Take A Better Look
- By Michael Fickes
- January 1st, 2011
College and university security directors are taking up four relatively new video technologies to enhance security.
First, Internet Protocol (IP) cameras connect to a school’s computer network and enable security officers to place cameras anywhere and access them from anywhere over the Internet.
After being oversold for several years, intelligent video technology that can monitor cameras and send alarms to security officers is finding applications on campus.
Third, megapixel cameras can reduce camera costs by delivering four times the coverage of conventional digital cameras.
Finally, security directors are integrating door alarm and card access control systems and video — when a door opens, a camera will record who comes in.
Calling All Cameras From Anywhere
While shopping at the mall during last year’s holiday season, Bernard D. Gollotti, CPP, chief security officer at USciences in Philadelphia, received a mobile phone call from the University’s security dispatcher.
The dispatcher couldn’t call up a recently installed security camera trained on a study location in the library. Gollotti, who also chairs the Educational Institutions Security Council for ASIS, an association for security professionals, pulled out his iPad, typed in the URL for the USciences video management system (VMS), and logged in. “When you add a camera to the VMS, you have to assign viewing rights to the appropriate people,” he explains. “The dispatcher couldn’t bring up the camera because no one had assigned viewing rights to him. I used the iPad to put him on the list. Problem solved.”
IP cameras connected to a campus computer network make it possible for security personnel to manage and view any camera in the system from anywhere with nothing more than an Internet connection and a browser. Gollotti connected with an iPad and a browser. He could have done it with a smartphone.
IP cameras make it possible to install temporary or permanent cameras wherever the campus network can be tapped. Network cable eliminates the need to lay expensive coaxial cable to accommodate new cameras.
The University of Pennsylvania, also in Philadelphia, has taken advantage of this feature in a residential area of the campus. While the University’s fiber optic network doesn’t serve the area, Rick SanFilippo, director of security and technical services with the University’s Division of Public Safety, found a way to set up wireless IP camera coverage. The wireless cameras communicate with the school’s fiber network. To ensure security, the system encrypts the video. “The pictures are clear and PennComm (the University’s central security station) can conduct virtual tours of the entire area,” SanFilippo says.
For several years, vendors selling video analytic technology trumpeted the idea that chips programmed to alarm on certain behaviors could monitor video better than security officers. “It was oversold at first, but now expectations are coming into line with capabilities,” says Fredrik Nilsson, general manager with Boston-based Axis Communications, North America, a network video system provider.
When a wave of bicycle thefts broke out on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Maureen Rush, vice president of public safety, and SanFilippo turned to video analytics.
“Our security officers conduct virtual IP video tours of the campus. We could have assigned an officer to monitor the campus bicycle racks, but we thought the virtual patrols were too important to interrupt,” Rush says.
Instead, Rush and SanFilippo aimed IP cameras equipped with intelligent video chips at the bike racks.
When another theft occurred, security officers used the video analytic technology to search the video and find the thief at work. “The officers found the individual in action stealing bicycles,” says Rush. “We sent the shots to the police, and they caught him.”
Today, the IP cameras and video analytics watch the bike racks at night and alarm when someone gets too close to the bicycles. “It is helping us control bicycle thefts without pulling officers away from the virtual campus patrols,” Rush says.
Video analytics technology has also begun to patrol Drexel University’s campus in Philadelphia. “At night, we use analytics to watch the fence line and the athletic fields,” says Domenic Ceccanecchio, senior associate vice president of public safety at Drexel. “It’s a technology that has progressed in recent years.”
Campus security directors are also giving serious consideration to megapixel cameras because they provide high-resolution images with more detail than conventional standard-definition digital video cameras.
The more pixels or image units in a digital image, the higher the resolution of the image. Pixels also describe the quality of image sensors in digital cameras. Again, the more pixels on the sensor, the higher the resolution of the image produced by the camera.
A one-megapixel camera has an image sensor with one million elements and produces a high-resolution image. Video camera resolution has surged well beyond one megapixel. Today, you can buy cameras with several million sensor elements.
How many megapixels are enough? It depends on need, of course. While certain applications may require more than one, a one-megapixel video camera offers distinct cost and image benefits.
“A one-megapixel camera provides roughly four times the resolution of the best standard resolution digital cameras,” says Paul Bodell, executive vice president of global business development with San Juan Capistrano, CA-based IQinVision, Inc., a megapixel camera supplier. “A standard resolution camera provides enough resolution to recognize a face in an eight-ft. by eight-ft. area. You would need four standard definition cameras to cover a 16-ft. by 16-ft. area. One one-megapixel camera can cover that area by itself.”
Megapixel cameras cost twice as much as standard-definition cameras. So if you need eight standard-definition cameras to cover a certain area, you can get the same coverage with two one-megapixel cameras — for half the cost of eight standard-definition cameras.
Rush and SanFilippo at Penn and Gollotti at USciences are thinking seriously about moving to megapixel cameras because of the cost and coverage benefits.
“Grambling State University (in Grambling, LA) installed its first megapixel cameras about two years ago — to cover long hallways inside buildings and large areas outside,” says Jim Walker, vice president with CameraWATCH Technologies of Jackson, MS, the security technology integrator that installed the Grambling system.
Currently, Walker is working with Grambling to integrate the University’s card access control and video systems. Both operate over the school’s network, and today’s technology can enable each to talk to the other. “When you use your card to swipe in,” Walker says, “the camera associated with that door will take your picture. The access control system will record your name and the date and time. It will also create a tag associating your photo with the log-in record.”
Under the integration plan, the access control system would also send an alarm and activate a camera if a door were forced open, left open too long, or left ajar. The system would also save a few minutes of video before and after the event.
Video technology continues to evolve rapidly. During 2010, vendors introduced many new video technologies including, for instance, a video management system that will manage both analog and IP cameras, making the conversion easier to manage financially. Still another video technology innovation will close IP video systems to hackers, returning to the closed-circuit television benefits lost when IP video came of age.
Stay tuned. There are a lot more video innovations to see.