Central Monitoring Embraces Unique Services

Oct. 27, 2008
Tapping into the Latest Integrated Security Solution Technologies

New York City journalist once wrote, “Imagine the staggering prospect of being able to lie in your bed at night with the peaceful assurance that no intruder can gain entrance into your home without your knowledge!”

The incredulity delivered in these words was a typical reaction when Edwin T. Holmes began selling alarm systems in Boston , MA , in the year 1858. The Holmes alarm system consisted of magnetic contacts, a battery and a vibrating bell. When doors or windows equipped with the magnetic contacts were opened, the bell began to ring.

Beyond Holmes's Expectations

Even though Mr. Holmes initially found the home alarm to be a hard sell, his instincts about its potential were justified. As alarm sales gradually increased, Holmes moved to New York City , where he felt crime was more rampant. There he opened a central alarm monitoring station that would expand the profit potential of his alarm systems. With this venture, Holmes brought the concept of recurring revenue to the security industry.

Reluctance finally gave way to acquiescence and alarm systems blossomed into a multi-billion dollar business. Now there are numerous alarm devices with varying capabilities installed in homes and businesses around the world and there are thousands of monitoring stations offering an assortment of high level, 24/7 services.

A central station is primarily on alert for threats to life and property via electronic alarm systems. Typical alarm systems of late, use a fixed line connection between the monitored facility and the monitoring station. In this setup, solid copper phone lines used for telephone communication provide a reliable and reasonably priced conduit for alarm transmission. It has created the longstanding bond between alarm monitoring and telecommunications.

Communication techniques have changed over time, however, offering a choice of alarm transmission methods such as cellular, satellite and both wired and wireless WAN connections. In the event that the telephone lines connecting a monitoring station to a home or business are cut or broken, alarm systems are usually equipped with a failsafe such as radio or cellular back-up. With many consumers turning to VoIP to replace traditional telephone services, wireless communications are increasingly moving from the secondary to the preferred form of communication.

Interactive Monitoring

The basic video monitoring system involves surveillance video cameras placed at a site in locations where intrusion, violence, employee pilferage or other such criminal activity may occur. When an alarm is triggered the system will automatically dial the central station and begin streaming live video of the scene.

With visual verification, intruders, employee misconduct and criminal or unauthorized activities can be accurately categorized and appropriate action taken. The resulting elimination of unnecessary police or security guard intervention equates to dollars saved and higher priority when response is required. The savings related to improved site management that can come from video monitoring alone often result in significant return on investment. Random video tours can give information on employee activity with evidential video of incidents. Maintenance personnel can be monitored for timeliness and productivity. Situations such as unsecured doors, wasted utilities and unauthorized visitors can all be documented and corrected.

Employee pilferage runs the gamut from paper clips to computer chips. Despite increasingly sophisticated employee screening services, no business is exempt from pilferage and sweetheart sales. A logical sequence of scheduled video tours can be conducted by the central monitoring station at appointed intervals. The awareness alone among employees that they are being visually monitored from time to time is often an effective deterrent to theft.

The knowledge that remote monitoring is in place can also provide peace of mind to employees. For example, onsite personnel can be given the ability to call up the central monitoring station to report suspicious behavior or other concerns and ask for video monitoring. Panic buttons can also be provided that, when activated, will alert the monitoring center of a possible incident.

With fears of crime and terrorism escalating, customers are known to patronize facilities that offer a reasonable expectation of—and a responsible attitude toward—safety. Not only is the emotional wellbeing of staff and clientele important but the decrease in liability incurred by facility owners using remote monitoring further emphasizes the return on investment mentioned earlier.

A video monitoring station can offer visual alarm verification along with other interactive response options. For example, simultaneous audio capabilities allow communication with a site that may deter or diffuse transpiring events. Two-way audio/video gives the monitoring station the ability to audibly intervene if a situation becomes violent, and collect information to simultaneously give a complete visual description of the situation or suspect and other significant crime scene facts to any responding law enforcement officers.

Operations Management

Many of today's organizations are faced with cost-cutting, “do-more-with-less” directives. In other words, they must intensify their efforts to extract revenue and cost benefits, simultaneously reducing operating costs. By integrating new digital video monitoring technologies with standard operations, facilities can ensure that timely information of critical events is delivered to appropriate individuals. Continuous remote monitoring enables prevention, early detection and fast response, thereby accelerating the resolution of problems and diminishing or eliminating downtime.

Video surveillance is being used extensively for monitoring transportation applications including surface systems such as bus and light rail. Video monitoring allows transportation security personnel to deal with issues such as vagrants and vandalism as well as to flag specific incidents and/or perform passenger counts for insurance reviews. Studies have shown that video monitoring leads to reductions in crime and vandalism, fewer fraudulent insurance claims and increased ridership.

Monitoring the nation's critical infrastructures and key assets with digital video technology has evolved into a necessity due to an ongoing threat of terrorism. Potential targets consist of a highly varied, mutually dependent mix of facilities, systems, and functions, where failure in one could conceivably trigger a domino effect of consequences that could negatively affect public health and safety, national security, the economy and public confidence.

Critical infrastructure is defined as the collection of public and private services essential to sustain government, a safe living environment and a prosperous economy. These include public and private enterprise services such as: transportation, banking and finance, telecommunications, emergency services, energy and water.

Dams are a key component of many critical infrastructure systems, because they provide essential water and electricity and because their failure could cause significant property damage and result in public health and safety consequences. Video monitoring of dams, their power plants and associated project facilities is on the rise as a security tool as well as a safety tool.

Idaho Power, an electric utility company headquartered in Boise , ID , is just one of many energy facilities using video monitoring for added security. Video monitoring is also used by Idaho Power's plant operators to view areas below the dams prior to operating spill gates, supplementing audible alarms that announce gate openings.

The chemical industry is considered critical infrastructure insofar as chemical plants could be sources of materials used for making weapons of mass destruction, or whose operations could be disrupted in a way that significantly threatens life and assets. These facilities often utilize video monitoring as a form of security and many have found extra benefits in this measure. For example, Motiva Enterprises, controlled by Shell Oil, operates a petro-chemical plant in Baltimore that uses CCTV cameras to monitor gauges. These cameras are monitored by maintenance personnel who can be instantly apprised of abnormalities.

Case in Point

An example of utilizing remote video for verification as well as a management tool is seen in the system recently selected by Colonnade Management to monitor its assets in Boston, MA and Washington, D.C. Colonnade is a subsidiary of New York-based Columbus Properties, which has maintained commercial real estate in New York, New Jersey, Boston and the Metropolitan D.C. area for over 25 years.

Colonnade came to Sabre wanting an innovative system to remotely monitor the lobbies and external perimeters of its buildings from New York . The Pelco DX8000 range of DVRs was recommended, in part because the company was already using a Pelco DX7000 system at its head office with good results and because of Sabre's own experience with the system. The 8000 system had already been installed for many clients and proved reliable, even when working over a regular high-speed Internet connection. In addition, the graphical user interface (GUI) is extremely user-friendly and does not require huge amounts of training for the client operators. This is good news for the end user and the integrator!

After a thorough survey of each property was carried out, drawings and equipment itineraries were produced at Sabre's CAD facility and materials and equipment were ordered. Facility perimeters were outfitted with a combination of Pelco Spectradome and fixed cameras connected to a DX8000 DVR, allowing remote viewing of each site by authorized personnel. Although both the design and preparation stages of these projects were time-consuming, the attention to detail and precision paid dividends at the installation phase, as both sites were completed in two days.

The systems can also be remotely programmed as needed. For example, a few weeks after the installations were completed, the client requested that the park position for the PTZ dome at the Washington , D.C. , facility be changed. A connection was made remotely with the dome through the DX8000 system and the necessary changes made from New York . Needless to say, the ability to remotely monitor a site visually and provide remote maintenance adds up to a nice return on investment for the customer.

Clifford Franklin is President of the New York-based Sabre Integrated Security Systems. Sabre installs and maintains video security and access control systems and has several professional video engineers on staff who keep up-to-date with the latest innovations.