Where there is darkness, light

Or, at least, actionable security video boasting higher quality images at night.

George Carlin, as the hippy dippy weatherman, had his spot-on prediction: “Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight.” Add an additional nighttime forecast of likely chance of greater crime risk, too.

Guy Grace, manager of security and emergency planning for the Littleton Public Schools, located in a suburb of Denver, knows to prepare for what night might bring by strategically placing, outside more than two dozen facilities and parking areas, day/night and low light cameras, often integrated with motion detection and signage. “Vandalism is now a rare occurrence,” says Grace.

Jeanine Lovejoy, owner and principal at The Consulting Group (TCG), and her staff members accompanied by administrators and law enforcement, have walked facilities of the Peralta Community College District in California’s Bay Area. The tours were conducted during the day, of course, but also over various nights as the security consultants look for where it makes sense to place security video technology including day/night and low light cameras.

Then there are the potential problems – remote utility buildings, construction sites, metal theft targets – that call for responsive, verifiable solutions. Especially when the sun goes down and the crooks come out. Security professional David Lambert at Spokane’s Northwest Monitoring Solutions uses specially bundled wireless technology – what he calls a video alarm system – which takes a short video clip every time a built-in passive infrared sensor (PIR) trips for verification, review and dispatch through Lambert’s monitoring station. Such action triggers priority response from law enforcement. The video alarm system also has built-in infrared illuminators for even better night vision detection and can run on a battery while sending clips via cellular.


Verified Night Alarm

In one example, Lambert responded and within four minutes the police were onsite as compared to 15 to 20 minutes minimum on a traditional alarm. “With Videofied, we were able to verify there was a threat and everyone acted accordingly.”

For Lambert’s end user clients, the system may be a single or several camera crime fighters covering a specific risk area or length of time. He had five arrests in a matter of days, he proudly points out. For Grace, Lovejoy and most security professionals with an arsenal of analog and IP video technologies, day/night cameras as well as low light and no light options – infrared and thermal cameras, as examples – blend in with traditional cameras as the specialty cameras are placed where situations call for their unique abilities.

Because college campuses are constantly buzzing day and night, it’s important that their surveillance systems are functioning throughout all buildings as well as outdoors and in parking areas and sports fields. At the Peralta Community College District, security was able to improve safety by 400 percent over the course of a year with video upgrades, including day/night solutions.

The district has a handful of different campuses and locations. And each campus has different needs and requirements, says Lovejoy; the various systems are viewed from a main control center, though each college has its own server. The district also rents out some facilities such as athletic fields on an occasional basis. Security video is activated, viewed and recorded only after hours – 10 p.m. through 6 a.m. – and on weekends to accommodate local sensitivities. “Cameras are off during teaching hours,” says Lovejoy.


Combination of Camera Capabilities

“Outdoors, there is a combination of day/night and IR cameras,” the consultant says. Neighbors at the various campuses want a low profile when it comes to illumination during nighttime surveillance. “I am evaluating [so-called] white light cameras. Upon motion detection, a white light comes on” to allow the camera to quickly capture color images for better facial recognition.

More typically, there are 360-degree cameras and a couple of megapixel cameras among the inside and outside mix which is heavy on Panasonic video. The technology has been two years practically maintenance free, Lovejoy observes.

Cameras, radios and alarms at Peralta are monitored by a dedicated team of sworn and unsworn officers from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office under the command of Captain Erik Gulseth. His staff monitors about 500 cameras “but it is infrequent that we see” incidents in real-time. “Video is more helpful when it comes to forensics.”

Charles McCready, senior product specialist for Panasonic Security, notes that the migration to IP has been increasing steadily across the industry and at various stages of the analog to IP migration. In the case of Peralta Community College District, they are operating a hybrid environment but have introduced a lot of new IP hardware to replace aging analog cameras that were experiencing frequent equipment failures and not providing the image performance they needed.

Specific to end user benefits of day/night cameras, McCready says that one of the main benefits is they can automatically adjust as the light changes to ensure the best quality images captured. For example, capabilities such as auto back-focus ensure the camera automatically achieves optimal focus in day or night environments. As a result, these cameras can deliver very high-quality images with a lot of detail in day/night and low-light environments that would not have been possible in previous generation cameras.

He adds that analytics can complement day/night cameras – a combination of facial recognition capabilities with low light adjustment can make all the difference when a camera is placed in an area known for problem lighting. For example, Peralta has installed new higher megapixel IP cameras in locations such as parking lots/garages and other problem areas across its campuses, delivering higher quality images for clearer identification and ultimately contributing to a significant decrease in overall crime rates.


Sprawling Campus a Challenge

For Guy Grace, his security and emergency planning operation at the Littleton Public Schools covers 26 sites with almost 600 cameras while, with IT infrastructure improvements, the number of cameras will significantly increase. “We are moving to wide angle megapixel cameras” overall, he says. But, “at night, schools become community centers, some typically open 18 hours a day.” To combat after-hours vandalism, he employs day/night and low-light cameras with motion detection and alerting signage. “A patrol team can respond more efficiently.” In addition, IR cameras with built-in illumination work in total darkness in certain locations while alerting and recoding to body heat detection.

When security professionals consider low light camera solutions, Dave Sweeney, chief operating officer at integrator Advantech, advises to look for true day/night cameras, which contain an IR cut filter. Newer digital day/night cameras often allow for viewing in both day and night conditions without the use of that IR cut filter, making adjustments electronically. 

Still, when it comes to end user expectations, customers expect the quality of video in low light to be the same as the quality during the day, Sweeney says. Higher resolution cameras can help, and there is preference for video motion detection, he adds. Additionally, when comparing day/night, low light, IR and thermal cameras, one size does not fit all, contends Sweeney, who adds that the end user working with his or her integrator can reach conclusions based on specific locations and needs. And, when considering megapixel cameras, the old rules apply – the higher the resolution, the more light you need or the more technology in the camera.

With 58 years under its belt, Cam-Dex Security Corp. does significant day/night camera business, according to Andrew Warn. Another solution, thermal cameras are often more expensive, he says; but cost may be justified depending on the application while prices will continue to come down. Just as CCDs migrated to security from consumer camcorders back when, consumer advances will continue to impact security video including low light.

SIDEBAR: Put It in the Vault

Local, state and federal law enforcement are among heavy users of day/night, low light, IR and thermal cameras.

Where it gets tricky is secure storage, retrieval and analysis of images. The aim: a tamperproof information archive, in effect, a digital evidence vault. With the advent of digital media (photo, audio, video and document files), the challenge of public safety organizations to document evidence and track its chain of custody has greatly expanded. The availability and affordability of digital cameras, while improving the quality and quantity of crime scene photographs, also allow photographers to create large volumes of digital imagery. Add video surveillance, body cameras, in-car cameras, pole cameras, personal smartphone camera input and other sources and law enforcement has a huge store of images to manage.

One solution: Blue Bell, Pennsylvania-based Unisys has developed a solution to meet forensic integrity standards and policy requirements of several of the largest police departments in the world. It’s called Secure Image Management System (SIMS).

In addition to better managing storage costs and more easily move things around to appropriate people for handling, SIMS, according to Crystal Cooper, head of Unisys U.S. Public Sector, allows law enforcement to piece together [a crime’s] story by bringing together related information through, among tools, role-based evidence identity and retrieval. “There is no restraint based on physical space,” she points out. And using mobile devices, investigators and security executives can conduct more complete real-time forensics and updating in the field.

SIDEBAR: Day/Night Pedal to the Metal

Day/night, low light, IR and thermal cameras are a natural means of fighting metal and outdoor asset theft, incidents that often happen in darkness.

According to Cale Dowell, Houston-based regional director for THRIVE Intelligence, a Universal Services of America company, loss of the actual metal sometimes isn’t that impactful financially, but the havoc it leaves behind including interruption and resumption of service to the organization affected generally has a much higher price tag.

Integrated services such as video analytics and remote video monitoring allow an organization to maximize their onsite coverage and intelligence while still leveraging real-time response. Pair this with audio and illumination components such as strobes, and a monitoring center can proximately intervene the moment an incident is imminent.

Dowell adds  that as an illustration, his organization worked with an oil and gas firm that was continuously being hit. That company’s remote distribution yards (where they store their drilling equipment and material between rig sites) were being accessed in areas where the security professional was not on patrol in the early morning hours. The thieves primarily pilfered large spools of copper wire. However, the biggest risk to the organization was possible down time at one of their rigs, which would mean massive losses in an industry where time is everything…the company deployed a camera system with video analytics to monitor the perimeter of the property. This was paired back to the monitoring and response center for immediate event response through voice-down communication and dispatch of local police. The solution produced immediate results, with theft being stopped in progress.

Rush McCloy of Eyewitness Surveillance, has similar experience. He says that each site of a potential metal theft is different. Most are not lit well, however.  So day/night, thermal or IR high definition cameras with IR illumination can impact an end user’s bottom line. As compared to battery-powered systems, many of McCoy’s client sites have power, which makes installation more traditional. Also possible, there is also deterrence through audio.

SIDEBAR: How Day/Night Works

Many IP cameras have some form of day/night capability, ranging from basic image optimization to “true” day/night units.

True day/night capability uses the infrared spectrum to create a viewable black and white image. Still, many true day/night cameras are equipped with an infrared cut filter which blocks infrared light during daylight periods. When an infrared image is needed, the filter is mechanically removed. More recent digital day/night cameras view in both day and night conditions often without the use of that IR cut filter. During the day it records in color, adjusting electronically.

Infrared IP cameras need an infrared lighting source such as separate standalone lighting or, more commonly, integrated infrared LEDs. Concerning the latter approach, a downside of close proximity of the LEDs around the lens, there can be uneven lighting impacting image quality.

SIDEBAR: Day or Night, Video Surveillance Continues to Grow

According to research firm IHS, there were 245 million professionally installed video surveillance cameras active and operational globally in 2014. While the majority of these cameras were analog, over 20 percent are estimated to have been network cameras and around two percent high-definition cameras.

The installed base, says IHS’ Niall Jenkins, is characterized by different drivers in each region. In China, average camera prices are typically lower and there is a higher replacement rate. Installers and integrators there cost less so replacing a faulty product is less cost prohibitive. In Europe and North America, there is more of a price premium and a focus on product reliability.