Taking Control of Remote Video

Remote video services help clients justify capital investments in security surveillance systems and obtain valuable features unavailable via localized video solutions. Security contractors are in a prime position to generate new recurring revenue streams from this lucrative business opportunity.

It’s impossible to read a security publication or attend a trade show without encountering the topic of recurring monthly revenue (RMR). That’s because a project-to-project approach based solely on the sale and installation of equipment is survival at best. It results in unavoidable peaks and valleys in cash flow, and does little to build real business value. One of the leading ways to generate RMR is through the sale of managed or hosted services, with remote video monitoring getting the most attention as of late.

Known as remote video monitoring, interactive video, video as a service (VaaS), video alarm verification or remote guarding, it all boils down to the same thing – turning a video surveillance system from simply a forensic tool into a proactive countermeasure. It is a service that adds tremendous value for customers and translates into real RMR for dealers that embrace and sell the concept. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call it remote guarding as we discuss how, when and where to apply it, and how much to charge.

How Remote Guarding Works and What’s Required

Remote guarding applications can be classified as indoor, outdoor or a combination of both. Each classification has unique characteristics and will require a specific approach. Services can be categorized as those initiated by some event at the protected site (event based) and those initiated by the remote guarding facility (e.g. video tours).

An event initiated at the site could result from the activation of an alarm sensor such as an outdoor motion detector, an alarm contact connected to an intrusion system, an electronic access control (EAC) event such as door propped or even an alarm generated by a camera itself using video analytics or advanced video motion detection. This event is monitored by the remote guarding center, which then (and this is key) uses cameras at the site to further evaluate the threat and respond.

In order to do this effectively several factors must be considered. First and foremost, the event trigger must be reliable. If it is prone to excessive false positives, the workload on the monitoring center becomes prohibitive. If it cannot reliably detect the threat, then the entire purpose of the system and the monitoring is for naught.

Second, once the threat has been detected, the monitoring center must be able to quickly access the cameras associated with the event and they must have a clear view to determine the cause. This will require a competent broadband connection, good quality and well positioned cameras, and decent lighting. Because the remote monitoring center will typically only be looking at one or perhaps two cameras at a time, each streaming at something like eight-10 frames per second, a minimum of 1Mbps “up” speed must be available at all times. This is achieved using a basic ISP service.

This concept of monitoring by exception is a paradigm shift from the traditional method of a security room of some sort with a person continuously viewing a wall of monitors. With remote guarding, cameras are typically only viewed on demand. This means that if a site has eight cameras it will not be necessary to provide the bandwidth to stream all of the cameras in real-time. While the cameras may be recording continuously at the site, only one camera will be streaming to the remote monitoring center at any time; even then only when necessary.

Once an alarm event is received and the threat evaluated, the response by the monitoring center will be based on predetermined instructions. For example, under certain circumstances the customer can be contacted by phone. Under others, the local authorities can be called, or a roving onsite guard can be directed to the specific location of the event and given detailed information in real-time. Video or photos can be sent directly to handheld devices, and live voice announcements can be made over local speakers.

Event-Based Monitoring Examples

Imagine a site where vehicles are stored inside a fenced area. Someone cuts through or jumps the fence with intent to steal catalytic converters and headlights. A video surveillance system incorporating video analytics detects the intruder immediately. The alarm event is sent to the remote monitoring center where it is received along with a video clip showing the intruder. Within seconds, a monitoring center operator connects directly to a camera at the site and views live video.

The operator then makes a voice announcement: “This is the security command center. You are trespassing. The authorities have been notified, given your description and are on their way.” It’s a fair bet the perpetrator will not stick around long enough to damage the vehicles. And video from onsite cameras can be recorded and made available to the authorities.

Let’s look at another application. A college, university or municipal athletic field is a big investment and also a prime target for vandalism. These fields are heavily used during the day but often closed after-hours unless there is an event. Fences afford little protection from would-be vandals. Traditional countermeasures such as buried seismic detectors, shock sensors, outdoor beam detectors, etc., are costly to install and prone to false alarms. The cost of posting a guard at the site overnight can be $3,000 per month.

What if we install a few cameras looking out onto the field from some central point and incorporate video analytics? We connect those cameras to the Internet and set it all up for remote guarding. If anything breaches the fence (person or vehicle) and approaches the field, it is detected. The alarm is received by the monitoring center. Video is reviewed and within moments an announcement (called voice-downs) is made to the intruders while authorities are notified.

Damage that would have perhaps not only been costly to repair but also interrupted normal activities for some time is prevented. In this scenario, the installation price was likely no more than $20,000 and the remote guarding service price less than $1,000 per month. Using technology and remote guarding becomes more cost effective than a human guard in less than one year, including the initial cost of equipment and installation.

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About the Author


Peter Giacalone is President of Giacalone Associates, an independent security consulting firm.

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