All posts by stevecarney

Physical Security: An Important Tool for School Safety

Over the past decade, installers and integrators have experienced a steady increase in inquiries for security products, including video surveillance, alarm systems, access control, and integrated security management systems, in schools and campuses across the country.

School SafetyIt’s no surprise that administrators, faculty, and parents are questioning andaddressing the level of security in their schools as shootings and campus violence continue to make headlines. In 1999, the year of the Columbine shootings, electronic security was not much of a discussion topic for schools, or even college campuses for that matter.

In the past, schools with physical security were usually equipped with a few access control points and emergency notification systems. One year after the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007, the Campus Safety and Security Project conducted a national survey of colleges and universities, which revealed that approximately 50% of higher education respondents had perimeter access cards for their residence hall facilities. Far fewer facilities had monitored cameras or surveillance systems.

Today, an increasing number of campuses, high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools are implementing integrated video surveillance, analytics, and security management systems.A recent study from IHS, expects the market for school security system integration to rise by more than 80% from 2012 to 2017. The report called “Vertical Insights: Video Surveillance & Security in Education,” projects the market for security systems integration in educational institutions to grow from under $3 billion in 2012 to $4.9 billion by 2017.

For many schools, physical security is an ongoing process of redefining needs and staying vigilant. It was 15 years ago when the superintendent of the Cherokee County School District (CCSD) in Georgia, Dr. Frank Petruzielo, created the district’s public safety department. Back then, the district, which now comprises 47 schools and centers, had no intrusion detection, unmonitored fire alarms, and a handful of unmonitored, individual cameras purchased by individual schools.

Today, Cherokee County School District has entered the world of IP physical security with a hybrid IP surveillance solution and a unified security management system that features victor unified management system, VideoEdge hybrid recorders and American Dynamics’ Illustra IP cameras,allowing security staff and administrators access to live video and events throughout the school system. What started as a project for the district’s high schools and building perimeters, has grown to include surveillance in target areas at middle schools and other facilities.

CCSD is just one of countless campuses, schools, and districts that has found value in installing or upgrading its existing security to offer a safe environment for employees and students. Emergency notification systems, fire alarms, alarm systems, access control, video surveillance, and integrated security management systems are working together to allow schools to keep the pulse on their facilities and the people inside of them.

Read more about the Cherokee County School District and its journey to a hybrid IP surveillance solution.


What do you think are a school system’s biggest challenges to upgrading school safety?Please leave me a comment below.

Video ‘must haves’ for active surveillance

In the majority of surveillance situations, the end user is going to be using video forensically or sporadically, checking on situations that have occurred and using video to determine what happened or to help make a case against a perpetrator or tuning in to a specific incident that is under way.

Active Surveillance SecurityBut for some security officers, active, live video is the critical element. Casinos are users that are constantly monitoring surveillance cameras as the action unfolds in real time. So too with high-risk assets such as babies in the maternity ward or animals in a drug-testing facility: The more valuable the asset, the more intense the surveillance.

Fortunately, IP-based security systems have made many of the processes easier for those in active surveillance situations through the addition of analytics that can alert officers to potential situations; mobile and remote views of what is unfolding; cost savings, especially for large installations; and network-based redundancy.

Where IP-based surveillance has fallen short sometimes is with latency issues for cameras and monitors and network security. When viewing an ongoing incident, it’s critical that the cameras and monitors used have as low a latency issue as possible so those handling the surveillance can make the PTZ camera follow the action. When there is an active shooter or a kidnapping in progress, security personnel can’t afford to lose track of the person they are tracking.

As companies migrate to IP-based solutions, they are also finding that LED monitors have a higher latency issue than the old CRTs. Unfortunately, CRTs are being phased out, but it’s important to know that there can be latency problems created by the monitors when switching views among PTZs.

On the plus side, there are many advantages presented by the newest video management systemsthat improve performance during active surveillance situations and these should be on the “must have” list for anyone putting together a system designed for high-volume use. One of these issituational awareness through analytics, or getting alerts when activities out of the ordinary occur, such as someone entering through an exit.

In some scenarios, such as a shopping mall, there are plenty of open spaces or doorways that allow people to enter and exit, so deploying analytics for situational awareness may not be possible. In these cases, the IP system can provide another benefit through the use of multi-view, time-synched video.

Say, for example, there is an active shooter in the mall. Through the use of time-synched video, security can bring up the various camera views that show the shooting and then help create a timeline to show what happened from there — where the shooter started from, where the event occurred, where he is now, and so on. And this video can also be pushed to officers involved in tracking the shooter so they can see what is happening in real time, rather than relying on audio transmissions to tell them where to go and what to look for.

Because video in these instances is so important for forensic purposes, being able to “vault” the video — extract it from the recording — means it is saved for future viewing and you don’t run the risk of recording over it or losing it.

All of these factors are necessary for the proper design and execution of an IP video system aimed at addressing an active surveillance environment. So as you put together plans for a system, but sure to add these to your checklist.


For a more in-depth look at Active Surveillance and some solutions that address the “must have” features, please watch my recorded Webinar:

Recorded Webinar - Active Surveillance Environments


What challenges are you having with your active surveillance? Please leave me a comment below.

PTZ in a Megapixel World

PTZ CameraIt was heard in many security related market discussions over the past 3-4 years that the era of the PTZ (Pan Tilt Zoom camera) was over.  Megapixel technology would allow the digital zoom and detail in video that would make the mechanical PTZ obsolete. After all, fixed megapixel cameras are a fraction of the cost of mechanical PTZ, often with greater resolution.  And with enough of them covering the viewing scene, these fixed cameras would resolve the main issue with mechanical PTZ, which is when it looks in one direction, it misses the action elsewhere.

If that wasn’t bad enough for the mechanical stalwart of the analog era, along comes the emergence of high-megapixel fisheye cameras that can dewarp the curved view and digitally PTZ around a 360 degree view. Now, with one camera, a security professional can see the entire field of view in real time and in the recorded video.  Wow, how could a higher cost device that can’t look in all directions at once compete with that?

However, as IP camera manufacturers improve their megapixel fixed camera offering, and as they push dewarped fisheye technology to 5 megapixels, so too do they release HD PTZ cameras with longer mechanical zoom and faster rotational speeds. Is it that old habits die hard, or is there a market for these cameras that can’t be served by the fixed newcomer technology?

The answer lies in the evolution of resolution from analog to IP and the actual customer needs.  Mechanical PTZ cameras rose in popularity at a time when analog resolution was too low to meet much of the need. With mechanical zoom, that resolution shortfall was overcome. And that is what many people think of when they imagine megapixel fixed technology overtaking the mechanical. However, there are several uses that the fixed technology has yet to address, and are driving not only the continued use and investment in PTZ, but innovation as well.

For security professionals that engage in active surveillance and need to see the detail of activity at distances greater than roughly 30 feet, the mechanical PTZ still is the weapon of choice. While the recent economic downturn has reduced the investment in active surveillance, it is still a core activity in the gaming and higher end retail verticals. The dewarped 3 and 5 megapixel fisheye cameras can zoom in for evidentiary detail of theft to about 30 feet from a camera (depending on the height). But a 1080p PTZ with 20x mechanical zoom can achieve this at 350 ft.

If one stands in a control room of a casino or retail Loss Prevention station, and watches the officerstrack, zoom, and move with targets as they investigate in real time, it is evident that while many of the prior uses for PTZ have been consumed by less expensive technology, PTZ is the only tool that can meet the needs of these video power users.


Has technology changed your view on PTZ Camera necessity? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Ins and Outs of H.264

H.264 compressionNew developments in technology often present related challenges that need to be overcome, all part of the give and take environment of progress. The rapidly evolving IP camera arena is not immune to this, and one challenge that has emerged is the complexities of the H.264 compression standard. As the pixel count in IP cameras grows, so does the need to tap into the variety of techniques H.264 offers.

Rather than relying on the vague low, medium and high settings associated with MPEG-4 and MJPEG, H.264 offers techniques that far exceed previous compression models but, in turn, requires more knowledge of what they are and how they work.

One of the first things to consider in selecting an HD or megapixel camera is the H.264 profile used by the device, and weighing that feature with how the camera will ultimately be used. Is the goal to provide a crisp and clear image of a bank or pharmacy robber? Or is the goal to tap into the benefits of reduced bandwidth consumption?

If the purpose is a lower-cost installation where performance isn’t the primary consideration, it’s possible to get by with a base profile, which was developed for low-complexity applications and lacks the flexibility of motion prediction models.

If the goal is to meet the needs of standard resolution transmission, than using H.264 main profile is a viable option. It offers a motion prediction model that speeds encoding within the camera, and is also more effective in compressing interlaced images.

But if the focus is on HD and megapixel applications, than the clear choice is a camera using the H.264 high profile. This profile was designed for HD video encoding and decoding, and can process more bits as well as add the color depth associated with Blu-ray-quality video. It is also commonly used in streaming video for YouTube and the iTunes store, for example.

Another factor to consider in the IP camera scenario as it relates to H.264 is the bit rate setting. Again, there are three options: variable bit rate (VBR), constant bit rate (CBR) and constrained variable bit rate (CVBR).

VBR offers the least precise option for CCTV professionals because of its inherent vagueness among the five settings and the quantization parameter, or QP value, tied to each of them. As a result, many camera makers are moving away from this option and going with CBR as their main or only option.

CBR allows users to set a specific bit rate as a maximum. And even though the camera may not produce to that level, it won’t ever exceed it. The downside here is that it can lead to the purchase of more storage than necessary.

CBVR, which allows a user to set a maximum data rate and the minimum a camera could produce, is currently the least used option among the three, but offers the most control and ability to predict storage needs.

The market will continue to migrate towards IP cameras and, as a security professional, it’simportant to know your performance goals and cost parameters. With this information in hand, you will be able to identify and dictate the correct H.264 profile and bit rate for your security video installation.

Interested in more details on deploying H.264? Click here to download an informational white paper on utilizing the H.264 compression standard.

How to use the many facets of H.264 AVC Compression


What other factors are you using when determining your H.264 settings? Leave a comment below.

Day Night Camera | Protecting Assets & Investments 24/7

day night cameraIt seems like surveillance cameras are everywhere we look these days. They are in the public park, at the mall, in the grocery store parking lot, and outside our office buildings. The presence of cameras has become more acceptable in our society, with many people recognizing the value and safety they bring.

Of course, the first thing many people think of when they hear the words surveillance cameras is that they exist as tools to protect people from the bad guy. While that is one of the most important benefits security provides, it is not the complete picture. For many businesses and municipalities the use of surveillance cameras has evolved to extend beyond personal safety to also include the protection of property and assets.

This transition has become necessary in recent years as companies and government agencies alike are faced with tighter budgets and the need to protect current investments in people and infrastructure. A perfect example of this is the County of Maui, Hawaii and their desire to not only safeguard its citizens and employees, but in particular the county’s million-dollar fleet of vehicles, from police cruisers to maintenance vehicles to vehicles driven by its building inspectors.

Originally, the county implemented a surveillance system to protect its critical infrastructure, including Five County Administration Buildings and the Water Department facilities. Later it expanded the surveillance program to reach other areas of the county, such as outside vehicle parking lots and the exterior of facilities housing maintenance equipment. The County turned to surveillance cameras to monitor their property and assets to be able to clearly identify anyone caught on video stealing a vehicle, tires or syphoning gas, which has happened in the past.

Without a doubt, protecting vehicles in a parking lot can be one of the most challenging tasks at hand in the security industry. Not only does the surveillance system being used need to reliably function in the bright sunlight, but it also needs offer superior low-light performance for the nighttime or highly cloudy days.

The market has seen the further development of IP-based day night cameras in recent years as security manufacturers have leveraged sensor, encoding, and processing power from the automotive and other industries. The result is the introduction of cameras that provide consistent image quality in a variety of outdoor environments for continuous 24/7 surveillance.

For the County of Maui, a careful review process and trial run of multiple surveillance cameras led them to select the Illustra 610 day night camera from American Dynamics. In the end, it came down to finding a solution that offered a reliable, low-light performance at an effective price.

As end users extend the use of their surveillance cameras from beyond protecting people to protecting property, IP day night cameras are becoming a fiscally responsible solution of choice.

Read more about the County of Maui’s deployment of IP day night cameras in the government solutions area of the Tyco Security Products website.


What other applications are you using a day night camera for within your environment? 

IP Cameras at Low Light | What Has Changed and How to Choose

low lightWhether or not it’s deserved, IP cameras have developed a reputation for poor performance in low light. And because low-light conditions exist with nearly all camera installations, this perception has inhibited some organizations from adopting the technology, in spite of its many strategic and far-reaching benefits.

The challenges have had less to do with delivering the video over an IP network than with the CMOS sensors that most IP cameras use. Historically these sensors have been able to deliver higher megapixel resolution, but they weren’t able to match the CCD sensors often used in analog cameras for low-light performance. Because of this, some IP cameras generate grainy images at low light, resulting not only in decreased picture clarity but also in higher bandwidth usage and increased storage, since compression techniques interpreted the graininess as motion in the scene.

The past 12 months, however, have seen some advancements in technology propel the IP cameraforward as a more useful tool in low-light situations. Camera manufacturers have been able to leverage advances in sensors, encoding and processing power born from the automotive and other industries to resolve many of these issues. And High Profile H.264 compression helps to more effectively manage bandwidth usage, while more sensitive elements in the sensors provide higher-quality images.

Companies hoping to benefit from these advances should look for the following features in low-light IP cameras:

1) True day-night function, or an IR cut-filter. This means that when light drops below a certain level, only black and white is getting into the sensor, increasing its sensitivity.  This improves image clarity while decreasing noise or graininess in the image, which can be interpreted as motion in the encoder.  When the encoder compresses an image with a higher level of motion or noise, the bandwidth consumption can skyrocket.

2) An IR-corrected lens. Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, but it’s not invisible to camera sensors. It also travels at different wavelengths from visible light.  These differences result in the focal point that varies between the lights sources and means the sensor must actually move to achieve focus when lights sources produce varying amounts of IR light. If there is a lot of IR light in a scene that a camera has to adjust to, it can change the focal point of the camera. For instance, halogen light is very IR heavy when compared to fluorescent light, which has almost no IR light.  If you have a halogen light in an office and you turn that light off, the camera can go out of focus because it was focused for that light source. IR-corrected lenses resolve this problem.

Historically, “auto-back focus” was used to compensate for this type of change.  However, given that auto-back focus can hunt for a focal point for quite some time, often ending up at the wrong one, it is less effective in serving customers that expect 100% uptime in their security system.

3) A High Profile H.264 compression. There are multiple profiles of H.264 and users should be wary of which profile a manufacturer uses.  High profile is generally more processor intensive and is a bit harder for a manufacturer to deliver well.  But the result is worth the development effort.

Buyers should beware of the “base profile” H.264 implementations.  While the high profile is used for media such as Blu-ray, base profile is used for applications like teleconferencing.  The image quality standards between those two uses speak for themselves.

4) For applications at the very bottom of the low-light range, look for a camera that supplies its own IR illumination. Watch this quick video about the added benefits of IR illumination.

We encourage everyone who is concerned about low-light performance to enlist the help of their systems integrator in lining up their camera options where they’re intended to be used and test them out against each other.

Whenever possible, camera shoot-outs should be the norm for customers who care about image quality in any conditions, and this is especially true for low light applications.  At the end of the day, this is the best way to ensure that the best technology will be chosen for the application.


Leave a comment below and tell us what low-light feature you rely on the most and why.

Retail Security: IP Video helping prevent shrink & improve operations

A few weeks ago the National Retail Federation (NRF) held its 101st Annual Convention & Expo in New York City, bringing together some of the biggest names in retail, such as Target, Macy’s and Walmart, to network, participate in educational programs and view the latest retail technologies.

NRF 2012 ExpoKnown as “Retail’s Big Show,” an important element of this annual expo is retail security, as the industry continuously grapples with loss prevention issues on a daily basis. Not only do loss prevention professionals need to ensure that merchandise remains secure after hours, they also have to contend with employee theft, shoplifting by individuals, and organized retail crime rings.

What tools will loss prevention professionals deploy to tackle these many problems? IP video is expected to play a large role in helping to solve the retail shrink problem, as more retailers look to harness the full benefits that technology has to offer.

The Global Retail Theft Barometer reports that total global shrink in 2011 costs retailers $119 billion a year which includes Organized Retail Crime (ORC). According to the National Retail Federation’sOrganized Retail Crime (ORC) Survey 2011, nearly six in 10 senior loss prevention executives say senior management understands the severity of the organized crime problem. Because of these staggering statistics, many retailers reported they are investing in additional technology to mitigate losses from ORC.

IP video can help retailers reduce shrink by identifying shoplifting activities quickly. Built-in intelligence helps to reduce the number of uneventful recordings and send alarms when suspicious behaviors occur. A store manager can easily search thousands of hours of video to find a specific video clip quickly for forensic evidence after an incident has occurred.

The intelligent capabilities of IP video enable store managers responsible for many stores to remotely monitor each store for suspicious behavior from any location with a network connection. Both live and recorded video can be viewed at any time thus reducing the need for dedicated loss prevention specialists to monitor shoppers at each store. Also, remotely monitoring store activity using high-definition IP cameras gives a clearer picture of activity across all stores. Gone are the days of dealing with grainy footage to capture a crime in progress or to identify the perpetrator of the crime after the fact. The clarity of an overall scene can help determine whether a shoplifter acted alone or as part of organized crime ring that moves from store to store.

IP Video SecurityIn fact, the Illustra IP cameras enable rapid evaluation and recognition of ORC members through their interoperability with Sensormatic EAS pedestals. Taking an alarm from the pedestal, an Illustra camera can instantly send an image or a clip anywhere via email. Clear face shots of potential perpetrators can be evaluated and redistributed to other locations as ORC teams move from store to store.

The Illustra 600 HD IP cameras extend the reach of IP cameras by intelligently targeting high-definition resolution directly at faces in the scene. A properly situated Illustra 600 camera can detect faces dynamically and increase the bit-rate or clarity around those faces in real-time. That means a full HD camera can operate at a network-friendly level, but deliver crystal clear face shots in the blink of an eye.

Learn more about how IP video can help retailers solve their unique security requirements by watching an interview featuring Karen Olsen from Tyco Security Products taken during the NRF show.

How is IP video helping you curb retail shrink and improve store operations? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Face Detection | Choose Right Camera to Save Bandwidth & NVR Storage

With each stage of development in high-definition IP cameras, as the megapixels increase, there is a greater emphasis on tailoring solutions to avoid major impact on network bandwidth and storageAs camera features are improved and enhanced, so is the need for greater bandwidth and storage. While H.264 compression enabled widespread use of megapixel resolution, bandwidth and storage are still a major concern for many customers.

Face Detection Reduces NVR StorageMore industries and organizations have an increased need for greater details and features when purchasing high-definition cameras. From a cost standpoint, storage has an impact on customer purchasing. While storage may seem inexpensive relative to other technology, when a customer adds up the amount of storage needed for a full megapixel deployment, it is not necessarily cost-effective. This results in the purchase of fewer cameras. Fewer cameras may result in security incidents being missed, which can directly impact a business.

Face detection is a new technology that significantly combats bandwidth and storage costs. A camera’s ability to detect a face in a scene and send an alarm without increasing bandwidth and storage is key. Superior high-definition cameras can detect a face and increase the bit rate around it, while still being able to see the surrounding areas in the scene. Think of this as an intelligent region of interest.

Customers concerned about bandwidth are generally on “shared networks.” Shared networks are those where traffic from the security devices coexist with traffic from other business functions, as opposed to dedicated networks where only security traffic travels. This situation can occur anywhere; however, this issue is largely seen in the healthcare and education markets.

In applications where capturing quality facial imagery is important, choosing the right camera can make a difference. With some surveillance cameras, you have no choice but to set the resolution and quality high enough to capture the faces with ample clarity. But when those settings are used all the time, whether there is a face in the scene or not, this wastes bandwidth and storage on video that is not important. In other cameras, you might have to crop the image in order to save bandwidth and storage, but this often loses important scene information. The best option is an intelligent surveillance camera which can be set at a lower overall bit rate but one that will boost the quality around faces detected in the scene. This captures high quality face images, but reduces overall bandwidth and storage consumption by not wasting it on less interesting parts of the scene. But those parts of the scene are still available so that important information is not lost.


Click me


What other ways are you offsetting the need for more storage within your IP security system? Let us know by leaving a comment below.