How to Tell Video Surveillance Management and Situational Awareness Apart

Learn the definitive differences between video management systems (VMS) and physical security information management (PSIM) systems.

It is not a new debate. A good deal has been reported on whether projects are better served by a physical security information management (PSIM) system or instead leverage the integration capabilities available with a video management system (VMS). The answer, of course, is both are excellent solutions that can help make sense of the multiple streams of data bombarding security system operators in today’s physical security environment.

The choice between the two approaches hinges on the needs of the users and variety and types of systems requiring integration. Though both the PSIM and the VMS offer their own sets of benefits, there are some definitive differences between each system and philosophical approach.

Some of these differences are obvious, while others are more nuanced and perhaps not apparent until you’re in the thick of things using the system in a real-world setting.

A VMS Prologue
VMSs have become increasingly sophisticated and capable of integrating multiple types of physical security information and environmental systems into a cohesive and understandable interface, providing a broad view of an environment’s physical security. These systems are most commonly used with surveillance-related applications such as access control, license plate recognition (LPR) and video analytics.

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As a central point (or anchor) of system integrations, a VMS is often applied in active surveillance environments where the security requirements demand full-time video use. In this capacity, a VMS typically treats other integrated systems as playing a supporting role, augmenting the VMS’s existing view of a facility. Data from these other systems is incorporated into the VMS through the lens of the video surveillance system.

While other types of physical security data can be fed into a VMS, these outside data sources are measured against and related to video, the primary source of data.

Integrated Vs. Unified VMSs
Historically, a VMS stood as an anchor platform through which other systems integrated via an application programming interface (API). In these cases, licensing must be maintained for each of the different vendors’ systems in addition to maintenance and updates for each.

The video or anchor interface only enabled basic interaction between the integrated systems. This allowed an operator to gain some level of situational awareness, i.e. video related to an alarm. How-ever, if an operator needed to investigate further, they had to exit the VMS and use another interface to attain the details necessary for a holistic understanding of an event.

Take the following scenario as an example: After normal business hours a person approaches an external door to a building holding sensitive customer data. This organization requires personnel to both swipe a valid badge and enter a four-digit PIN to gain access. On approach, the person triggers a video analytic alarm. They attempt to gain access using a stolen badge. The door does not open, so the person forces the door open. A “door forced” alarm moves from the access control system to the video system via the integration.

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The security operator wants to lock all adjacent doors and find out whose badge was used for the swipe. They will also want to contact the owner of that badge. The operator now must exit the video system, log into the access system, find the associated doors and perform those tasks. Can they do it fast enough to contain the situation?

Conversely, some security manufacturers that supply multiple elements of security (a combination of cameras, VMS, access control or intrusion) offer a single solution with deeper interoperability between functions than are available between third-party APIs. These are often called “unified” systems, which operate a single-event engine and enable traditionally separate systems to function as one.

For instance, a unified solution can have active knowledge of other nodes on the network, generate associations between them and imbed workflows. Intrusion detectors can act in conjunction with video analytics to reduce false alarms. Access card readers and door contacts can associate with views from cameras with far less integrator programming and real-time interoperability. This also tends to reduce “broken” integrations as systems change versions.

In all, this form of enhanced integration can change the response profile of security operators through tighter interoperability. Let’s revisit the scenario of the customer data intruder: The intruder gains access by forcing the door. In the same user interface, and in real-time, all adjacent doors are locked down automatically.

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