Remote Surveillance Monitoring Recommendations

By James Talmage, Published Nov 07, 2011, 07:00pm EST

While many sites might benefit from real time surveillance monitoring, most budgets preclude hiring a security staff to perform those duties.  A growing trend is the use of third party companies to monitor cameras remotely.  This can provide similar benefits to an on-site security staff at significantly reduced costs.  Successfully utilizing remote monitoring, however, usually requires a system that was designed with that goal in mind.  This update will examine the most important considerations in designing a system that is remote monitoring ready.

Monitoring Company and Costs

The monitoring company chosen will likely have the biggest impact on a given projects success.  Researching and narrowing down the field of potential monitoring companies can provide valuable information when it comes time to design the system.  Sites that are only to be monitored during off-hours, when people are prohibited from the premises, will find the greatest savings in monitoring companies that employ event-based monitoring.  In an event-based model, the security system employs some form of automated intrusion detection, and the monitoring company only views the video when alerted by the system.  This allows a single operator to monitor many more cameras, and is the biggest driver of savings.

Most monitoring companies charge a flat base rate that includes a certain number of events, plus an additional charge for each event over the limit.  In our experience we’ve seen a wide range of flat rate prices ($350 to $1,400 per month for an 8 camera system); The higher priced services usually include a higher event limit, and additional services, such as “video escorts” (watching customers walk to their car late at night), and “guard tours” (periodically reviewing cameras that have not triggered events).  We have found per event pricing to have significantly less variation ($3.50 to $4.50 per event), but did come across one company that charged only $2.50 per false alarm, and by the minute for actual intrusion events.

Interoperability between the monitoring company and the VMS are another significant concern.  The choice of a particular monitoring company will necessarily serve to narrow the field of potential VMSs to those they support.  Users considering employing video analytics for event detection may find it easier to decide on that technology first and seek out monitoring companies who support it.

Event Detection

The best method of event detection should be evaluated on a camera by camera basis.  Indoor locations can often use simple video motion detection, or conventional PIR motion detectors to trigger events.  Outdoor locations will generally require more exotic (and expensive) solutions, such as video analytics.  Outdoor applications will likely produce more false alarms, but have the distinct advantage of alerting the monitoring company before a perpetrator gains access to the building.  In our experience, customers who would otherwise require the service of a security guard company (i.e. construction companies) are much more willing to pay the additional costs associated with outdoor perimeter detection, including the increased false alarm costs.

Deterring Theft & Vandalism

Users currently employing security guards are often hesitant to hand over guarding responsibility to a video system.  Many cite the guards physical presence and ability to respond to situations immediately as valuable deterrents.  Sirens and strobes are options, but in many municipalities, police have developed very slow response times to conventional alarm systems (due to excessive false alarms).  Some thieves brazenly take this into account, and may not leave immediately because of a siren.  

We have found that systems that allow the monitoring company to audibly challenge intruders via loudspeakers to be extremely effective deterrents.  We witnessed a significant reduction in theft attempts when audio talk downs were employed at local construction sites.  Another common niche for audio talk downs are car dealerships.  In those cases monitoring companies don’t usually challenge after hours visitors, but gently remind them that they are being watched.  Another option is the use of high visibility signage that indicates that the site is monitored.  If allowed, large conspicuous cameras might actually be a plus for some users.

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Many ISP’s prohibit the use of their network for hosting streaming video in their terms of service; some actively block it.  Such ISP’s should obviously be avoided.  Choosing an ISP and service plan that maximizes yourupstream data rate allows for higher camera counts, resolutions, and frame rates.  Since advertised and real world speeds often differ by a great margin, real-world tests should be conducted before significant investments are made.

ISP data rates are generally so much lower than that of the local network, that they must be considered during the design phase.  Reducing the required bandwidth becomes increasingly important.  Systems capable of utilizing different data rates for local recording and remote monitoring can avoid compromising the quality of recorded evidence to satisfy monitoring requirements.  Members should also study our reports on how bandwidth is impacted by the choice of codec, and (for low light scenes) the addition of IR illuminators.

Data caps are another consideration in choosing an ISP.  Especially important, is understanding how a given ISP reacts to users who exceed the set data cap.  Some will reduce throughput to a trickle, while others will cut off service (either temporarily or permanently).  For mission critical applications, seek out ISP’s who choose to simply charge for overages.  Integrators should also discourage unnecessary data consumption by the monitoring company and the end user by educating them on the data cap, and the implications of exceeding it.

We’ve found that a good event detection mechanism can help minimize or eliminate concerns over exceeding data caps.  By using analytics with conservative sensitivity settings, and disallowing remote viewing except by the monitoring company, we’ve successfully deployed a fifteen camera system over 3G wireless and never exceeded the 5GB cap set by the provider.  However, doing so required constant supervision and repeated “tweaks”.  We would recommend that integrators approaching remote monitoring for the first time seek out providers with significantly higher caps.

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