Academic publisher McGraw Hill has distribution centers around the world, all stacked to the rafters with pricey textbooks. Director of Global Security and Crisis Management Drew Brennan would rather not get his security personnel out of bed every time there is suspicious activity on site. Instead, he relies on his video management system’s remote access feature.
“When there is an incident that you are not local to, or when something happens after hours, you can just dial into the camera,” he says. “If you don’t see any activity then it could be a faulty sensor, or it could just be the wind. You can make a fact-based decision that a response is not necessary. I’ve probably done that a hundred times.”
Remote access is just one of the many useful tools loaded into today’s video management systems. Enterprise security professionals increasingly are leveraging these features to gain new efficiencies.
“Many security people today want more return on their investment. They want tools to make them more proactive instead of reactive,” says Brian Brown, a partner with video security integrator Controlled Concepts in Clinton, Miss. Here, we take a deep dive into VMS features, exploring which are the must-have tools, which are the nice-to-haves and which features may not yet be ready for prime time.
Brennan is not alone in his reliance on remote access. Enterprise security executives in a range of industries say this is one of their favorite VMS capabilities. At High Point Regional High School in Sussex, N.J., Director of Safety and Security Kevin M. Craig uses remote access not just to keep an eye on things, but also to enhance his collaborations with the police. “You can log into our camera server to view our cameras off site, which allows us to share the live video feed with local law enforcement, so they can see what is happening in real time and can respond as needed,” he says.
At Ontario-based Wayland Group, a global provider of cannabis-derived medical and non-medical products, Senior Director of Security Stephen Lem uses video management tools to remotely monitor activity in and around sensitive facilities via his mobile phone.
“I do it day in and day out. I want to be sure that my equipment is working fully, and I also just like to keep an eye on the site,” he notes. “I’ve also had situations where people had to come in in the middle of the night for legitimate business reasons, and I can use the application to monitor their activities without my having to be physically there.”
At Noble Energy, an oil and gas exploration company based in Houston, Senior Security Manager Steve Brack uses remote access to help minimize security headcount across a global operation.
“If you have a camera and an intercom system, you can manage security operations remotely. If you have an office with no security presence, you can do remote monitoring and allow someone access, you can process deliveries and visitors, all through remote monitoring from a centralized location,” he says.
A modern VMS can also deliver activity alerts, notifying security personnel of suspect activity via text, phone or email. “Getting alerts has saved me a lot of time and effort. It’s hard enough to watch all those individual tiles. If I can have that specific tile moved to the forefront, and my IT guys can get a notification, that is very helpful,” Lem says. He uses his VMS to define a virtual line around off-limits spaces and then trigger related alerts. “If someone is in an area they should not be in, then I assume they may be out there for a non-business purpose.”
The ability to define alerts within specific virtual limits helps to cut down on false positives. “You don’t want to get pinged every 10 minutes. You don’t want to hear about it every time a fan moves,” Brown says. “With the new features you can set parameters: ‘This is about the physical size of a person.’ If I see something this size, it’s probably a human being.”
Some say that is not enough. Brennan, for instance, is happy to rely on his burglar alarms and access control systems, rather than suffer the frequent false alarms that can sometimes come with video alerts.
Thanks to internet connectivity, the modern VMS make it easier than ever to share video feeds. Craig uses the collaborative tools built into his VMS to engage with law enforcement. The ability to share a live feed helps to keep him in compliance with New Jersey laws that require police to be able to access real-time school video: Local police have password-protected access into the VMS.
New VMS tools make it easier to trim a video clip down to the smallest possible size, isolating a few moments in time from a single relevant camera. Even so, bandwidth constraints can force security personnel to adopt manual means in order to effectively collaborate.
“Last time I had an interaction with law enforcement, the police told me it would actually be easier just to put it [the video] on a thumb drive and send it over to him,” Brennan notes.
Lem also takes the low-tech route, in part due to bandwidth issues but also in order to limit access to sensitive information. When he needs to share a video clip, “we have the user come onto our site whenever possible, partly because of the size of the file but also because we prefer to prevent our data from leaving our site,” he says.
Analytics, Playback & Integration
As an emerging technology, video analytics are viewed as potentially helpful, but perhaps not critically necessary. Brennan has used his system’s analytic capability for forensics, leveraging the VMS’s ability to narrow down a field of view to a particular time and place. “You can look for a specific time window, or you can select ‘motion only’ and literally drag your mouse to create a geofence around the specific area,” he says.
Like many security professionals, Craig has just begun to experiment with these newer analytic tools. “Our software has the capability to do heat mapping, showing areas where large volumes of people congregate. That is certainly of interest for security, to identify those patterns,” he says. “It’s something we are working on implementing.”
Brack is intrigued by the possibility of using analytics to reveal new depths of information in video data but is not ready to make the leap. New playback tools also are adding value to the VMS in the ability to link together multiple video feeds in order to generate a continuous view of a given event. “There was a suspicious person that we were aware had entered our facility,” Brack says. “We used video to pinpoint how that person entered and where they went. We had it running for remote perimeter monitoring but then were able to use it for investigative purposes.”
Integration also is a key value-add for security professionals looking to get the most out of their video systems. It is possible to establish links between video and access control systems.
“The benefit of this is that when an alarm goes off, it turns on a camera and focuses it on the incident,” Brennan says.
Finally, there are the features that are not yet part of the security mainstream. Craig is intrigued by license plate recognition but leery of the work needed to build a useful database. He is curious about facial recognition and artificial intelligence but worries about the privacy and cost. “Budgets are always a consideration in a public school. We are very rarely on the cutting edge of technology,” he says.
Brennan likewise is treading with caution around facial recognition and AI within the VMS. “I could see that having potential around workplace violence. If you have a layoff or a disgruntled employee who has been separated, maybe you want to load their information into the recognition software and tell the system to let you know if that person enters the building,” he says. “It’s just not on the top of the priority list at this point.”