This interview first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Logistics & Materials Handling.
For many years now, images captured by closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems, whether on public or private property, have been used to secure convictions, establish timelines, and identify suspects after crimes have been committed.
The technology’s main limitation until now has been the quality of the video and images produced: these have often been inferior to the point they cannot clearly establish a chain of events, or positively identify a suspect to the standards required in courts of law. The cameras themselves have essentially been ‘dumb’ recorders of events, unable to identify or signal a security breach or incident in real time.
CCTV technology has now evolved to an almost unrecognisable state, says Chris Pearson, Managing Director of security consultant and design firm Quorum Security.
“Most people have no idea how smart and powerful CCTV camera systems can be, especially when connected to access control/alarm systems,” he adds.
“Cameras nowadays come with video analytics (VA) software that can identify if people or vehicles are moving in the wrong direction, if a truck has exceeded the site’s speed limit or if persons have entered a restricted area, or breached a perimeter when the facility is closed. There’s software coming out now that can recognise if workers aren’t wearing their full PPE (personal protective equipment), or have products or items in their hands when leaving the production area, to deter pilfering and theft.”
Ross Head, Managing Director at security technology company nXient, says, “A human security guard can be in the wrong place when an incident occurs, or make errors of judgement – they might even be bribed to ‘look the other way’. Once you’ve installed modern cameras, they work 24/7, and don’t take coffee breaks or make mistakes.”
Chris adds, “Corporates have long seen security as a grudge purchase, but there really are good business cases now for investing in quality, well-designed systems – benefits include higher efficiency, increased safety and proof of due diligence. Although we’re a security company, we’re also about risk management and proving due diligence for our clients.”
A cut above
Although both nXient and Quorum Security are consulting, design and installation companies that offer a range of security products, Mobotix is the brand of choice for intelligent digital cameras (called IP, for ‘Internet Protocol’) for both men.
“Mobotix cameras are tougher than a Russian tank,” says Chris. “They operate on Antarctic bases, in deserts in the Middle East, are strapped to the under-wing of fighter jets – they’re incredibly resilient, and can easily cope in the harshest cold-storage or logistics environments.”
Ross notes that the Mobotix cameras also boast protection from the elements.
“All Mobotix cameras have no moving parts, and Mobotix outdoor cameras are completely sealed against water and dust,” he says, adding that they also offer a great feature set – the latest IP technology and an “incredibly high” resolution for a CCTV camera, six megapixels.
When implementing security systems, companies often think that any camera system will do, Ross adds.
“People understand brands and their relative value in fashion, cars and so on, but they are brand blind in a business like ours – they don’t know the difference between Mobotix and anything else on the market,” he says. “All they see is the price, but the truth is that the capability and quality differences in CCTV systems can be astounding.”
It was thanks to a request from a Quorum client that Chris and Ross now offer a unique combined CCTV and access management system.
“Martin Brower, global logistics provider for restaurant chain McDonalds, wanted its Mobotix CCTV cameras to be able to communicate with the Hirsch access control system,” says Ross.
“nXient’s engineers wrote an integration between Mobotix’s in-built video management system (VMS) and the Hirsch Velocity software,” he adds. “This allows the system to act as an intelligent outlier, sending alerts to a monitoring team when it senses unauthorised presence or motion.
“Mobotix and Hirsch each have their own language, so we created a middle language, or ‘middleware’, to allow them to interacttogether.”
This integrated system has enabled deliveries and pickups at Martin Brower to be organised much like an airport runway – if a truck tries to gain entry too early or too late for its pre-designated time slot, entry can be delayed or denied – and the driver may need to negotiate a new time slot, enabling greater dock turnaround efficiencies for the logistics firm.
The importance of homework
Chris believes that the first thing any company should do when considering a CCTV and/or access control solution is work out its true wants, needs, and pain points.
“It’s important to establish why you need a new system: whether it’s for safety compliance reasons; standard security concerns such as break-ins, theft and pilfering; or the need to restrict and control access for staff, visitors, contractors and drivers around a site – there could be dozens of different reasons” he says. “Next, you need to get a licensed security consultant in to help you design a fit-for-purpose solution.”
Ross adds that many security firms with licensed security consultants will undertake a comprehensive site security audit and write a detailed report at no cost, or a minimal cost for large sites, which can then be credited back if the consultant wins the project to install the recommended systems.
“Get somebody in who knows the environment and issues in your industry well, and who’s installed a lot of systems for similar companies to yours. They’ll be better able to understand your current and future needs,” he notes. “Both Chris’ company and my own regularly provide telephone advice to enquirers free of charge.”
After handing over its list of issues and requirements, as well as ‘pain points’ to the consultant, Ross advises that companies start asking hard questions.
“What’s the warranty, and what back-up resources are provided?” Chris suggests. “Will the system be compatible with future models? Are replacement parts stocked locally? Can you give me a list of reference sites I can talk to?”
Ross adds, “When choosing, it’s vital to go for something adaptable, as your needs today may change in the future. A flexible, expandable, feature-rich solution will service you better when the threat level changes and your needs expand. Sometimes our clients want to scale up their existing security system, but the product they are using is inferior, perhaps it’s not IP66 (all-weather) or safety compliant, or it simply cannot connect to modern systems.”
Chris says, “The vast majority of our clients will double the size of their camera systems within four years of the initial installation. They originally only want surveillance in the distribution centre, for example, but after seeing the value and the capability of Mobotix cameras, they want it in the loading dock, the office, production areas, entry/exit points – everywhere.”
The differences between low-cost camera systems and reputable models can be significant, Chris believes. “For example, low-light functionality (lux rating) is often all-important for clients, as it reduces the need for lighting large areas at night. A low-cost product may offer a certain lux rating, with a 23° field of view and an effective visible range of 20m, whereas a high-quality product may have a lux rating that’s ten times more effective than the cheap option, along with a high-resolution, 360° view and a clear visual range up to 40m. Price-based decisions are often a false economy, as a client may need up to three or four times the number of cheaper cameras to do the same job.”
Technology in camera systems has now made them intelligent enough to require less storage than their predecessors, Ross adds. “Memory used to be expensive, and cameras quickly filled hard drives. Now, memory is cheaper – we recommend saving a minimum of 30 days’ storage of images, for which companies with quite large CCTV systems will only need a few terabytes.
“Also, modern cameras are smart enough to only send images to the server/storage device when it’s necessary, so the required bandwidth on a client’s network is much lower – yet they’re sentient enough, for example, to instantly capture images of the driver and the number plate if a truck comes into the camera’s field of view. As a result of that, searching the database for a specific incident is now faster and simpler.
Once you’ve found a reputable system that offers the functionality you require and obtained a quote, it’s time to get more, Chris advises. “You must get competitive quotes, as with any business expenditure,” he says. “There’s no need to rush into an agreement, but it’s critical to ensure that you’re being quoted on a like-for-like system. Don’t only look at price – check out the experience, skills and reputation of the bidding company, and take this information on board as well when you make a decision.”
When the new security system is installed and up and running, companies should nominate an appropriate staff member to take ownership of, and champion, the system, Chris says. “With training, he or she can have a good understanding of how the system works,” he adds. “If that employee moves, a new employee should be nominated and trained, so that the site always has skills to operate the system when a security breach or WHS (Workplace Health and Safety) incident occurs – and these events often come with a requirement to move quickly to secure the images for analysis and review.
“We’re only really now beginning to see security camera technology show its potential,” says Ross. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, the public was largely against CCTV, due to concerns about privacy intrusion. That perception has changed – people now view it as technology that helps solve crimes and keeps everyone safe. Today, more than 80 per cent of major crimes are solved with the aid of CCTV images.”
Chris adds, “Just like the computer industry, CCTV system prices will continue to decrease, while their power and efficiency increase. I think the next big technology change for this industry will be video analytics integrating with AI (artificial intelligence).
“Cameras will be more useful in a preventative sense, alerting us to potential danger before it happens.”
As an example, Chris says that ‘thermographic’ cameras – which can instantaneously detect minute temperature changes – are already being used as preventative tools. “They monitor the temperature of generators and other heat-generating machines in factories, and send an alert if a change is detected, signalling the need for maintenance and reducing costly breakdowns,” he says. “Also, they’re being used in cold stores, to tell whether incoming or outgoing product is even a fraction of a degree outside of the mandated temperature range.”
Ross concludes, “In the future, we’re going to see cameras used as a multi-purpose tool in almost every area of life – public safety, commerce and industry, healthcare, transport, retail environments and in homes or apartments – and these systems will not just record events, but also monitor situations and signal necessary changes or problems in real time. Exciting times lie ahead.”