Video Alarm Verification Guide

By Ethan Ace, Published on Mar 05, 2012

Increasing fines for false alarm dispatches plus police non-response to unverified alarms have made video alarm verification a hot topic in the alarm industry. The hope is that it can eliminate false alarm fines, increase police response and make intrusion detection possible in traditionally challenging environments. In this note, we examine video verification and provide guidance on how to choose between (1) video intrusion systems, (2) intrusion + surveillance systems and (3) video analytics.

Benefits

The main benefit of video verification is that it reduces or eliminates the number of false alarms resulting in police dispatch, by requiring human intervention to confirm alarms. This has three key end results:

  • Police response: Police have historically assigned a low priority to unverified alarm calls, and in some cases, have instituted policies of non-response. Video verification places an alarm at a much higher priority, reducing response time to a burglary.
  • Avoidance of fines: Since authorities are only being dispatched to calls which have been verified by the central station, false alarms are potentially greatly reduced. In turn, this reduces the chances of being fined for a false alarm, which may be in the range of hundreds of dollars.
  • Detection in challenging locations: Verifying alarms allows detection to be performed in areas where it has traditionally been impractical, especially outdoor areas. Since only verified alarms will be sent to authorities, the higher false alarm rates from sensors or analytics in these areas are less of a problem.

Video Verification Overview

Video alarm verification is the use of video associated with events to determine whether or not an alarm is valid, requiring dispatch of police or guards, typically by central station operators. There are two types of event triggers:

  • Sensors: Traditionally, video verification has associated cameras with physical sensors. The sensors are usually door/window contacts or motion detectors. Other, non-security sensors may be verified by video, as well, such as flood detectors or equipment tamper switches.
  • Analytics: Video analytic rules may also be used to trigger alarms, similar to a physical sensor. Simple motion detection may be used in some cases but is generally too prone to false activations to be useful. 

Regardless of the source of the alarm, the central station handles it in essentially the same way. As alarms arrive and are displayed in their automation software, operators review video or videos associated with each. Those determined to be a valid activation result in police dispatch or other steps determined as part of the customer's monitoring contract. Those which are not valid are ignored.

In most cases, video is automatically associated with alarms, via a single software package. Sureview Systems' Immix has gained in popularity with central stations for this purpose, due to a longer list of third-party integrations [link no longer available] to video and alarm products than competitors. 

Recurring Costs

Video alarm verification is an additional cost above and beyond typical central station monitoring. While prices vary, depending on the service provider, additional charges of $10-20 per month are not uncommon. Some services scale this charge up or down depending on activity, so a home alarm system with little activity would be charged less than an analytic camera mounted in an outdoor location with multiple false alarms per day.

There are essentially three methods by which video alarm verification may be added to a facility:

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  • Video Intrusion
  • Intrusion Detection + Surveillance System
  • Video Analytics

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages which we detail below.

Video Intrusion Systems

In a video intrusion system, motion detectors equipped with cameras are deployed throughout the site. Upon activation these detectors capture a short video clip which is transmitted to the central station. Videofied is the most commonly cited video intrusion system, though Visonic also recently introduced the Next CAM peripheral for their PowerMaster line of panels, with similar functionality. A Videofied XTIP panel has an MSRP of $476, with MotionViewers an additional $300, or $600 for outdoor models.

The advantage of this method is that it is an all-in-one solution. Since video is built into the motion detectors, no external equipment need be installed or integrated. These systems are also often wireless, which reduces installation labor. The key disadvantage, compared to other options, is video quality. Since the camera is intended only to provide detection-quality video, it is low resolution, typically monochrome, and usually not suitable for identification purposes. These systems also do not offer live monitoring, so remote look-in is not possible.

Intrusion Detection + Surveillance System

The second means of adding video verification to an intrusion detection system is to associate cameras from a separate surveillance system with alarm points. This is normally done in the central station's software. 

This method is most flexible. Far more options exist in both these categories than video intrusion systems, a relatively young product offering. This means that users may tailor each system to fit their facility. The intrusion system may monitor fire alarm, gas detection, or environmental systems, as well as security. The surveillance system may be fully-featured, allowing for megapixel cameras, remote viewing, and live look-in, which are not available in video intrusion systems.

Cost is the key drawback to this method. Installing and managing two separate systems is, in almost all cases, more expensive than the all-in-one video intrusion system. Exact costs will vary widely, however, depending on the site, number of cameras, and sensors required.

Video Analytics

The last means of video verification is the use of video analytics. In lieu of a panel with physical sensors, analytic rules trigger alarms at the central station. This is more common with edge-based analytics, such as VideoIQ and CheckVideo, than server-based analytics, as they require less hardware. Video analytics vary in price per channel. $750-1,000 is not uncommon for server-based systems. VideoIQ iCVR cameras range from about $1,000 for a stanard definition model to over $2,000 for HD domes.

Video analytics may be able to perform detection in areas, such a large, outdoor spaces, where traditional detectors would be prone to false alarm, or require multiple units for coverage. The main downside is that these systems do not have the arm/disarm features of traditional intrusion detection systems, so authorized users entering an area may trigger alarms. This is normally handled by calling the central station to put the system on "test", ignoring alarms.

When to Use

Here are our recommendations on when to use each of the options:

  • For new facilities: Business owners looking to build video-verified alarms into a new facility most likely will use either a video intrusion system, or intrusion and surveillance systems together. If the owner has no desire to view their building remotely, but instead simply wants an intrusion detection system, it does not make sense to spend the extra capital for separate intrusion detection and surveillance systems. On the other hand, for those who have greater needs and and would like access to their systems remotely, separate systems will be more attractive.
  • For existing facilities: If a facility already has existing alarm and surveillance systems, combining the two for use as video verification may be as simple as contacting their monitoring company. Not all VMS/NVR/DVR systems are compatible, however, possibly requiring some equipment replacement. If a facility already has an intrusion detection system, but not a surveillance system, with no need of one, existing intrusion detection systems may be taken over or supplemented by video intrusion systems.
  • For outdoor areas: The choice of what to use in outdoor areas mainly depends on size. A Videofied MotionViewer has a specified range of about 40', making it appropriate only for smaller areas, or chokepoints where subjects may enter or exit a site. VideoIQ's iCVR-HD, on the other hand, has a specified detection range of nearly 500', making it more appropriate for larger areas.

 

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