Digital Video: The Time Is Now - A Bank Robbery Scenario

Consider this scenario: Intruders enter a banking operation and fire one shot in the ceiling, paralyzing bank customers and employees with fear. At gunpoint, the robbers demand money from a teller, bag it and then quickly flee the scene.

This is not an uncommon scenario; bank robberies occur fairly often across the country. But what's different this time is that this bank has installed digital video recorders, which are revolutionizing the speed at which suspect images can be transmitted to law enforcement.

Within 10 minutes of the robbery, the police have received and disseminated images of the perpetrators, transmitted to them via e-mail from bank security.

This example illustrates just one of the advantages of digital video systems and why they are generating such excitement in the security industry. The systems bring new capabilities not feasible with analog VCR monitoring, including new management uses, remote video monitoring and networking capabilities.

Key Differences Between Digital Systems and VCRs

There are several key differences between digital units and VCRs that spell significant advantages for DVR users. Digital systems come in a wide range of types and prices, with units to suit the varying needs of small and large businesses. By consulting a security systems integrator with DVR knowledge and expertise, a business owner can determine the system that is right for his or her particular organization.

The most notable difference between the DVR and the VCR is the medium used for recording images. VCRs record images on magnetic videotapes, while digital systems use DVDs, computer hard drives or digital audiotapes. This has major implications in terms of image quality, ease of information retrieval, image transmission speed and remote monitoring capabilities.

For instance, in the abovementioned bank robbery, the scenario for getting suspect images to police would have been quite different had the bank used a VCR. Bank security officials would have first needed to copy the tape before turning it over to police'a task that is usually outsourced and can take up to 24 hours. The bank would then need to physically turn the tape over to police, adding transportation time.

In contrast, even if the bank in our scenario had not had the capability to e-mail the images directly to police, security personnel could have quickly copied them onto a CD and sent it out right away. And considering the fact that many law enforcement agencies now have wireless computer networking in patrol cars, digital video can actually be streamed to officers in the field. This time savings in image transmission can be critical to law enforcement's ability to apprehend a suspect and is an important tool not available with VCRs.

Other important differences between digital units and VCRs include faster image retrieval, better image quality and increased storage capability. Also, and perhaps most significant, the remote video monitoring and networking capabilities available with DVRs open many new doors for business operators.

Remote Video Monitoring

Because digital video can be accessed over the Internet, security personnel can virtually step into a company location thousands of miles away and remotely monitor the site. By simply using an Internet browser or application software installed on a computer or laptop, security officers can view live or recorded digital video at a secure IP address from anywhere in the world. Again, digital allows corporate security personnel to avoid the cost and delays incurred when the right videotape must be found and mailed to begin an investigation.

False Alarm Verifications

Remote video monitoring also has other applications, one of the most notable being alarm verification to prevent false alarm responses by the police. New requirements for alarm verification are sweeping the country. Because of the staggering number of false alarms (about 98 percent, on average, are false), some law enforcement agencies have implemented a non-response policy for alarms that are not visually verified, while others are levying heavy fines for alarms that frequently sound off accidentally. Law enforcement complains that the false alarms waste time and money and also make officers complacent regarding what could actually be an emergency.

Security systems using DVRs can play a major role in alarm verification due to their ability to remotely and instantly view the alarm site. If a scan of the digital video reveals an empty store and no intruders, law enforcement can be quickly notified.

Management Improvements

The use of DVRs also opens up new opportunities for managing businesses remotely. Video that was once only seen by security officers can now be viewed by area managers, marketing representatives, CEOs and other authorized personnel'anyone in the organization who would find value in viewing it. Curtailing sloppy practices, enhancing customer service and increasing efficiencies are just a few of the ways DVRs can figure into the management equation. Take the situation of a retail chain, for example, that has multiple stores spread across a large geographic area. The store's regional manager may have heard rumblings of poor customer service or late store openings at a particular location, but hasn't had the time to travel there to investigate.

With the networking capabilities of DVRs via the Internet, that regional manager can go to a secured IP address and view real-time or archived images of the store anytime from anywhere in the world with Internet access. He can view the store at 9 a.m. to see if its doors are opened promptly and can see for himself how quickly employees offer assistance to customers. The savings in travel time and possible customer service enhancements are significant.

Another opportunity lies in increasing efficiency through 24-hour use of facilities. Trucks carrying valuable merchandise could unload in the middle of the night under the watchful eye of a DVR system, which provides real-time security monitoring. Other digital video uses could include examining customer flow and staffing, reviewing the effectiveness of a particular display, and combating fraud and employee theft. When paired with point-of-sale software, DVRs can help store security personnel analyze transactions under or over a certain amount.

Moving to DVRs'The Gradual Route

If DVRs sound intriguing but a full-scale conversion doesn't figure in the company's current budget, then upgrading the CCTV systems over time may be the answer. Even small enhancements, when strategically placed, can bring large benefits. A qualified security systems integrator can provide advice on how to upgrade gradually. A few steps are discussed below.

- Install digital units initially in highly sensitive areas. In addition to deterring crime, a major goal of a surveillance system is to aid police in apprehending intruders. Digital video equipment will help in this effort by providing clearer images for identification and evidentiary purposes. Keep costs down by installing digital video units initially only in the most sensitive areas, those most likely to be targeted for crime. Areas to keep in mind are loading docks, computer rooms, data centers and other sites critical to business operations.

- Enable remote monitoring for authorized personnel. By tapping into digital video's networking capability, organizations can cut travel costs and improve operational efficiency, making the investment in DVRs more cost effective.

- Don't get caught up in gadget wow; buy the unit that fits. DVRs come in different types, with capabilities depending on cost and features. Working with a security integrator, businesses can select the type that best fits their needs and avoid spending extra on unnecessary features. For instance, small retailers, who lack the funds or resources for a networked solution, may want to consider the new stand-alone digital video recorders with CD-R technology. This enables the retailer to burn a CD for police directly from their unit, but it's less expensive than units designed for networking.

Upgrading Existing DVR Units

Some organizations may have already started down the path of converting to digital units. But perhaps it's been a couple of years and the units aren't fast enough to run the latest software. Hooking up with a highly skilled security integrator can also keep these costs in check. While manufacturers may recommend buying a whole new box, a skilled integrator can put in a new motherboard with a faster processor and more memory at a much lower overall cost.

What's New in DVR Technology?

In the last year, manufacturers have begun tailoring DVRs to specific market niches. One new product, for instance, fills the middle market niche for sites with up to 128 cameras in a cost-effective manner. This is good news for businesses because it will make finding an appropriate, financially feasible solution easier. Also, coming soon are more intelligent DVRs. These units will be able to analyze video for suspicious activity and then alert security personnel. The next major leap in technology will be going from analog cameras using DVRs and matrix switches to network IP-based cameras using standard servers for storage and virtual matrix switches.

Moving Forward

Digital video is a rapidly expanding market in the security industry, primarily because it offers many new capabilities. With the advice of an expert, organizations should consider whether it's time to take the digital video plunge. It's an exciting technology and one that is already figuring prominently in surveillance system design.

Dave Shelton is president of D/A Central Inc., a 47-year-old systems integration company serving Michigan and the northern Midwest. He is also the treasurer of SecurityNet Inc., a 10-year-old nationwide network of systems integrators closely interacting to serve national-level clientele with local attentiveness at every location. Mr. Shelton holds CHS Level II certification in homeland security from the American College of Forensic Examiners. He has served in the U.S. Army Military Police and been in the security industry for 34 years.