When does CCTV on the Internet make sense?
May 1, 2001 12:00 PM
By CHARLIE R. PIERCE
So where does the internet fit into the campus security? Simple. With so many buildings spread out, over so much distance, it may not be feasible or cost-effective to run fiber optics or microwave or coaxial cable or whatever from each point back to a central station.
The digital revolution in the surveillance industry allows us to transmit video images and to control entire systems over great distances.
It's something that was not easy to do just a few short years ago. Oh, sure, we could use microwaves or fiber optics and send a video image several miles. Alternatively, we could transmit an image (of sorts) via standard or balanced telephone lines to any location in the world. Now we can control entire systems in real-time, from anywhere on the earth, or beyond. There are limitations, however. Yes, we have the ability. Yes, we have several available options. Yes, it's all happening as we speak. However, as I have said before, we have no standards of transmission, compression, or language.
With that caveat, let's talk about some of the various applications available to us today and go from there.
First, let's look at our children. As a father of three grown boys, I can see that children present one place where the Internet offers tremendous potential. How many parents, every day, drop off their children and wonder ¡ "Did I do the right thing?" ¡ "Are my children safe?" ¡ "Are the teachers doing their best today?" Here is my first application for the Internet. It enables me to check in on my children, from any PC anywhere in the world, at any time, to verify that they are being treated well and safely. Let me watch them play from time to time. Let me watch as their pills, drops and ointments are applied to verify that amounts and times are being rigidly monitored. However, please do not open my children's private world to the entire world of the Internet ¡ª there are too many nut cases out there.
So, I want some options applied to this system. Give me password protection, user-independent digital zoom, simple recording/storage/image download capability. Now we have power, as parents, back into our lives. Would I, a parent, be willing to kick in a few extra bucks each week to the day care center that has such a system? Absolutely! If not, I am not issued a password ¡ simple as that.
My children have grown. They are now in middle or high school. Can I or should I have access to a camera system that is installed in these schools? Personally, I don't think so.
However, the Internet becomes, once again, an invaluable tool for my children's safety in a potential extreme situation. Let's face the fact that in the United States, we have a serious problem with violence in our schools. The police and on-site security do the best they can with the tools they are given. However, unless we are willing to lock down our schools to the security levels of Middle Eastern airports, there is little that we can prevent. Through the installation of cameras, access control systems, and other less obvious security structures, we can discourage crime, but not stop it. So give the police complete access to and control of the camera and access control system within a school via the internet and then let them practice response scenarios from time to time. Can't stop or deter it ¡ at least control it.
Well, my boys have grown some more and they are now off to college. One of the criteria that I have as I review each of their choices of campuses is the level of security at the dorm, throughout the campus area, and at the various buildings. I actually take the time to meet with the director of security and review plans for response to various levels of disaster. OK, call me paranoid. It comes from 30 years of keeping people and things safe. So where does the internet fit into the campus security? Simple. With so many buildings spread out, over so much distance, it may not be feasible or cost-effective to run fiber optics or microwave or coaxial cable or whatever from each point back to a central station. Using the Internet to connect my various points offers real benefits ¡ª at least for validation of alarms, calls for help, and other such functions.
A couple of questions come to mind. First, why not use telephone transmission technology? Here are several reasons:
A second question might be something like this: "If internet transmission is so hot, why not use it for everything?" The bottom line: It's not ready. We do not have the ability to transmit the necessary bandwidth to produce good resolution or real-time. Yes, I can produce several pictures per second, but not necessarily real-time at full resolution. There is give and take. We have a potential medium, but it is not quite ready for deployment.
A third question would have to do with recording or storage. Would I recommend a local or separate recording or image storage system at each major point versus a single point of recording at the other end of the Internet? Yes, absolutely. Recording or storage of the video information must still be done at a local or hardwire point within the system, again because of the potential loss of resolution and/or contrast due to compression for Internet transfer. The good news is that the complete recording system at each location can be controlled via the Internet from anywhere else in the world ¡ provided you have the proper authority and passwords.
As an independent business man and the owner of four companies, I have a bad habit of traveling too much. The problem comes up, from time to time, that I might just want to inspect my buildings and/or do a general guard tour, or see the results of an alarm. Since I carry a laptop and a world-ready, Internet-accessable portable phone, I am never more than a touchpad away from my business. I personally like it. I don't need to carry any extra equipment and yet I can access, control, set up or change the setup of any/all of my systems, view any cameras, pan/tilt, and/or zoom any image, review a videotape or digital storage of an incident from anywhere in the world, at any time, without any long distance calls. Is this an application that is worth the cost of an extra black box?
For me and about a million other guys and gals, the answer is yes.
Charlie R. Pierce, president of LRC Electronics, Davenport, Iowa, is a leading authority on CCTV and a regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems Integration.