EXECUTIVE MANAGEMENT – Dueling Interactive Video Companies Speak of New Monitoring Frontier

Security technology has changed significantly during the past few years, especially in the area of video surveillance. Recording has gone to an all-digital solution and cameras are getting smarter.

Add Internet protocol (IP) connectivity to the equation and you have a new, more robust video technology to serve your security clients. This is especially true in the area of interactive video monitoring.

The application and methodology associated with central station monitoring is changing at breakneck speed.

Contained in this story are words of wisdom from two top executives in interactive video monitoring. For those with vision, this story will represent a clarion call to action. It will be the most astute- and aggressive-minded who will see the profit potential in this relatively new remote video service.

Pioneering Provider Initiates New Interactive Video Plan

Mitch Johnson, president of Westec InterActive of Irvine, Calif., offers some helpful insight into what will one day become the status quo in central station monitoring via interactive video.

Westec InterActive, in business since 1996, was the first to pioneer interactive video monitoring and has more than 1,800 interactive video accounts. The firm was acquired by Vento Management in the fourth quarter of 2004 and has handled more than 3 million alarm activations since its inception.

Johnson, who has been with Westec for approximately a year, is former vice president of AllTel, and also former senior vice president of sales and operations for AT&T Wireless and former president of Level 5 Security in Boca Raton, Fla.

When we speak of “interactive video,” what are the services this includes?
Johnson: Interactive video means more than simply traditional remote video. The real value to our subscribers is our ability to capture the video, audio, and situational information simultaneously and to assess the situation and act on it.

Can you explain where you get most of your interactive video clients.
Johnson: Half of our accounts are comprised of new clients and the other half are existing clients. Eighty percent of the systems we monitor are new, while 20 percent involved traditionally monitored alarm accounts.

Can you cite an incident that took place at a client’s facility and how your central station handled it using interactive video?
Johnson: Recently, a customer’s store was robbed in Indiana. Our visual communications center was able to work with the local police, providing them with clear digital photos, as well as video and audio clips of the robbery. These eventually enabled the authorities to link that robbery to three others around the area.

What is the largest, most interesting installation that your firm has been involved with?
Johnson: The Nixon Library would be the largest installation for a single facility. They have more than 40 cameras with three DVRs, remotely connecting their premises to our Visual Communication Center [VCC].

Can you please explain the operational aspects of two-way voice when used with interactive video?
Johnson: We were the first company to offer simultaneous transmission of video and audio technology integrated with site information. When a customer activates their system, video, audio and site information are sent directly to a monitoring station in Westec’s VCC. When the VCC receives the signal, a specialist assesses the situation and, when necessary, voices down [response via voice] to resolve the situation.

On the technical side, is there a one-size-fits-all solution to buying interactive video equipment; if not, why?
Johnson: Every manufacturer of video transmission and storage systems has its own proprietary interface, mostly Windows®-based, that you need to control the system remotely. At this point, no one has written a universal interface [that I’m aware of].

In what format do you receive and store video images?
Johnson: It is stored in a proprietary version of Wavelet.

Up to how many cameras per monitored site will your central station handle?
Johnson: Our system can handle up to 32 cameras. There really is not a limitation on how many systems could be networked together, however.

How much work is there involved to integrate your interactive video equipment with an existing conventional CCTV and alarm system?
Johnson: The key is the quality of the existing equipment. If they are relatively new, high-quality digital cameras, then it is relatively easy to integrate this equipment. It is a real risk to utilize older equipment as it will transmit poor-quality images that will be hard to monitor.
The same is true of existing alarm equipment, for as long as it is relatively current, digital and of good quality, it is relatively simple to use.


Upstart Brings Fresh Ideas to Interactive Video

Kurt Strasser, CEO for SentryCom Interactive of Valencia, Calif., provides some insightful comments on the new and exciting field of interactive monitoring. In addition to being a proprietary operation, Strasser’s firm, in business since 2001, also offers interactive video monitoring to select top integrators.

Strasser, who founded SentryCom, has worked in the security market for approximately 25 years. From 1993 through 1997, he was part of an acquisitions and mergers team. In 1997, he left the industry, working for an investment banking, mergers and acquisitions and venture finance firm. He returned in 2001 to start SentryCom.

Can you provide examples of how interactive video is being used at your central monitoring station?
Strasser: Interactive monitoring is real-time virtual presence. For example, when the system detects a human presence, it immediately triggers pan-tilt-zoom cameras to focus and track the target on the monitored presence.
With broadband, the command center security agents can be online, live with a site, within 6-10 seconds of an activation. They see, hear and speak to the site, just as if they were standing on the property. Agents use pan-tilt-zoom cameras to check all areas, track suspicious persons and clearly identify them.

Can you explain where you get most of your interactive video clients?
Strasser: Because of the immature nature of the video monitoring market, we concluded very quickly that we would have to drive the sales process from our end. Much of our sales activity is still ‘missionary’ and we carry the message to the targets and also establish a personal relationship with them. Over three-quarters of our sales are presently generated from SentryCom’s marketing and sales efforts.

In terms of the central station, what kind of training do you provide?
Strasser: Typically, the training of the interactive security agent is more similar to a high-end security officer assigned to an armed patrol response unit. Add to this the elements of understanding and operating sophisticated computer systems and working in a much more high-tech environment, and you begin to understand the difference.
Our interactive security agents are trained in computer workstation operations. They are taught how to use comprehensive back-end interface software for video, mapping and reporting as well as video surveillance techniques to determine possible threats.
They also are taught command presence to effectively conduct voice-downs in a variety of situations and intervene to control losses and mitigate damage. They a
re instructed on how to think and react to various conditions throughout a shift and how to write incident, management and other routine reports.

Do you maintain a technical staff at your central station and, if so, what level of so, what level of education and/or experience is required?

Strasser: SentryCom maintains its own internal IT personnel and feels this area is critical to overall system functionality and operations center services.

What kind of situational reports do you E-mail to your clients and what kind of information do you send to them?

Strasser: We E-mail snapshots only. These are taken from live events and the system integrates the photos with our event reports.

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