Remote video monitoring on the job
Remote video monitoring on the job

Nov 1, 1998 12:00 PM
Michael Fickes

A national jewelry store chain and a luxury car dealership enhance CCTV using interactive remote monitoring systems.

Burglars last summer attempted to rob a Zales Jewelers store in a Houston shopping mall. One of the perpetrators smashed the front door, activating the store's interactive remote video monitoring system, provided by Westec Interactive Security, Newport Beach, Calif. An alarm sounded at a Westec monitoring station, where a trained "intervention specialist" used a joystick to aim one of the store's four cameras at the front door. Upon observing the burglary, the specialist called the Houston police, able to dispatch a car immediately because the specialist could confirm that a burglary was in progress. As a result, a smashed door was the only damage inflicted on the store. No merchandise was stolen. The incident occurred during a test by the jewelry store's parent company, Zale Corp., Irving, Texas, which operates a nationwide chain of Zales Jewelers stores and other jewelry stores such as Gordons'; Bailey, Banks and Biddle; and Linz. Results indicated that interactive remote video monitoring systems reduce losses and shrinkage. Test results were obtained by comparing four Zales stores with and without systems. Test sites included two malls, each with two stores owned by Zales. In each mall, only one of the two stores was equipped with the system. Each set of stores was compared. Since the beginning of 1998, when the test was launched, results have indicated a higher number of incidences in the stores without systems. A sales person experienced the system's effectiveness when he saw a group of three suspicious men. Fearing a robbery, he pressed a "suspicion button," activating an alarm at the monitoring station. An intervention specialist focused a camera on the group and spoke into a microphone, which transmitted his voice to a speaker in the store. He said: "This is Westec Security. We are currently monitoring the store and recording the scene. Is everything all right?" The group of men left the store. During the past 10 to 15 years, closed-circuit television (CCTV) has become a staple in retail security and as a result, isn't as effective, says George Slicho, Zale Corp.'s vice president for loss prevention. "Years ago, CCTV was an effective deterrent," he says. "Today, criminals don't care about it. In addition, you have to rely on employees to put in a tape and turn on the recorder. They often forget. Plus, it does not do much good only to record an incident. Interactive remote monitoring turns a passive CCTV system into an active deterrent." System components include cameras, microphones, speakers, a high-speed modem and a high-speed telephone line. The modem transmits video and audio signals to the monitoring station. Cameras, speakers and microphones enable remote monitoring staff to observe and respond to what is happening in the store. Could a retail chain install and monitor its own system, without using a Westec monitoring station? Yes, but Slicho believes in-house monitoring would be more expensive and less effective. "You really don't want more employees," he says. "In addition, it's important to have the right people monitoring the system. Companies that provide remote monitoring services have special selection criteria and in-depth training. I think that's important." Slicho trained Westec's intervention specialists in Zale's operations. "We gave them our operations manuals and spent a lot of time with them, making sure they understood what should and shouldn't happen in a store," he says. "We also wrote out precise instructions about what we want done when certain situations arise." In the planning stages, Slicho and Westec worked out a set of procedures for Westec that included looking in on each store a certain number of times per day, responding to "suspicion button" alarms - with the idea of getting involved only if an incident develops - and responding to shoplifting and burglary attempts through voice communications and calls to police. Although Slicho has not yet decided to expand the use of interactive remote video monitoring in Zale's national chain, he is impressed by test results. Employees love the system, Slicho says. "Contrary to what you might expect, they don't think of it as Big Brother watching," he says. "One of our sales people even coined a phrase that we use in training employees to work in the test stores: 'The button is my friend.' They look at the system as an extra set of eyes and ears and a presence that can back them up when they need help." In fact, employee turnover is lower in the stores using the remote monitoring system. The reason, according to Slicho, is that employees feel safer, knowing that security is watching.

A Mercedes dealer cuts losses Intelligence and Security Services Inc. (ISS), a division of Whittemore Associates Inc., Dalton, Ga., recently began providing interactive remote monitoring services for RBM, Atlanta, a large Mercedes dealer. RBM's goal is to protect its 13-acre car lot and show room, without intimidating customers. Since RBM installed the system two and a half years ago, two vehicles were stolen and recovered, which compares with the more than $1 million worth of vehicles stolen the year before, despite the presence of patrolling security officers. The ISS-designed system includes 16 exterior and nine interior cameras, comprising Sanyo and Panasonic models. Exterior coverage focuses on the fenced perimeter, the car lot and the ungated front entrance. Interior cameras monitor the display room, maintenance garage, parts warehouse and other areas. During the day, RBM service and general managers keep an eye on monitors placed in their offices. The system also records video from each camera with two Dedicated Micros multiplexers and two Gyyr time-lapse recorders. During after-hours, the interactive remote monitoring system takes over. It includes an automatic component. If, for example, an intruder breaks the infrared beam covering 3,000 feet of RBM's perimeter, a recorded audio message booms out: "Move away from the fence." When late-night visitors drive or walk through the entrance, a calmer voice welcomes them, invites them to browse and informs them that cameras are recording all activity. ISS selected Valcom Inc., Roanoke, Va., to provide the interactive audio component. Six Valcom speakers and microphones allow monitoring specialists to address individuals who engage in suspicious activity or activate alarms. In addition to virtually eliminating losses and the need for security patrols, the system offers other benefits, says Robert F. Page, RBM's service administrator. "Because of reduced loss claims, we have saved on insurance," he says. "In addition, there are fewer false alarms because someone from the monitoring company tours the cameras before calling the police. "The system has also eliminated the cost of security patrols. Before installing the system, we were spending $60,000 to $80,000 per year for patrol officers. The system cost is in that range, but it was a one-time expense." Current expenses include monitoring fees to ISS and maintenance; the cost, about $10,000 per year, is low compared to security officers, says Page. The price includes fixing malfunctions caused by lightning strikes. Retail businesses often find it difficult to justify allocating funds for security technology, no matter how low the cost, according to Maryland-based security consultant Gee Cosper. Remote monitoring systems help address this problem by facilitating the use of a video system for business purposes, he says. "We can provide our customers with a piece of software called In-Touch Manager," says Michael Upp, Westec's vice president of marketing and business development. "This allows managers to dial into the system and call up cameras in their stores. It makes it possible to analyze traffic, check on employees, evaluate the effectiveness of in-store displays and carry out tasks related to the operation and marketing of the business." Upp cites a study by the company for a major convenience store chain. "We put the system into a number of the stores and compared their business performance with that of stores not equipped with a system. After 12 months, we found that the stores using remote video monitoring improved their financial performance by an average of $28,000 per store, because of reduced shrinkage, theft and employee turnover." Slicho says the technology has no downside. "I think this is where the industry is heading," he says.

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