Video surveillance goes digital
Companies expand capabilities with information technologies<@VM>Next step: blend physical and network security
- By Joab Jackson
- Apr 03, 2003
ObjectVideo's software can be configured to watch for specific events, such as two cars that slip through an access-controlled gate that opened for only one of those cars, said Clara Conti, ObjectVideo's chief executive officer.
Earlier this month, Atlanta-based Vista-Scape Security Systems Corp. beat a large systems integrator for a contract to set up a 50-camera perimeter surveillance system for a Navy harbor in San Diego. Its key to victory? Information technology, said Glenn McGonnigle, the company's chief executive officer.
Using its Security Data Management System software, VistaScape was able to set up a system that provides a view of the harbor through a command center using both infrared and regular cameras. Unlike many traditional security systems, VistaScape's smart software only sends a video feed back to the command center when something crosses a predetermined zone.
As a result, the company was able to save money by building a leaner infrastructure. Because the load on the network is considerably lighter, the company expanded an existing data network instead of building a new one.
Thanks to VistaScape's advanced image tracking tools, the Navy doesn't need to dispatch as many harbor patrols. Moreover, fewer guards are needed to monitor screens, because the command center sees video only when something out of the ordinary occurs. The system is even able to allow incoming vessels to tap wirelessly into feeds to get a better view of their surroundings.
VistaScape is one of a number of new companies that are using off-the-shelf components to add functionality to video surveillance systems. While formerly the purview of electronics equipment providers, the market for video surveillance products is increasingly infiltrated by companies who use standard IT equipment to add enhancements and cut costs.
"Historically, video has been a closed-circuit system. It wasn't interconnected with anything," said Al Cavagnero, vice president of American Dynamics Inc., the video security unit of Tyco International Ltd., Exeter, N.H. "There was some IT involved, but it was looked at as a separate system from the rest of the corporate infrastructure."
Now, he said, network-based digital recording is emerging. "It is getting right into the IT folks' space," Cavagnero said. IT allows the images taken from these systems to be used better, analyzed and combined with other security offerings.
For instance, American Dynamics is using IT to integrate its products with access control products offered by another Tyco unit, Software House Inc.
Joseph Freeman, president of security analyst firm J.P. Freeman Co. Inc., Newtown, Conn., expects video surveillance equipment sales to grow from approximately $1 billion in 2002 to $8 billion by 2008.
At least one large integrator has taken note. On March 11, IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., introduced a line of consulting, integration and deployment services for digital video surveillance systems that can run on Internet protocol-based networks. The company is banking on organizations replacing aging closed-circuit video surveillance systems when they sign up for large enterprise network integration projects.
By pitching the idea of running video surveillance services on top of existing data networks, IBM is aiming to steal market share from standalone perimeter surveillance system providers, such as Honeywell International Inc., Johnson Controls Inc. and Siemens Corp., as well as numerous smaller providers, Freeman said.
One of the chief benefits of IT in this space is how it streamlines monitoring. Traditionally, a facility with numerous surveillance cameras would have all the feeds lead into a central room "where everyone sits and stares at a bunch of screens," said Prasanna Mulgaonkar, director of strategic initiatives for the engineering and systems division of the government-focused research company SRI International Inc., Menlo Park, Calif.
VistaScape's McGonnigle calls the phenomena "swivel-chair integration." With more inexpensive cameras coming online, as well as other forms of low-cost sensors to detect threats, guards are watching over an increasing number of displays.
VistaScape wants to simplify that work by extracting only the bits of the video stream that are out of the ordinary, reducing the total amount of footage being viewed and transmitted, McGonnigle said. Users can program the software to look for certain events, and then send an alert when those events occur.
As a result of using VistaScape, one guard who normally watches six to eight monitors can watch more than 50, McGonnigle said. The potential savings is large, considering that filling each seat 24 hours a day, 365 days a year requires an average of six full-time employees, according to Navy estimates.
More intelligence can be extracted from digital video streams as well, allowing an integrator to offer more features. SRI, for instance, is developing technologies that can track people as they move from the range of one video camera to another, using a person's shape or gait as identifiers. The company is also developing software that can read license plates from difficult angles, and discern a person's mood by reading physical cues.
ObjectVideo Inc., Reston, Va., is marketing technology it originally developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. ObjectVideo's software can be configured to watch for specific events, such as two cars that slip through an access-controlled gate that opened for only one of those cars, said Clara Conti, ObjectVideo's chief executive officer. The company has 34 employees and $8 million in 2002 revenue.
The systems also can log events as they happen on a video stream, allowing investigators to search easily through archives to find out when a particular event happened.
Normally, fast-forwarding through a tape holding a weekend's worth of surveillance footage -- about 72 hours -- can take as long as a day, even with features that allow jumping forward to the parts where motion is detected. ObjectVideo's feature will allow investigators to bring up just the parts of the recording where specific events happen, reducing the search time to as little as a minute.
Amy Litton, director of marketing for digital media services at IBM, said the company's long history with helping enterprises manage digital media assets makes video surveillance a natural extension of its work.
By going digital, an organization no longer needs to keep tapes of video surveillance or purchase video recorders, she said. Results of video surveillance can also be synchronized with other aspects of security, such as badge readers, intrusion detection systems and alarm monitoring, to give security officers a greater degree of control. Streams also can be sent over the Internet to remote users or police stations.
"What this boils down to is management of large amounts of complex data, so some of these technologies are very similar to the rich media assets we work with," Litton said.
Staff Writer Joab Jackson can be reached at
Now that video surveillance, access control and other physical plant security solutions are increasingly being built on information technology backbones, the next step in security is obvious, at least to some industry observers: Converge physical security systems with those that guard data network security.
Ron Moritz, senior vice president for eTrust security solutions at Computer Associates International Inc., said the day is coming when most organizations will have a single chief security officer overseeing both the data networks and physical plant security. He said he has already seen "a few progressive organizations" take this approach.
While different departments often oversee the functions, it makes sense to combine the two, he said. Greater visibility is one benefit. For instance, an organization with offices worldwide can compare physical access logs with network access logs. So an alarm will sound, say, when someone signs on to a computer using an employee account in one location while that employee has been reported by the physical plant system to be in a building somewhere else.
"We collect all that information today in different systems. The physical access control people collect a lot of data about where we move through the organization. The IT security guys also are concerned about access control. We need to create interoperability to exchange data between the physical access control systems and the electronic control systems."
Computer Associates of Islandia, N.Y., has done just that. Last year, the company introduced software called eTrust 20/20, which acts as a bridge between the physical and cybersecurity systems, allowing administrators to visually track trespassers as they successively log in through different physical and network security control points. However, Moritz said more work is needed to develop standards that will allow disparate security systems to interoperate.
IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., is another company that sees this convergence. Amy Litton, director of marketing for digital media services, said IBM is starting to see clients consider adding physical security components, such as building access control, to their IT security operations centers.
"We see companies that are looking at having an overall security and IT enterprise strategy," Litton said.
Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.