security industry, we are not so fortunate. Want your video system to talk to your access control system? We live in a world where each access control system has to be “hand-crafted” in order to interface to a video system from a different manufacturer. While that has a certain old world charm about it, what it really means is wasted time and money.

Why the Integration is Important

In spite of the often high costs of making the connections, there is real value in an integrated system. We all know that video systems serve two purposes; surveillance and evaluation. Surveillance allows an operator to continuously monitor the activity in a site. This virtual roving guard serves a real purpose by allowing tours to be made more quickly and surreptitiously than a human on two feet ever could. The downside is that while multiple cameras can be displayed at once in front of the operator, it is still up to that human to select what he is going to watch. The result is that 99 percent of the site’s activity gets missed while we are focusing on the 1 percent. That’s useful, to be sure, and until someone invents a “bad people” detector, it is likely to be very necessary in many environments.

Evaluation, on the other hand, focuses on the monitoring and investigation of events. Those events come from a variety of sensors including video analytics, access control and intrusion systems. In fact, almost all of our other security systems are event-based.

Access control systems in particular generate alarms such as invalid badges, door forced and door held events. Those events need to be investigated, but the task of doing so with a standalone surveillance system is painful. Receive an alarm on one system, and your operator has to move to another complete system to investigate. This surveillance system has a different user interface and so he/she has to “switch gears.” Then, which camera do you call up to view the scene? An experienced operator will know, but that “experience” cost you a lot in terms of training.

And then there is the issue of capturing the event. Was your surveillance system recording the video of that door when the event occurred? Was the frame rate and resolution sufficient or does the operator have to bump it up for an event? Without the systems talking to each other, odds are good that events will be lost and response times will be slow.

The Situation

If you want to connect video and access in today’s world of security systems integration, where do you begin? Here are some possibilities:

• Add video integration to your access control system: If you contact your access control manufacturer and they tell you an interface is available for the video system you have selected, you may have beaten the odds. You will need to verify that the interface supports the particular software/firmware revision level of the chosen video system. Also, take a hard look at the functions provided by the interface to be sure it handles your needs. Almost all will allow the playback of recorded video associated with an alarm event. Look carefully, however, for the simultaneous display of live video and the ability to assign multiple cameras to an event. Synchronized playback from multiple views can often result in a much better situational awareness.

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