Museum Security

Oct. 27, 2008
This issue’s video expert goes behind the scenes to unveil the ins-and-outs of top-notch museum security.

Museums may display spectacular collections of paintings and sculpture, such as in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. California’s Reagan Presidential Library is home to thousands of historically important documents. Other museums might offer vintage milking machines (Wisconsin’s National Dairy Shrine), fencing (The Barbed Wire Museum in Kansas) and coffins (the Illinois-based Museum of Funeral Customs).
If there is a group that collects and treasures it, there is likely a museum to display it. And often the collections are extremely valuable, if not priceless. That – among other things – makes museum security a big challenge for the security dealer and system integrator.

Unlike an office building or manufacturing plant, museums actively invite hundreds or thousands of local residents and tourists to visit each day. And with ticket booths, gift shops and coffee bars, there may be large sums of money on site.

That all points to the need for a good video surveillance system. Cameras should be placed at all entry points, including those for patrons, employees and vendors. Interior doors that lead to storage, restoration, computer or cash rooms should also be monitored.

Cameras need to cover the entire exhibit floor so that each piece on public display can be monitored to protect against theft or vandalism. A surveillance system can also help to protect a museum’s most valuable and vulnerable asset – the children that visit the facility to take part in school field trips, special classes or sleepovers offered by many museums. By placing cameras throughout the exhibit space, children can be better protected against predators or wandering into areas where they may be injured.

Cameras are also critical in areas where money is being handled, such as the admission desk, coffee/snack bar, gift shop or a theater requiring an additional charge.

A surveillance system also allows security guards or other museum employees to patrol the exhibit floor knowing that the cameras are constantly recording events. And with an NVR used for recording, guards can be alerted on their pagers, cell phones, and PDAs of any suspicious activity or alarms by the surveillance cameras or access control systems.

In many museums, system flexibility is vital. An IP-based video system is often ideal as many museums change exhibits on a regular basis. This may require a reconfiguration of the camera system. With a plug-and-play, IP-based system this can be as simple as running a single piece of cable from the new camera location to the nearest network hub.

Cameras can also act as a deterrent against theft and vandalism – as long as visitors and employees are aware of their existence. By placing a ceiling-mounted monitor, displaying images of nine or 16 of the museum’s cameras over the ticket desk, everyone will realize immediately that they are under surveillance.

Video analytics is another useful tool being deployed in museums today. The use of video analytics allows museums to detect removed objects or unattended objects in the exhibit area. People moving in the wrong direction or into restricted space can also trigger alerts. Video analytics can even detect camera tampering.

Skip Sampson, CPP, is vice president of Indianapolis-based Koorsen Fire & Security. Koorsen is a member of SecurityNet, an international network of 24 leading independent system integrators offering clients a single, responsible source for meeting all electronic security needs.