Considerations Of Video Monitoring

What we consider to be the biggest technical breakthrough in alarm monitoring is still failing to take off in the manner we’d expect. It’s video monitoring, including video verification of intrusion events, a technology that reduces false alarm call outs and allows operators to ring police directly in the event of a verified burglary.

THERE’S no doubt whatever that technology is now capable of delivering video verification and alarm monitoring in real time over existing networks. Thanks to H.264 and the advent of low cost, high resolution cameras equipped with IR capability, getting usable images down the line is a straightforward process. 

To me there’s more capability in remote video monitoring than we are currently seeing, especially given the technology offers monitoring stations the ability to deliver a drop-in service, where operators will call up a customer camera if an alert button is pressed and keep an eye on a situation – perhaps in a late night retail store. Another neat application is delivery of video for monitoring of an opening/closing or arming/disarming event.

Deploying video to monitor events naturally leads to using video as a potential replacement for guard services and if there’s a team capable of handling response, this can work well, particularly if there’s audio combined with video. Challenging, is the fact that a video solution is remote and it cannot intervene or respond in the same way a security officer can. 

Where video monitoring can help though, is in checking license plates of vehicles for transport companies and opening gates remotely if the vehicle appears in the day’s manifest. Large operations may have thousands of heavy vehicle movements a day and being able to handle multiple entries from a single control point delivers significant savings, particular after hours and on weekends. 

But to me video verification is currently the biggest potential application of remote video monitoring – less in domestic than in commercial applications. I think at some point in the future, video verification will be a standard demanded by insurance companies – perhaps not for all businesses but for high risk businesses or those experiencing multiple break-ins or incidents. 

One of the great things about video verification, and one of the reasons industry associations should get behind the technology in my opinion, is its impact on false alarms. There’s no doubt there’s a double-edged sword here, given that reducing the number of responses by 80 or 90 per cent would be likely to lead to patrol company failures. In some ways then, false alarms provide a built-in subsidy allowing the existence of patrol companies that also respond to genuine alarm events. 

This said, best practise should dictate an end to all false alarms and more than any other technology, video verification offers our industry the capability to deliver this level of performance to customers prepared to pay for it. Not only does video verification offer the ability to end all false alarms, it’s a relatively easy fix, too. 

In other parts of the world, pressure on shrinking police forces is likely to drive the move to video verification. Typically, the folks in blue will not respond to an unverified alarm event – ever – and that’s in Australia as well as overseas. 

Should video verification ever be written into an Australian standard as best practise for alarm systems? In my opinion it should be, giving installers and monitoring stations a selling point that differentiates their clearly superior monitoring and alarm installation services. One of the challenges for monitoring and alarm installation companies is lean returns on installs and ongoing monitoring revenue. Video verification offers an additional selling point that leverages existing capabilities with a minimum of extra hardware.   

A key issue with all kinds of video verification is that there are no industry standards for resolution, delivery path, compression type, encryption level, minimum scene illumination (say 5m with IR), or any other relevant performance parameter. Given the thought that goes into ensuring alarm comms get through with the least possible delay, I think it’s a mistake for video verification to evolve into a welter of proprietary ‘standards’ with no guiding principles. 

In fairness, such official standards could be relatively broad, covering a range of resolutions, encryption protocols and comms paths, with a security level assigned to each solution, allowing end users to be sure what it is they are paying for. But there’s a bigger issue here. Without a common standard, a common reporting protocol, a common receiver-type (off-shelf server with common software, or an alarm monitoring software that integrates video), monitoring stations are painted into a farcical corner when it comes to the only technology that could eliminate false alarms for all time. They’ll have a choice - to standardize on one proprietary video solution and accept no others, or duplicate their video verification systems endlessly. 

This could mean dozens of video verification systems in one control room, none compatible with any other, or it could mean the monitoring station will need to build its own private video verification solution and integrate everyone’s cameras or video verification solutions into it. Further, installers are not likely to only install one brand so they’ll install what costs a customer least, changing monitoring stations to get the support they require. 

At present there are only a handful of providers offering video verification and given the proprietary nature of their systems, each has standardised on a single system by default. But taking video verification to its ultimate conclusion is going to require plenty of work and plenty of talk between manufacturers, monitoring stations, installers and end users.

In the early days of the alarm industry, all reporting techniques were proprietary and it was only after the late 1980s that considerable standardization appeared. That plethora of standards was the bane of early monitoring companies and it looks likely that in the absence of concerted action, the expansion and integration of video verification might follow the same torturous course. 

“They’ll have a choice - to standardize on one proprietary video solution and accept no others, or duplicate their video verification systems endlessly. This could mean dozens of video verification systems in one control room, none compatible with any other”

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