Video Monitoring: A Market for Those With Vision
Verification, Guard Tours, 2-Way Interactive Are Top Market Niches
Niche markets for video monitoring continue to emerge as the technology matures and awareness of it rises.
Using video to verify if a burglar alarm is legitimate or false is one of the simplest, best understood and instantly gratifying implementations. This is especially true in areas where law enforcement has deployed, or is considering, only responding to verified alarms. However, its effectiveness hinges on the criminal being picked up within the camera’s field of view.
“I believe right now, alarm verification is the hot service due to the trend of police departments looking at nonresponse and verified response – this is happening everywhere,” confirms Cindy Smith, vice president of Operations for Metairie, La.-based Alarm Monitoring Services (AMS). “I also believe there will be a slower move to augmenting traditional guard service with tours and the use of cameras to trigger events that can be dispatched on after they have been evaluated.”
Indeed, using video monitoring to augment or outright replace existing security guards is another hot growth niche opportunity. Such systems can also act as video escorts by observing employees as they arrive at and leave a place of business to help assure their safety. Virtual video guard services lessen the chance of human error, laziness or misconduct, as well as offer substantial cost savings to the end user.
“While we are currently monitoring a greater number of alarm verifications, guard tours are catching up,” adds Brannon. “One guard can easily cost $16 per hour compared to a camera that never has to sleep and is much more cost-effective. Companies are seeing that video guard tours are much more feasible today.”
The same video feeds that are recorded onto DVRs and monitored by central station operators can also be accessed remotely outside the monitoring facility. Many business owners and managers have demonstrated a keen desire to be able to use the device of their choice to connect via a Web browser from anywhere in the world to check their operations. Thus, remote video monitoring of employees and customers is gaining popularity for security as well as managerial
and marketing purposes.
“Perhaps retail chains remain the best example of the variety of usages video can fulfill,” states Jim Rao, director of Video Technologies for Pittsburgh- headquartered Vector Security. “Retail loss prevention, store operations and merchandising departments use cameras to help reduce loss, evaluate the general appearance of the store and even gauge customers’ merchandise preferences.”
Rao goes on to point out that it is imperative cameras are unobtrusive in retail installations so as not to make shoppers feel uncomfortable. That is not conducive to spending money. Discretion and aesthetics are often important, but especially so in these settings.
Closely related to guard tours, but taking the concept a step further, two-way interactive is a specialization that combines video and audio so that highly skilled operators can intervene as necessary. Rather than reporting on crime, this technology places monitoring personnel right in the thick of incidents as they unfold. In addition, monitoring centers capable of two-way interactive can typically handle all the previously mentioned niche markets as well.
With an interactive system, a location is outfitted with video cameras, speaker/microphones and sensors, artificial intelligence and/or panic buttons that alert intervention specialists when trouble or an emergency arises. Operators can then either voice-in to the location and intervene directly or observe and summon police.
“Westec InterActive sees two-way interactive monitoring as the next generation of video monitoring,” declares Westec Vice President of Marketing and Products Sandra Smith. “The two-way capability allows for more effective guard tours as well as alarm verification. The interactive nature of two-way monitoring provides customers with more security than only video monitoring.”
Irvine, Calif.-headquartered Westec was one of the first in the country to specialize in, intensively market and successfully roll out two-way interactive security. Today, the company has a stronghold on the small retail market, including convenience stores, service stations and fast-food restaurants. What some once saw as a lark appears, in hindsight, to have been wise trail-blazing.
Slowly but surely, other providers are following in Westec’s footsteps, either reinventing themselves or starting from scratch. SentryCom is a video-only monitoring facility that began serving accounts this year and is making its mark by concentrating on virtual guard patrol and two-way interactive for car dealerships. The company has found the audio component as tricky as the video.
“Humfrom motors, AC lines, ambient noise, music audio in the background, etc. can render your listen-in capability useless,” stresses Strasser. “The location of microphones, wiring and wire type can all drastically affect the usefulness of the audio portion. Talk back requires good speaker placement, proper adjustment and reliability. Without audio, you have no virtual presence and that means you can’t do your job to replace a guard.”
Visual Monitoring Requires Higher Level of Operator Competency
Security dealers, integrators and central stations have long lamented the industry’s dearth of a well-trained talent pool. And while it’s true advancing technology helps simplify certain things, it also tends to make others more complex. Combine that with an ever-increasing number of systems in the field and it becomes clear the training issue may never be resolved. Technicians and installers have borne the brunt of alleged training deficits through the years. With the progression of video monitoring, central station operators will come under just as intense a scrutiny.
“Response to traditional alarm signals has typically been very clear-cut,” contributes Hanley. “Transitioning to an environment where an operator has to interpret information from a picture and respond appropriately presents unique challenges. This change in skill set requires specialized training. Additionally, there are some end-user training issues due to the high turnover in the retail market.”
Those with true two-way interactive services are finding candidates with strong law enforcement experience are a good fit as operators. They are accustomed to serving as an authority figure, observing behavior and handling incidents as they occur.
“SentryCom relies on finding experienced law enforcement and security professionals who are used to interacting with suspects, watching behavior and dealing with command and control situations,” elaborates Strasser. “We have developed a comprehensive training manual that covers all of the do’s and don’ts, as well as policies and procedures f
or all the events we have encountered in our command center.”
Trade associations such as the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and Security Industry Association (SIA) have recently bolstered training for central station operators, but there are still no real standards for video security agents. Most providers are learning from their mistakes and revising training and policies on the fly. This puts them in a precarious predicament because it may leave them open to even greater liability than traditional intrusion alarm systems.
“The liability is a big question for monitoring companies,” affirms Jordan Jackson, vice president of Security Central in Centennial, Colo. “Since there is more subjectivity on the part of the operator, there is more opportunity to react improperly if the operator didn’t ‘see’ the situation properly.”
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