Just as with consumer electronics, when it comes to video surveillance solutions it’s easy to become sidetracked by some of the more fascinating advanced features, functions and capabilities. Unfortunately, this can distract from the less “exciting” but more important considerations of what features best contribute to effective management of surveillance systems, particularly those on a larger scale.
That’s not to say technology shouldn’t play a primary role in designing and managing systems. What’s important is that any solution that is deployed offers the capabilities to meet end users’ real needs and requirements. These are the features that belong in the “must have” category, with everything else falling under “nice to have” or “unnecessary.”
The primary management consideration for large-scale surveillance systems is firmly understanding system objectives, which may include deterring crime, providing real-time information about events, delivering post-incident evidence and other functions. The system’s intended purpose will determine the four key system management factors outlined below. Each adds to the complexity and overall expense of video system management.
With many users working with limited budgets, cost can unfortunately play as much of a role as security needs, particularly with large-scale systems. Thankfully there are technologies available in each of these four areas that can increase the effectiveness and lower the expense of managing these systems.
Potential video coverage areas range from internal doors and outdoor views of entrances to parking lots and even entire campus areas. The number and variety of these areas will affect other considerations such as monitoring and storage.
Today’s cameras offer a number of capabilities and form factors that can ease the cost burden of system management. For example, high-resolution panoramic surveillance cameras can reduce the overall complexity and cost of a system by covering areas that might otherwise require multiple cameras. In addition, advanced low-light performance and wide dynamic range allow cameras to be deployed in a greater variety of situations where lighting can be challenging. By reducing the number of cameras to deploy and monitor, users can lower their costs without sacrificing vital security.
Labor costs make up one of the biggest expenses for managing large-scale surveillance systems, and that cost depends largely on whether the system will be monitored at all times, some of the time or not at all. Obviously, as the level of active monitoring increases, staffing requirements and the associated cost also rise. Interestingly, the likelihood of an operator missing an event also rises, as human nature makes it difficult or impossible for people to focus their attention on a screen for long periods of time.
Employing automation and video analytics capabilities enables the most effective and cost-efficient means of monitoring. These technologies are readily available in cameras and VMS and support a wide variety of events, such as license plate recognition, facial recognition, motion detection and much more. Analytics automate some monitoring functions, allowing operators to cover more camera views effectively and efficiently by calling attention to certain pre-programmed events and initiating recording surveillance video for later review as needed.
With the vast amounts of data being generated by integrated systems, the ability to easily retrieve and manage content are critical tasks. Advanced VMS solutions provide superior means of exporting data for general management, review and forensic applications. Additionally, new VMS solutions can reside on resident or remote servers effectively running in a virtual environment, which provides both operational and installation flexibility allowing users to tailor their surveillance platform to best meet their specific needs and budgets.
Also contributing to operational efficiencies and reduced staffing costs is the ability to integrate multiple systems with surveillance for centralized management and monitoring of the entire security ecosystem. Without integration, operators must employ multiple interfaces and/or software solutions to review access control, video, visitor management and other systems, either in real time based on alerts or at a later time for investigation or to determine which policies require stronger enforcement or should be revisited.
Many VMS allow easy integration with IP-based access control, for example, and some even provide easy-to-use support for older systems that rely on serial-to-IP connections and ASCII communication. If these older solutions are part of the entire security system, it is imperative to seek out a manufacturer that offers the ability to integrate older technologies as well as an open architecture that supports ONVIF and manufacturer-specific standards to ensure seamless integration with a greater range of systems.
Perhaps the main attraction of today’s video surveillance systems is the higher resolution cameras offer. While this allows end users to capture highly-detailed images that contribute to improving overall security, the sheer size of these high-resolution files – coupled with video retention and redundancy needs – require increasing amounts of storage. It’s no surprise, then, that storage costs are also a significant operation expense for large video systems.
Thankfully, many of today’s advanced cameras and VMS incorporate advanced video compression technologies that reduce file sizes without sacrificing the video quality users expect from their surveillance system. This can significantly lower storage and bandwidth requirements and costs while also increasing the cost-effectiveness of deploying backup and failover servers to ensure maximum system availability and reliability.
Although features and specs can be dazzling and sometimes confusing, technology is still an important factor in managing large video systems. By deploying the right technologies to address challenges in these four main areas, users can significantly ease the burden of management by reducing costs and improving overall security.