Surveillance | Feature
Video Surveillance Security by Exception
With a video security system that automatically detects the unusual and allows the monitoring company to communicate in real time with those responsible, this technical institute can barely remember the last time it suffered vandalism or a break-in.
- By Dian Schaffhauser
Not every school can afford to run a fully staffed campus security operation. And, in fact, some institutions are discovering that the judicious use of technology can take the place of security personnel for certain types of facilities protection. The Institute of Technology Carlow, a 5,000-student institution, has its main campus located in Carlow, a town in southeastern Ireland with about 23,000 people. The 30-acre campus is compact enough that it can lock up operations at the end of the day; but because it's located in a residential neighborhood, the institute can still draw bored teenagers looking to cause minor vandalism.
It was just such an incident in 2004 that led the school, which has no full-time campus police, to seek a way to protect its buildings. According to Patrick Murphy, a member of the Estates Department, which oversees facilities, a vandal had broken a pane of reinforced glass, which cost the Institute between $4,000 and $5,000 to replace. Although the school had an alarm system, by the time the security company had responded, the damage was done.
Seeking a more proactive way to protect its premises, the Institute called on Netwatch, a local company that has expanded to the United States, to implement its video security system. Since then, Murphy can't recall a single successful break-in or incident of vandalism.
When something outside of the ordinary happens--such as a person walking onto campus after hours--the closed-circuit television (CCTV) video system software alerts Netwatch, whose people can watch the activity from the company's remote center, record it, alert the security company to send a patrol car, direct security personnel to the right spot, and yell at the intruder to stop what he's doing and leave immediately. It's probably that latter aspect of the process that can be the best deterrent. When a vandal is called out by the color of his clothing, the type of hat he's wearing, or some other personal distinction, he comes to realize that real people are paying attention and watching what he's up to, which can put a damper on the evening's plans.
How Netwatch Works
Netwatch's system works by exception, according toNiall Kelly, the company's co-founder and technical director. The cameras are positioned and configured through proprietary software contained in an appliance kept on the customer site to detect movement based on rules set in advance. Those parameters are established in sessions with the client to determine the schedule for monitoring and the types of activities that should set off a video response.
"The software that we've designed looks at the view and says, 'OK, what is happening here?'" Kelly explained. "This is a perimeter. It's sterile. There should be no one moving here. I would be interested in someone moving right to left, into the boundary. I don't mind if somebody walks along the boundary, but as soon as someone actually crosses the boundary, then we have an event, and we can do our thing."
The cameras may be directed to capture any physical breach that might occur along a perimeter line, such as a person trying to enter the campus property after hours. To protect a perimeter, Netwatch uses cameras with a long-range focus, 600 to 900 feet. Cameras can also be trained on access points, to note when somebody is trying to open a door outside of normal hours, or within a secured area, such as a person attempting to enter a locked lab or garage.
Those policies evolve as the client's requirements change. If there's a sensitive area on campus that needs extra scrutiny for a certain duration, the client contacts Netwatch, which modifies the alert policies remotely. "The client gives us instructions, and remotely we can manage it for them," Kelly said. For example, if a school is holding a conference and people will be using the parking lots during unusual times, "Within seconds, we can alter the detection so that area doesn't become detected for that period," he noted. The software can also handle automatic changes of modes. "If a college says, 'We have examinations going on this month; we'll be working until 11 every night,' the system can be timed so that 11 every night, it reverts to its original mode."
When a security incident takes place, the software alerts Netwatch, which automatically begins recording the activity. Company staff monitor multiple client consoles. When an alert is received, they can zoom in with specific cameras, track the incident from one camera to another within the same environment, use the audio capabilities of the camera to listen, and most importantly talk to the person who set off the alert. Frequently, the audible warning is enough to scare off intruders.
The same software features a loitering component that's popular in certain kinds of educational environments to tell when somebody stands in an area or sits in a car longer than would be expected.
Now the company's research and development team is developing a technology that can detect certain types of audio, such as "the sound of a scream or scuffle or fight," Kelly says. Several American prospects have requested a specific requirement to detect gunshots. "Then if there's an unusual event detected by audio, the cameras would pick that up and transmit it back to the central control room," he explained. "That control room would be in our facility but can also be relayed to first responders, sent to PCs, cell phones, PDAs. You could have a very early warning system for the campus [community] itself."
That latest development work is being done in partnership with Dublin City University's Centre for Sensor Web Technologies, part of CLARITY, the university's research center. The two organizations have been collaborating for a while. Earlier this year, they developed a new alarm reduction system that can tell whether an alarm has been triggered by human activity; the goal was to greatly reduce the number of false alarm calls received. The software, claimed Kelly, "can tell the difference between a dog, a cat, a fox, or a person."
What the Client Sees
The client can designate a set of authorized people to have access to views of the cameras through a web console on whatever device they're using, including a smartphone. But whereas Netwatch's recording begins at the start of an alarm notification, on the client side, all camera activity is recorded as long as the camera is running. Whereas the activity recorded on the Netwatch side is maintained for a minimum of 90 days (longer if necessary), the local recording is kept for 30 days on a server provided by Netwatch and maintained on the client's premises; after that the storage space is reclaimed and used for newer recordings.
The console operations allow the client to search for license plates, if they have the appropriate kinds of cameras stationed in parking lots or garages. They can review all activity that takes place at a specific doorway or in a particular area, such as fob use that didn't work. "Intelligence" in the software also enables users to tag specific types of activations and email the clips, share them, or do whatever else they need to do with a segment of the recording.
Kelly said that when a serious event "warrants an investigation," the company can store it for as long as needed. He noted that Netwatch personnel are "trained in preserving the chain of evidence. We can record it, store it--and we are certified to do so--for production at a later date. We can handle it in a professional manner."
The Price of Proactive Security
The institute in Carlow already had about 20 of its own cameras when it began working with Netwatch; however, since then the campus has grown to using between 90 and 100 cameras. Although early customers purchased their own video cameras, currently, about 95 percent of them prefer to use Netwatch's managed service. The customer pays a daily fee and Netwatch provides the cameras, it designs the video network, installs it, and maintains and monitors it. When a camera goes down, it's repaired at Netwatch's expense. For that, it charges $100 a day, which would cover 10 cameras. (Pricing varies based on the number of cameras, the level of service required, and other variables.) Contracts are typically for three- or five-year terms.
Carlow's Murphy says the daily monitoring charge is probably equivalent to the expense of one or two hours of a full-time security person's pay and benefits. But more importantly, the Netwatch setup has provided the preventative security the school sought when it first brought in the service.
In the past, Murphy pointed out, "We probably would have two or three attempted break-ins per year." The alarm system in place at that time would have been activated, and a security company would have come on site. But the damage could have already been done. "We don't think we've had an attempted break-in in three or four years. Also, the incidents of young people with slightly anti-social behavior on the campus have disappeared as well. They know that if they stay there, they're being observed and that within five or 10 minutes, a security company is going to arrive. It has achieved what we wanted it to achieve, so it is a suitable system for our environment."