Industry Changes Start With the End User

This month, in honor of Security Sales & Integration‘s 25th anniversary, I will review how the products we use and depend on to keep our friends, customers and property safe and secure have changed during the past quarter-century. Many of the technological changes are readily apparent, while others are not.  My local Kmart still has a 1970s vintage camera mounted on the front of the building, looking like a tackle box with a lens!

However, if we’re going to learn from these changes and step back for a moment to predict what the next 25 years has in store, we need to look carefully at the folks using these systems.

Security Was an Afterthought

Back in 1979, only the largest facilities had security professionals. These people invariably came from law enforcement backgrounds and often discovered it wasn’t so easy to switch gears from catching the bad guy to preventing problems.

Justification for tools and technology was made purely on the basis of the cost of equipment vs. manpower. Given the high cost of the equipment, this wasn’t always such a slam-dunk.

For the most part, electronic surveillance meant unattended monitoring, live or taped, by a person who had numerous responsibilities, with security being toward the middle or end of the list. The idea of TV cameras and electronic monitoring was just catching on as a deterrent, but the emphasis was primarily on catching someone in the act rather than scaring them away.

Greater Usefulness Speeds Adoption

Surveillance success stories were much hyped by the media and trained people to be mindful of cameras. This resulted in criminals taking their nefarious deeds elsewhere, and other departments within organizations finding their own uses for these cameras as well.
In the early 1980s, I saw a good example of this firsthand in a large casino in Atlantic City, N.J. After an elderly gentleman broke his leg while getting off an escalator, his attorney approached the casino about a large settlement to compensate his client for the loss of mobility and the subsequent impact on his quality of life.

When performing a site walkthrough, one of the attorneys noticed a camera in the casino that, if turned in the proper direction, could have caught the entire incident. As luck would have it, the camera was indeed pointing in the right direction and the tape of the incident had not yet been recycled.

Fearing the worst, the tape was reviewed with the anticipation of incontrovertible guilt on the part of the casino, and even bigger dollar signs. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the tape showed the gentlemen in question riding down the escalator backward while talking to a friend two steps above him. When the victim reached the bottom of the escalator, he was paying no attention and rode the handrail down to the ground, while his friend fell on top of him, breaking his leg.

Needless to say, there was no settlement or trial, and the end result was that the dollars saved were applied to placing a camera at each end of every escalator, on every staircase entrance or landing, in each elevator cab and entrance lobby, and at each entrance to the property. Within five years, that became the standard for most casino properties in Atlantic City and the basis for claims of electronic security ultimately having a positive impact to the bottom line.

As a result of such incidents, the security decision-maker has changed as well. Budgets and planning are more formal now, overseen by a group of people rather than impassioned pleas by the security director.

Issues that were unheard of five years ago – operating system, bandwidth requirements and susceptibility to computer viruses – are routinely brought up today. A single digital multiplexer or DVR sold today carries more computing power than was available to an entire department 25 years ago.

Equipment Becomes Aesthetic

The face of security the public sees – the lowly security camera – also changed dramatically. Initially, cameras were big and ugly, largely because of size constraints brought on by available technology. At the time, domed cameras were often in bubbles measuring 24 inches around, and a pan/tilt/zoom camera was either a large, unwieldy device or a hand-built back box suspended over a huge fishbowl.

In the mid-1990s, as broader acceptance of CCTV took hold, the people using CCTV outside of security applications started to demand more aesthetically pleasing cameras. They weren’t concerned about the deterrent factor – they wanted to avoid litigation, watch crowds, read license plates on cars and perform other remote viewing functions. Their voices were heard and the unitized camera was born.

Poor Images Fade Away

System performance has changed end users’ expectations as well. Years ago, tube cameras were the norm and while they were often capable of images rivaling the best cameras made today, they required considerable maintenance and tweaking to achieve that goal. The reality was soft pictures that burned in on the camera’s tube until recognition of faces and other important features was near impossible.

With the advent of CCD imagers – and subsequent cost reductions that drove quantities up and continued the price reduction cycle – the expectation of video quality rose as well. Somewhere along the way, color replaced monochrome to the point where color products often cost less to manufacture because the quantities are greater. Reliability improved dramatically as well. For example, a tube camera needed to be retubed every 18 to 24 months, while a CCD imager carries a five-year warranty.

So where will the next 25 years take us? That may be a good topic for a future column.

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