SECURITY talks with systems integrator, North American Video, Brick, N.J., about the essentials of systems integration. The following is a Q & A session with Cynthia Freschi, president of North American Video.

Q: What types of standards, platforms and protocols do you recommend for your customer?

A: At North American Video, our system design parameters are dedicated by the user’s specific needs and applications. Every customer has different needs that are based on a number of factors, which are limited to current CCTV equipment and specified platforms required by the IT departments. Today, network compatibility and available bandwidth are increasingly recurring concerns as users are starting to look at IP-based systems. This is the direction that the security industry seems to be headed in at this current time.

Q: Similarly, what type of camera equipment and compression schemes do you recommend? Or does each particular application demand a unique setup specific to that project?

A: Every installation North American Video is awarded is approached as a unique installation. There are very few instances where the same system installation may apply in two different locations. A perfect example is the over 175 post office facilities where we’ve installed CCTV systems in the New York tri-state area. The system parameters are basically identical, but each system had its own nuances. Factors such as lighting, building construction and physical layout called for each system to be modified to best meet the specific location. Casinos also have similar needs, but the system we’ve designed and installed for the Tropicana is very different from the system we are presently installing in the new Borgata Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. At this level, no two systems are ever quite the same. Each application demands its own particular specs.

Q: With digital being the most dominant factor in CCTV, how

do you avoid bandwidth or network space allotment problems?

What do you recommend here?

A: Networked IP-based video surveillance systems are the wave of the future. Several of the leading manufacturers are heavily promoting their IP video systems capabilities, but in reality, this technology is still a few years away from replacing more conventional and proven forms of transmission for core systems operations. To run a large CCTV system, most mid to large systems will require a dedicated 1GB Ethernet network. Without such bandwidth and speed, the concept of adding a security system onto an existing data network is simply not practical. For most situations, we still recommend fiber optics transmission systems with integrated Ethernet integration for specialized remote monitoring applications. We believe this is the most effective combination of transmission technologies based on the hundreds of systems we’ve installed to date.

Q: Take us through the process of integrating video with access control. Is it a seamless transition or is it more complicated than that?

A: Video surveillance systems manufacturers have realized that there is a distinct need to interface alarm, access control and CCTV systems together. Today’s advanced matrix systems have software driven capabilities that allow them to detect and react when an alarm has been triggered or an access/entry site has been compromised. There are also several different software control programs with hardware emulation that are making it easier and more efficient to integrate alarm, access control and CCTV systems. North American Video’s ability to integrate security systems has been instrumental in securing some of the industry’s largest security systems contracts.

Q: Please explain the complexities of retrofitting. How do you balance the old technology with the new? Are systems then open to scalability?

A: Technology is changing so fast that CCTV systems installed just a few years ago are paled by comparison to today’s new devices. Cameras, digital recorders and computer driven swtichers are the primary factors for the improved performance capabilities. However, no one likes to discard equipment after a few years when it seems to be functioning well. We try to incorporate as much of a user’s existing systems as possible unless we feel the existing equipment compromises the integrity of the facility’s security. Older cameras can be positioned in secondary locations where activity is more crucial to detect than identification; recorders can be reassigned and so on. The condition and performance of the existing systems need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis before any retrofitting can be seriously considered. As a result, retrofitting is often more difficult and equally expensive as installing new systems components. With new dome cameras, for example, one camera may replace two or three units because of its superior coverage capabilities and sensitivity.

Q: Do you recommend or offer offsite management? The ability for a manager to monitor his or her site remotely is important to some. How do you integrate video with the Web, PDAs and wireless?

A: We recommend what we believe best meets our clients’ needs. North American Video provides offsite remote viewing solutions when and where they are appropriate, but we do not provide monitoring services in-house. With today’s Broadband connections we are able to send video and control signals via the Internet, which allows the user to access their security system from any PC. Interfacing video with the Internet is no longer a mystery with the vast assortment of interfaces and software available. There are even new networking solutions available that allow images and system data to be transmitted directly to wireless PDAs and cell phones.

Q: How can the final security package result in a security management system? Briefly explain how that works.

A: By clearly defining a user’s security objectives at the onset of a project, we have a clear-cut idea of how the system will look, feel and perform before installation takes place. Given the high level of integration between CCTV, access control and alarm systems technologies, most of the systems we design are security management systems since they incorporate all of the essential security elements.

Q: Do you offer training for end users? Please explain.

A: North American Video provides on-site training with unlimited technical support for our customers. This is a critical stage for users when implementing a new security system, or even when upgrading a system. They need to know how to get the most out of their system from day one.

Q: How important are customer service and support?

A: When a customer knows he/she can depend on you to keep their security operation up and running, especially if a problem arises, you’ve probably made a customer for life. This business is all about reliability—a security system is useless if it is not functioning 100 percent. That’s why customer service and support are top priorities at North American Video—there’s nothing more important. It is one of key reasons why North American Video has grown exponentially over the years.

Q: Which video companies do you work with and what is the significance of teaming with these companies?

A: We work with every major manufacturer in the security industry. This gives us access to all the latest new products and technologies for each specific design and installation. It also provides access to specialized equipment that is often needed from installation to installation for specific application requirements.