Our Man in the Field: Pulling It All Together

Somewhere about 26 or 28 years ago, Vicon and American Dynamics developed a technique for working pan/tilts, lenses and controllers together to form a new process referred to as "pre-positioning."

I don't know if these guys truly invented it or not. I was just a lowly installation tech at the time and it didn't matter. Besides, I wasn't privy to the processes of corporate invention. But I can tell you that the first job I ever installed pre-positioning into changed the course of my thinking about CCTV and the rest of security forever.

The pre-positioning was a simple process. Install a three-legged potentiometer on the pan and tilt gears and another pair onto the zoom and focus gears. Feed 6VDC through the common, and measure the output (both the negative and positive) of the opposing sides. Read and remember the opposing voltages from each of the eight points. And, last but not least, guide everything back to those readings upon a command. There were 12 such positions per camera with a three degree return accuracy. All you needed was a high-level matrix controller, a heavy duty pan/tilt and an amazingly large zoom lens.

John Danico, an old friend and a forward thinking perfectionist, was the one that designed us into such modern thinking configurations ... and he did this without fear. His attitude? "I'll put it together and Charlie will make it work." It was a good combination. He taught me to see a whole picture. The equipment taught me that we could do anything as long as we had a bit of finesse and a piece of duct tape.

Next thing that we knew, John was pushing a new product on the market called access control. And before we could bat an eye, this long-ago hero and mentor of mine was thinking of ways to tie the two systems together. But he didn't stop. Alarm systems were added into the combination and then policy and design.

It's amazing when I think about it. Why? Because it wasn't that long ago and yet, to our fast-paced industry it still feels like it was a millennium ago. John was -- and still is -- ahead of his time with the design and integration of security systems. It would be another 10 years from that time before the word "integration" even started to raise it's head. Today, the word and process is altering again and it is starting to be referred to as "culmination."

Why culmination? Because integration just doesn't describe what we are doing. We are now to the point of culminating equipment, processes, data and everything else that you can imagine. No longer do we just tie switches and contacts together in a chattering effort to trigger one thing from another. Today, we feed data streams into screaming, streaming video and tie all of that to everything within sight. We "reach the highest or most decisive point" -- we culminate.

So, are you culminating? I don't know. I do know that if you are not, you will be soon enough. I do know that there is a process involved and that it can become quite tedious. I do know that it is not easy and that there has been more than one occasion when I wish that all I had to do was to make one of John Danico's designs come together. However, we are here to discuss the processes of culminating. All the dreams and wishes of easier times won't pull us out of the middle of this one.

Step one: Design your systems. Lay everything out on paper. Draw pictures of your camera system, with your access control system, with your alarm system and then walk through the various processes and desired affects of every scenario that you can imagine. As you go, write down the required or desired triggers that you want to put together. Then look around and ask yourself what else you can do to make the process of security and business work together.

Do you have monitoring systems for heating, cooling, water pressure, high water levels? Processes that are normally checked by the security or safety groups on a regular basis? Add them into your mix. Think about what you want. Do you want a visual image to appear if something goes out of sync? Do you want a data stream to appear in that image? Do you want a specific physical response? Like I said, this is the easy part. It will require you to push yourself into forward, imaginative thinking, but it is easy. Give yourself the mental attitude that everything is possible ... and then go buy some duct tape.

Step 2: Investigate. If you are working from scratch, this part, although potentially a bit complicated and involved, is still easier than if you are adding in or planning an upgrade. Why? Because everything that you look at from scratch is new technology and therefore stands a better chance of being compatible. If you are working with older technology, you may not find the bells and whistles that you require to make things tick. Technically, you will choose one system to use as your main focus point. Let's say CCTV. This is now the point where all information from all systems will come together as a single response center.

Next, you lay out your controlling system with all the bells and whistles that you want in place and then shop around for the perfect CCTV controller to handle it. Once done, you move to your access control system. Again, you add all of your bells and whistles, but now, before you can settle on an actual system, you must verify that the outputs of that system will match your input requirements of the CCTV system. This is easy if all you are doing is triggering an event from a contact closure, i.e., a card is presented and a trigger calls up a camera to record. However, if you want a data stream to appear on the screen (i.e. card number, name, time, date, etc.) and you want this to be recorded into the video reference, you have a challenge.

Equally, if you want other functions you may need to shop around to find an access system that; 1) outputs data and 2) will interface in a language that your CCTV system can interpret. There are no set standards that say all systems will output in a single data language. It is very possible that at this first junction you may find that you will have to change your CCTV controller to match or handle your access controller.

You then repeat this process with your alarm system, and any/all other controlling or reporting functions throughout. The bad news is that you will most likely come up short with your communications interfacing. Coming up with two systems, say CCTV and access control that can talk together and work in a functional process of trigger and respond is fairly easy. Getting three, four or even 10 systems (new or old) to interact together is another story. This is the joy of working with multiple formats from independent industries, especially if you are trying to tie existing, older equipment with newer, innovative ideas. If you mix outdated technology with new technology, there's a good chance you will find yourself up against the proverbial wall. However, there is hope if you will come out of the box and look around.

Our modern culmination dilemmas are being approached and solved by a whole new breed of manufacturers. These are the "solution" products. Companies such as DVTel with their iSOC (Intelligent Security Operation Center) and GE with their Facility Commander are working to solve your whole system culmination problems. These are the products that are giving everyone equal ground on being able to offer, design and produce full-scale integrated systems.

For me to tell you that this process is easy would be a discredit to the process itself. You will still need to investigate each point of your process. You will still need to layout the triggers and desired responses. The beauty of it is that these manufacturers of solutions know their stuff and are able to assist you with your design without costing you a penny. My best suggestion is that when you start your job, you are up-front with your client and you get busy calling the experts. Yes, you should still have a pretty good idea what you want to accomplish. You should still have your interaction plan worked out. But you should also keep your mind open to suggestion and ideas.

The hard part is keeping your budget out in front of you. These solutions are not necessarily inexpensive on the up-front ... but that's not the problem. The long-term results of the whole scale culmination of processes into a single control point will pay for itself in a relatively short period of time ... three to five years. The accuracy and potential improvement of data collection and response is way ahead of that as far as pay backs go. However, the reason that I say to hold onto your budget is less complicated. Once you experience in first hand the overall potentials of these virtual solution systems, you will feel akin to the child left alone in the candy store. I want this or that feature: Can I have two of those, please? Do you have it in blue? But buyer beware of the toys. They can nickel and dime you to death. Granted, it is a very happy death, but broke is broke no matter the source.

So how do solution systems differ from your major DVRs, controllers and such? Simple, although these systems do offer recording capabilities, that is only a sideline of their actual design. What these systems really are is high-tech, high-speed computers. By investigating the various controls that you want to interface, the equally various communication protocols will be found. The solution folks will then investigate what the various protocols are and develop interpretive software to match or solve the language barrier. It would be the same as finding out that one of your systems spoke Russian while another spoke German and yet another spoke English. Your solutions group would design a translation program from existing or new technology that would speak a single language from the three.

So, you are in love with one particular access control system for all your needs. You already have a favorite DVR and you are using BigBucks Brand cameras. Will you have to change to a new access system? Drop the DVR? Move to a new cheap camera? No, probably not. You might have to contact a solution provider to keep all your friends together. Who knows, if you do it right, you might even add some of the neighboring technologies into your culmination process.

About the Author: Richard R. "Charlie" Pierce has been an active member of the security industry since 1974, and is currently working on a software-based tool for calculating security investments. He is the founder and past president of LRC Electronics Company, a full service warranty/non-warranty repair center for CCTV equipment. In 1985, Charlie founded LeapFrog Training & Consulting (Formally LTC Training Center), a full service training center specializing in live seminars, video-format certification training programs, plain language technical manuals and educational support on CCTV. He is an active member of: ASIS, ALAS, CANASA, NBFAA, NAAA and SIA. He is the recipient of numerous security industry awards, and is a regular contributor to Security Technology & Design magazine, SecurityInfoWatch.com and this website's Security Frontline e-newsletter. Contact him via LeapFrog Training & Consulting at www.ltctraingcntr.com.