Mobile Video Set in Motion

The mobile security market has been around for about a decade, but it’s just now maturing in the mass-transit and law enforcement industries. It’s also expanding into other industries due to increased awareness of mobile video recording solutions and improvements in current third-generation technology.

Security companies involved in this marketplace in the past weren’t very successful. But fast-forward to 2003 and industry experts say now is prime time for forward-thinking, progressive security companies to tap into this market. Those that do will find improved products and minimal competition.

“Maybe it’s not for everyone, but anything you do should be done in a fashion of vertical market accountability,” says Charles Kirmuss, executive vice president and chief technology officer of T.A.W Security Concepts Inc. in Wheat Ridge, Colo. “Selling a $6,000 mobile security system vs. a $400 home alarm system is more appealing, and builds credibility and new market sector strength.”

From an installation perspective, breaking into mobile video, particularly on buses, is an easy transition because it is simpler than what most security installers already do in buildings.

“It’s akin to what they do with security systems,” for commercial applications, says Rick Gougeon, director of transportation sales for GE Interlogix in Corvallis, Ore. “They’re usually running coax cable and electrical wires, and have to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any existing wiring in the bus.”

1st-Generation Systems Fizzled, Dashed High Expectations

Security companies that first entered this market throughout the 1990s installed mobile video recording solutions mostly for the mass-transit industry, like Guardian Alarm in Southfield, Mich., which installed cameras on a Detroit bus line in 1997. It was attracted to the sexiness of installing digital video, but soon found out that these first- and second-generation systems caused problems.

“The systems were basically PCs on wheels,” says Kirmuss, a 26-year security industry veteran who created the first mobile recording system for the mass-transit industry. These platforms, with plug-in boards, were never intended to be subjected to vibrations throughout the lifespan of a bus, which is about six to nine years.

Kirmuss adds that, more importantly, these operating systems would go into a scan disk or safe mode if there were a problem. As a result, someone would have to manually restart the system. This is something a bus, ambulance or police driver isn’t going to do while on the road.

Now, third-generation recording systems are digital-based. This eliminates cleaning and maintaining the fans and filters found in older systems, so little maintenance and repair is required, regardless of the application.

Mass-Transit Agencies Are Among Early Adopters

Industry officials say the mass-transit market is the easiest way to enter this business because of so many systems being sold and replaced; however, some security companies have gotten their feet wet in other industries.

Ultrasafe Security Solutions in Norco, Calif., began through law enforcement. “I’m a retired police officer, so I have a lot of contacts in that arena,” says Ultrasafe Chief Specialist Ron Lander, who oversees the company’s mobile video business.

In mass transit, agencies and properties are purchasing systems for the first time, while other agencies are replacing thousands of older systems. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reports there are approximately 68,000 working mass-transit buses across the U.S.

The school bus industry outfits a large number of its fleets, but mostly uses analog systems because of digital’s higher cost.

There are other industries where this technology may take a foothold, such as taxi fleets, trains, freight trucks and armored cars, but these businesses are still largely untapped, says Dave Warkentin, director of sales for Silent Witness of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. “These are emerging markets. As video surveillance capabilities increase, people’s awareness [in these markets] will increase,” he says.

Ultrasafe purchases mobile video products from T.A.W. Security Concepts, which makes and sells the latest in digital mobile video and audio recording systems to OEMs and security companies. In most cases, manufacturers sell direct (which cuts down on their mark-ups) and most have partnered with security companies and integrators.

Applications Vary Due to Number of Cameras, Programming

The main components to third-generation mobile video recording systems are: a “black box” recorder, removable hard drive, and three to four cameras (color, black and white [B&W] or a combination of B&W and color, or B&W and infrared). Most new systems now include an LCD monitor that switches on and off to let the driver know that the system is operating, instead of a standard control head.

Lucius McCelvey, senior account executive for Safety Vision in Houston, says, in the mass-transit business, “Typically on an installation, you’re looking at $6,000 to $10,000 per vehicle, and that’s with a turnkey solution.” These jobs would require two people, who would take five to six hours to install a system in a bus.

In Ultrasafe’s case with law enforcement vehicles, two of the company’s seven installers are trained to do mobile video installations in police cars. “These installations take about four hours per car with two people, and you can work on two cars per day,” Lander says.

The third-generation products for law enforcement consist of a recorder and one or two cameras (one facing forward and the second facing suspects in the back seat). The systems may also include a portable microphone connected to an existing in-car data terminal to control the recorder and view live or recorded video, or have a separate control keyboard installed with a monitor.

Bidding Process Can Include Strict Guidelines

Preparing for mobile security bids may take a little longer than for an access control or CCTV project because of the procurement process.

Mass-transit agencies must follow strict Federal Transportation Association (FTA) guidelines, such as justifying the need and cost of the systems and choosing vendors that contract disadvantaged business entities (for more information on these guidelines, visit

Selling Mobile Security Now Can Put You Ahead of the Rest

Although it may sound complicated, companies like Ultrasafe have taken baby steps into the mobile video market by introducing a third-generation system to an industry that’s still using VCRs. Also, it’s an industry where Lander came from before entering into the security business.

“The method of procurement is how security companies should structure themselves in this market. The time is right because the need for mobile security is here,” Kirmuss says. “And it’s going to be cutting-edge technology instead of bleeding-edge technology.”

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