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A Smart Future for Video Surveillance

January 1, 2009
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Cynthia Freschi

Many see digital video technology as disruptive technology, and now that it has taken root in our industry, we are beginning to see an emerging ripple effect from the technology in the form of disruptive trends. New players are challenging preconceived notions of how video surveillance should work and as such, are reshaping the industry. These business trends are proving to be just as disruptive as the technology that precipitated them.


As In Olden Days

A prime example to illustrate this disruptive trend is the move toward smart video surveillance systems. In the analog video surveillance days, a typical scenario for a physical security system would consist of security video cameras, time lapsed video recorders, an access control/alarm system, motion detection devices, a bank of video monitors and the ubiquitous security guard(s). This kind of classic video surveillance system was designed to record and store, regardless of the application (i.e. banks, commercial buildings, parking structures, schools, etc.) and to give it its due; it served the purpose and worked well for its time.

But having to search through hours and hours of recorded video tape to locate an incident, or trying to watch live activity from multiple cameras on a bank of monitors proved to be less than efficient or effective. The implementation of digital video and the move to network systems in security and surveillance applications changed all of that and video data is now in the same format as other sensor data. In other words, a disruptive trend is occurring in that video surveillance is evolving from a reactive to a proactive application that can process and identify suspicious behavior and objects, and intelligently alert proper authorities to people and events, which require an immediate response.

Additionally, smart surveillance systems have the sophisticated capability to manage recorded video using analytics technologies that allow the search of data according to a broad range of parameters, including time, date, alarm notification, object, size, location and color. For instance, footage of a parking lot from several banks that were robbed can be searched specifically according to the time of the robbery to determine if a constant factor occurs. In this case, the same blue colored automobile is always present and this information, quickly and easily obtained, allows police to focus their search.


Smart Technology in Use

In the aftermath of the tragic London transit system bombings, the use of smart video technology was instrumental in aiding authorities to reconstruct the events and identify the bombers as well as to identify and capture other terrorist suspects and ultimately bring them to justice. At home, the cities of New York and Chicago, among others, have implemented a smart video surveillance initiative. The rationale is that analyzed video surveillance footage could help spot suspect or illegal activity, and that this automated prediction could aid law enforcement in preventing potential crimes or tragedies.
Smart surveillance will also be used at this summer’s 2008 Beijing Olympics to scan video images of Beijing streets to help spot suspicious activity and potential terrorist threats. The system can also search through archived data to find patterns that can be used to enable new security strategies and to identify potential vulnerabilities.

Smart surveillance has automated the two primary functions of video surveillance, namely real-time intervention and post incident investigation. But it also has the potential to impact business operations by transforming video footage and its inherent data into valuable business information. Improvements in workplace efficiency, management of resources, handling critical situations and coordination of services and information are all potentially possible using the artificial intelligence algorithms found in smart surveillance. Additionally, the wide range of search capabilities found in smart surveillance systems can be used to leverage data for use in a variety of everyday business contexts, including sales conversion analysis, customer behavior, regulatory compliance documentation and even litigation preparation.
Originally known as “computer vision,” smart surveillance has been a well-accepted technology solution at the country’s airports and seaports as well as on its northern and southern borders for the past few years. Based on these early and successful implementations, the technology (and the number of players involved in developing new technology) has evolved to include such features as facial recognition, audio (i.e. gunshot) recognition, pattern analysis, event storyboarding, gait analysis, behavioral analytics and centralized case management.

This shift to intelligent surveillance is the future of security, as the use of cameras continues to increase and traditional methods of surveillance can no longer support nor meet demand. The enhanced situational awareness provided by smart surveillance systems makes it a much more valuable solution as well as a powerful tool to guard against threats.

About the Columnist
Cynthia Freschi is president of North American Video, with fully staffed offices located in five states. Her firm is an SDM Magazine Top Systems Integrator.

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