Keeping Video Highways Flowing
When it comes to managing your video imaging information and traffic, you must first look around and compare where we are today compared to 20 years ago. Little has changed as far as our prime directive to protect our customers is concerned. On the other hand, everything about the method of gathering, storing and — most importantly — managing our video information has changed. It is important to look back at where we have come to understand where we’re going.
Most everyone in this industry is taught or brought in by someone that has been around for a while. Most information about process and policy is passed on from lips to ears much as it has been for the past 3,000 years. Herein lies the problem: The processes of the past are losing their validity as the future presents itself in mass.
Greater numbers of cameras and a seemingly unquenchable thirst for recording, storing and transmitting video information is driving developments in hardware devices and software products, as well as strategies and practices for optimally managing and using all those captured surveillance images.
Changes in Number of Cameras, Type of Information and ‘Vision’
What are we doing today within our CCTV systems that we were not 20 years ago? Lots, actually.
The first, most obvious change is the number of cameras that we are using in any given system. In this modern age of security, we are building systems with more and more cameras. Twenty years ago, a large system was considered to be 25 or more cameras. Today, we aren’t even warming up to large until we hit 200 cameras or more. Systems that have 1,000 cameras or more are becoming commonplace. So we have our first problem with past developments.
Years ago, we ran all of our continuous transmission images through a switcher or multiplexer and recorded everything for hours or days on end. Searching for any little piece of information was difficult or time consuming to say the least. In many situations, finding said little piece of information was just as much a piece of pure luck as anything else. The key advantage was that everything was logged as “Security,” so a single file or tape and a single management point was easy and common to produce. We had lousy “roads” causing information jams and losses, but the overall “traffic” wasn’t too bad.
The second thing that has changed is the type of information that we are gathering and managing. Certainly, we are still obtaining security stuff — the door was broken into; the bomb was planted and detonated; the disgruntled employee came in and assaulted associate employees; etc. However, it has also become common to have visual guard tours coming into our central stations or control points. These tend to be quick visual verification shots throughout our facilities or buildings. Events usually recorded for “after the fact” verification are now being monitored live by security personnel as well.
The third change or addition to video information would be “support” visions. These images are either being designed into our systems or brought on by accident from the sheer astronomical number of cameras being thrown at our applications.
For example, images from cameras mounted in an ATM machine are often tied together with point-of-sale (POS) information, thus allowing verification of both the user and the transactions at the ATM. This is old news and a statewide standard in some locations. However, it is becoming mandatory in many states that a second view be added to verify who was standing in the near proximity of the ATM while it was being used, like someone who might be using or holding the account owner as hostage.
Crowded Highway of Video Traffic Has Single Destination
When we look at the interaction between city center systems and central control systems, we are approaching the “big boys and girls” of video surveillance. There are hundreds of thousands of images coming from a variety of places, applications, and situations simultaneously to be recorded, monitored and/or responded to.
It does not seem long ago when it was exciting that sound was introduced to alarm systems. You could sit there and listen in on an alarm, and hear the criminal swearing in the background as the crow bar broke or listen to the demands of the hostages. It was an amazing look into the scene for a more accurate assessment of what has happened or could happen next. Today, we do it with cameras.
The net result of all these images from all these applications is “traffic.” Images coming from virtual side roads, main roads, highways and byways all ending up on a smaller and smaller path until the ultimate location is reached: the recording and/or monitoring center.
The problem, metaphorically speaking, is whether you choose to use a couple of yield signs, stop signs or all-out traffic cops to keep things moving. Which images have priority and then how much? Where do you park all of the visitors and then for how long? Is this a temporary situation or do we make a bigger highway to handle the traffic?
Method of Transmission Leading to Storage Instead of Switches
There are potentially an unlimited number of obvious and obscure uses of camera systems in modern security design. However, we have one more thing that we have to look at: the way our information is transmitted.
We are moving deeper and deeper into a digital world — a world where the continuous transmission of a broadband signal for the sake of itself is considered to be both wasteful and unnecessary. Bursts of information are key to the success of the Internet and will eventually be to our video systems as well.
Let the camera make the decision about what is worth sending and then burst the information out into the system like an excited child rattling on about monsters in the closet. For all these past years, each camera has dutifully sent a continuous patter of video imaging information to the main point of control or manipulation, be it the switcher, matrix or multiplexer.
Each of these continuous streams was interrupted and manipulated by the controlling system. Each stream required its own, private path or coaxial. Each took up space on a tape, monitor or switching input. From the sheer voracity of information being sent to the modern control points, this old and cumbersome theory of control and manipulation is being rewritten.
Systems today are becoming more independent, placing the responsibility of information retrieval at the storage point as opposed to the controlling or switching system. That is cutting down the constant dribble of lost or worthless information, including deleting in advance the creation the worthless or nonvalue images like the empty room, the parking lot with no cars, or the fence that is not being attacked.
Traffic Control Is Key to Managing Video Images
What does all this lead to? It leads to huge amounts of imaging traffic. All of it comes down how you control, steer and manage this traffic in such a way as to ensure your image roadways don’t become tied up with drivel.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this challenge and each system has its own requirements and needs. But just like everything else during the past 30 years of CCTV, common sense and creativity, used in conjunction with the latest and greatest equipment, will lend to an affordable, organized and useful security solution.
Let’s start with the cameras and work back toward the center of the imaging system. Notice the terminology shift from “CCTV,” which is fast becoming an outdated acronym. We are changing the way we do things and so is our language. We are opening up our roadways and are no longer using “closed-circuit video.” We are now imaging systems, digital in many cases, so let’s go with the acronym DIS — digi
tal imaging systems.
With the onslaught of improved technology, we have been able (even in analog cameras) to increase the amount of response to a situation that is handled by the camera as opposed to the main controlling point. We have built into our imaging machines such features as activity detection and alarm-trigger inputs.
Digital Management Systems Help Ease Video Pipelines
Switching systems are just about the same as always — designed for smaller chunks. For large numbers of cameras or large amounts of imaging information, we still have the matrix systems. However, we also have the matrixes highly evolved cousins: the “digital management” or “digital manipulation” systems. These are becoming the true epicenter of the imaging traffic control. They are high-speed, desktop PCs with extensive filing management software.
Through these systems, we can establish various banks of image filing systems. We can direct and file both our individual and bursts of images into files labeled “Security,” “General Activity,” “Fencing” and “Alarm Response.” We are evolving away from the idea of independent, stacked recorders with clumps of cameras being continuously switched into the simplicity of computer files.
This is true traffic control. All cameras are wired into a single point and each, according to the information they provide, is filed into a separate, retrievable location. The beauty of it is that specific triggers attached to or within each of image burst can immediately alter or change the image file to which the information is normally sent.
For example, a normally passive image of a perimeter recorded at a rate of one image every couple of seconds or so could be rerouted — at a higher image rate and resolution — to a specific monitor and a new emergency file. All this can be done automatically, instantaneously and without any human interaction because of a specific and preprogrammed trigger of some sort.
This whole idea of image traffic control sounds very familiar. That’s because it is the exact same thing experts have been recommending and teaching all these years, with a couple dramatic twists.
First is the idea of removing or replacing our stacks of recorders and their individual, fixed inputs with singular-input systems. They are able to take all of our imaging inputs via more efficient, high-speed routers. This approach now allows for what used to be a single-camera view and mission, to evolve into a potential of multiple applications.
Second is the ease of manipulation of individual image points throughout a system. DISs allow us to program and design each camera within a system to have multiple assignments from multiple departments with multiple users. No longer do we think of a camera as a single unit. It can now be a potential living library of views. A single camera in a modern system can answer multiple image needs.
With equal adaptation, we no longer rely on a single point of recording to capture little squirts of image information from each camera. We now program our multitudes of camera images into a vast array of files for future reference. We store according to category as opposed to availability. We open up the ability to search huge stores of images in seconds, as opposed to hours. We can manage our video traffic with a high assurance of clear roads ahead.
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