New Paradigm with Surveillance Getting More out of Cameras

Businesses, universities and others are getting more out of security cameras with computer software that can monitor video feeds and alert guards to suspicious behavior.

Video analytics software, as it is called, can detect a range of behaviors and events that have been deemed unusual: someone falling down, abandoning a package or walking the wrong way in a one-way zone, for instance. The software alerts a security guard to out-of-the-ordinary actions by either activating a visual and audible alarm on the computer or sending a clip of the suspicious video to a cell phone.

"Rather than have a security operations office scanning a multiplex of video looking for a needle in a haystack, they don't have to do that now," said Mark Denari, director of aviation security and public safety at San Diego's Lindbergh Field. "The software will identify any anomalies and alert the operations office."

Denari helped pioneer the use of video analytics at airports when he headed security at San Francisco International Airport. When he came to work at Lindbergh Field in 2003, he began a trial test of the technology.

As the airport prepares to embark on a $15 million to $20 million program to improve security, video analytics software will be part of it, Denari said. Like most security managers, he won't disclose specifically how Lindbergh Field will use the technology. But, in general, he said the software is useful in detecting passengers who have abandoned luggage or a package in or around an airport, people who sneak through a security door opened by an employee or large trucks in secure areas.

"I think there's tremendous promise in the technology," Denari said.

Generally, such a software system costs tens of thousands of dollars. Advocates say it saves organizations the expense of adding extra security guards to monitor video.

"It pays for itself," said David Reed, vice president of business development for Electro Specialty Systems, a San Diego security company that has installed video analytics systems at SeaWorld and Solar Turbines, among other business facilities. "It allows you to reduce the number of staff you need to watch videos, and it offers something that a lot of systems don't offer: the ability to really use the video you get."

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, facilities around the country bolstered security by adding more video cameras. Problem is, suspicious activities sometimes go unnoticed by guards busy looking at other cameras or running errands. Experiments have shown that after 22 minutes, operators miss up to 95 percent of activity displayed on a monitor, according to IMS Research, based in England. Often, video from security cameras is used not to stop a crime in progress but to identify the culprits after a crime has already occurred.

"You have to go back in time to figure out when it happened, and review all of the video," Reed said.

A market study released last fall by IMS Research predicts that video analytics software will explode worldwide over the next five years, growing from a $67.7 million market in 2004 to $839.2 million by 2009.

In the United States, there are about a half-dozen major makers of video analytics software and two dozen smaller companies in the business, said Jason Halverson, an industry manager at Frost and Sullivan research firm in San Antonio.

The software is part of a larger trend in which computers and networks are used in conjunction with physical security measures, such as fences and locks.

The first combination of physical security with computer networks emerged in the 1970s with the advent of video camera feeds from ATMs, said Steve Hunt, president of 4A International, a Chicago security research and consulting firm.

The U.S. defense industry had done some of the early work on making software that could recognize not just humans and vehicles, but their specific behavior.

It wasn't until the early 2000s that computer technology became powerful enough and affordable for video analytic software to become a security product within reach of smaller government agencies and private businesses.

Some of the systems being installed at government agencies are being paid for with grant monies.

The city of San Diego's Metropolitan Wastewater Department installed video analytics software at its major sewage pump station in 2005. The pump station, located among overgrown plants in a field, had been a target for vandals until the city installed Perceptrak, video analytics software made by St. Louis-based Cernium.

The wastewater department received a $142,000 U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant to install new cameras and video analytics software at three other major pump stations, said department spokesman Michael Scahill. Much of the 180 million daily gallons of sewage in the region flows through these pump stations.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to install new video cameras, along with analytics software, at its trolley station near the Mexican border, said transit spokesman Luis Gonzalez. He said the project is expected to be completed this fall.

SeaWorld uses its video analytics software to monitor along the bay, said Reed, of Electro Specialty, who installed Cernium's Perceptrak system for the amusement park. Reed said San Diego State University has contracted with him to install the software on its campus. SeaWorld would not discuss its use of video analytics. SDSU said only that video analytics are not now in use on its campus.

Other institutions nationwide that are using video analytics software include ports, hospitals, banks, subways and railroads.

Brooks McChesney, president and chief executive of Vidient Systems, a Sunnyvale, Calif., company whose software is used at Lindbergh Field, said that in the future, video analytics software will be used with other digital security measures, such as card-key entry systems, for a more complete picture of breaches. The software could detect a second person sneaking in behind someone with an authorized card key and work with the card-key system to identify the badge holder. "What you can see starting to happen is the integration of various security devices," he said.

Halverson, at Frost and Sullivan, said the industry's prospects are driven by the need to improve security, the availability of higher quality digital cameras at lower costs and the promise of reducing labor costs by freeing security guards from constantly monitoring video.

"Video analytics is expected to experience strong growth as the demand for its capabilities drives the technology and makes it more common in everyday use," Halverson said.

Copyright 2006 Copley News Service

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