Go deep: Deeply integrated access control and digital video

[Editor's Note: Dave Ella's column is based upon a session that he held at ISC West 2008 and was solicited for SecurityInfoWatch.com and IPSecurityWatch.com readers to provide insight into the idea that integration of video and access control can mean much, much more than simple alarm I/Os.]

The security industry has seen a lot of changes the past five years and the pace of change is increasing. Access control is already on the LAN and is moving towards the edge of the network. Video is truly on the network, and making great strives to become a proactive tool to deter crime. Customers are demanding increased integration, and the pressure is on to provide an all-inclusive solution with installation at a reasonable cost. However, providing a truly integrated solution requires deep links between access control and digital video - deeper than the normal integration we've all come to know.

Understanding deep integration

Why is deep integration important? Deep integration provides faster response to incidents, and increases the level of security. Security guards are more productive, therefore increasing security. It simplifies forensic analysis of incidents, and turns data into information.

Simple systems normally do not have any integration. Video and access control are available as separate stand alone systems where no communication between the systems exists. Operators manage each system separately.

Light integration occurs when video and access control systems send alarms or events to each other but the operator still has to use two or more application user interfaces.

Deep integration occurs when video and access control systems are combined into a single fully functional management interface. The access control and video systems work together to provide real-time information so security guards and other system operators can proactively respond to events as they occur. The systems are combined so closely, the user thinks it is a single system.

Deep integrations usually exist through the use of a Software Developers Kits (SDK) provided by each security equipment manufacturer. An SDK is a piece of software that acts as glue to link two systems together.

Security system landscape

Security systems are now an IT product. Network cameras are gaining market share, and edge-based access control is now arriving. With this comes:

* Increased expectations: Video must become proactive * Increased integration * Intelligent video systems that pass data to access control * Pressure on installation cost

Plan ahead

Planning ahead is crucial to having the best system possible for your needs, and I recommend choosing the access control system first. Learn which video systems integrate with your access control choice prior to purchasing it. No access control vendor integrates to all DVR / NVR manufacturers, therefore if you want a certain DVR or camera, do your homework. A few access control manufacturers integrate or interface with a majority of the market leaders, however, you don't want to get deep into a project and learn that you cannot get a certain third party feature set because your access control system won't integrate properly.

Some access control vendors will engineer a special integration for large projects, but it must warrant value to the manufacturer as well as the customer.

Deep integration objectives

A deeply integrated access control and digital video solution demands centralized command and control from a single user interface.

Installing one integrated management system saves money and headaches. By reducing the number of manufacturers involved, project risk is reduced. Companies take responsibility for their own product complications and "buck passing" is diminished. The more products involved in an installation, the more risk there is for integration complications.

Security solutions have become more sophisticated. IT's involvement in not only the planning phase, but decision making process creates higher expectations for a product's performance.

Consulting engineers are looking to add value to their recommendations by proposing security systems that provide deep integration with other security systems and also integrate with human resource, accounting and building management systems. Choosing a security solution with these capabilities provides users with a flexible solution that will fit company growth and increased future demands of the security system.

* The complexities are for the manufacturers of the access control and video products to worry about * The most important decisions for the integrator are to pick the right access control system and matching video hardware * An integration provides genuine customer benefits


The available features will vary depending on the access control system, the video technology used and the manufacturer. A single user interface gives the operator or security guard one system to view video and respond to alarms. Operators can view cameras on a map screen and have complete control over cameras during a flashing alarm or incident. When in alarm operators can:

View live video and immediately respond to situations while they are occurring. Replay recorded video to review past events. Operate the pan tilt zoom manually to not miss an event. Schedule and/or manipulate camera tours and patterns based on the current situation.

Tagging video is a logical link to a video clip and is part of "deeply integrating" video surveillance with the access control and intrusion systems. I would suggest that video should be allowed to be tagged both before and after an alarm is triggered. Users should be able to view tagged video from an alarm screen, maps, activity lists, history reports or a virtual matrix. Tagging alarms from an intrusion, building management or visitor management system provides enhanced security. The operator can immediately see what caused an alarm, and actively respond to it without despatching a security guard.

Operators are unlikely to spot incidents if there are too many cameras to monitor. A deeply integrated system should be able to automatically display video to the operator when there are alarms of interest. Alarms can pop up in a virtual matrix, in a new window, or on a mobile device like a PDA. Video then becomes a much more proactive tool.

In a deeply integrated system, any system activity should be able to trigger an automated system response on any of the sub-systems. This is one of the tests of a truly integrated solution. The response might be to lock a set of doors or to swing a camera to a different preset position - the options should be unlimited.

Motion and intelligent video alarms can initiate system triggers and responses. Intelligent video systems - often known as video analytics - create alarms and the integrated solution can trigger a response of any type. Intelligent video will rapidly improve over the next one to five years. As technology advances, users will find more needs for it and intelligent video will create an extra layer of security for an organization.

Many organizations want to move to IP-based video but currently don't have the bandwidth or storage available. Some access control / digital video combinations can be configured to save and transmit video only when an incident or event occurs. Some edge-based storage devices can buffer video to prevent transmission across the LAN, and allow the user to choose transmission time.

The access control system can sometimes provide the glue to link old and new video technologies together. Some systems allow analog switchers, DVR, NVR and IP cameras to be combined to preserve investment, and allow a migration path from analog to digital video.

So, what are the challenges?

Technical standards for linking access control and video do not exist. The Security Industry Association has been working on writing standards, and announced the Open Systems Integration and Performance Standards - Digital Video Interface Data Model which specifies interface requirements for the digital video component of a video surveillance solution. But there is a long way to go before integration standards between the two systems are completed.

Also, every DVR / NVR manufacturer's Software Developers Kit (SDK) is completely different though most offer very similar features. It should be noted that some manufacturers have several SDKs, so care needs to be taken to check which specific items of equipment can and cannot be integrated together.

The Future

Organizations will demand truly integrated solutions. Security systems and security guards will become a more integrated function, and intelligent video analytics will add a new layer of security for an organization. Video will become proactive and less of a forensic, after the event, analysis tool. Video as part of a deeply integrated solution will increasingly stop crime and not just report on it. Deeply integrated access control, video management, and video analytics will help create the truly integrated systems of tomorrow.