School Security

Share Button

I recently presented at an event in St. Louis hosted by Tech Electronics focused on the education market. It was very well attended, and I can’t thank Tech enough for involving me in their event. Here are a few things I took away from that event.

First, this is an extremely sensitive and scary vertical to talk to. Attention to building security is at an all time high following the Sandy Hook incident. Buildings that were previously unlocked all day are locking down their facilities. Doors and locks are being reinforced and replaced. Districts are making emergency plans they hadn’t previously thought of.

It’s difficult to talk about strictly from a video perspective because, by itself, surveillance is not a preventative device. The conversation has to go beyond the camera. Sure, you can set up alerts based on motion detection, but in most scenarios there is too much motion to call attention to every event.

Aiphone was also a presenter at the event. I’m a big fan of their products and their brand from my past as a contractor. They have a very compelling solution for a school environment. In many conversations with the schools and consultants, this came up as their first line of defense. Lock the doors and put in a video intercom to control access.

To me, this is not ideal. If the first knowledge you have of someone with bad intentions is when they’re at your front door, that could be bad. Most schools do not have doors and windows that will stand up to someone shooting their way in.

There are other options out there to detect people and vehicles before they’re touching the building. Obviously, the effectiveness of these options will depend on the layout of each property.

Physical devices could be tied in to the video system to initiate alarms. Some of these might include driveway sensors, optical fencing, or PIR (Passive Infrared) devices. Driveway sensors are pretty accurate with very few false positives. This is a good way to let someone know a vehicle is on the property. Optical fencing can be good, but typically works on line of sight. The number of false positives will be higher, because animals, blowing trash, bad weather, etc. will cause alarms. PIR devices operate on heat differences. They’re pretty accurate, but they’re typically used in fairly small scenes, and not commonly used outdoors.

Another way to detect vehicles could be License Plate Recognition (LPR). One nice thing about this approach is the ability to add the common vehicles that come on the property to a list that will not alarm. However, when an unknown vehicle drives past, an alarm can be generated. LPR has many other use cases as well.

Analytics could also be used with the video surveillance system to detect people and vehicles. This could initiate an alarm onsite or offsite. Here’s a video from VideoIQ that shows the analytic detecting vehicles and people. To me, this is a very powerful solution for a school to detect threats before they’re at the door.

The biggest weakness in all of these ideas is people. Hopefully everyone agrees that with technology and equipment, we can detect and identify potential threats. However, if an alarm is generated and there’s nobody to look at it, it’s not worth much. Most schools I’ve seen have either an administrator, office staff, or Resource Officer looking at video during the school day. However, all of those people have other things to do, and video is a secondary priority. If we generate alerts and there’s nobody to verify them, none of this will be as effective as it could be.

I recommend districts do their own monitoring or contract out video monitoring. If we can detect threats in the parking lot, hopefully the school staff will have enough time to keep everyone safe inside.

As always, please share your thoughts on this via comments, email, or social media.

Share Button

Boston Thoughts

Share Button

I’ve struggled for a few days about whether to write about Boston or not.  I decided to write this because I think there are valuable lessons to be learned. I’m not claiming to be on top of every detail or to have any non-public information.

First, my heart goes out to all the victims. I really enjoy running road races, and I can visualize how crazy that scene must have been. It’s terrible to have such a large accomplishment tarnished by such a selfish act. Many of the most generous people I know are runners. It’s been awesome to see people come together to help those affected.

Professionally, there were a few things that I think we as a society and industry can learn from, so that’s what I’m going to focus on.

First, this article had a line that really caught my eye.  Chad Casassa said:  “I’m sure when they did install that video surveillance system, they weren’t planning on catching something like this.”The-tsarnaev-suspects-fbi-photo-release

I’ll bet he’s right. Capturing images of the two suspects in such a high profile case probably never crossed the mind of the camera owner (end user) or the designer of the system before it was installed.  I wonder if they had thought of something so important in the design and purchase phase if they would have chosen to engineer the surveillance system to perform at a higher level.  At the end of the day, the police were able to piece together images to distribute to the public with key input from an eyewitness.

However, since the images captured left a lot to the imagination, these suspects were left at large for a few days, with the younger brother attending a party at his campus and attending classes unnoticed.  This quote from Pamala Rolon was extremely troubling: “We made a joke like, that could be Dzhokar. But then we thought it just couldn’t be him. Dzhokar? Never.”  Perhaps his classmates positively identifying him wouldn’t have changed anything at all. Perhaps it would have saved Sean Collier’s life.  It’s easy to say in retrospect that if you even remotely think your friend or classmate could be the suspect, CALL THE AUTHORITIES!!!  What could it hurt? For any of you out there, if you ever see an image of a wanted man that looks like me, please please please call the police and give them my name.

I’ll go back to my earlier point:  If those images Dzhokar’s friends saw on the news were more definitive, would they have called the police?  Would higher resolution cameras turn “that could be Dzhokar” to “that’s Dzhokar?”

That’s probably an impossible question to answer.  I do take responsibility for bringing these ideas up to potential customers when talking about surveillance.  Setting realistic expectations helps me sleep better at night, even if an end user decides to sacrifice greater detail in exchange for a lower price tag. I feel that if I sell systems based on low cost on purpose, only to have the user disappointed the first time they review an incident, I’ve failed.

I hope I’ve brought a little bit of knowledge out of the background for the average person.  Since I’ve started writing, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people that have nothing to do with the industry.  To me, that’s the most exciting thing that’s happened so far out of this effort.

As always, I would love to hear what you think about this via comments, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

Share Button

False Alarm?

Share Button

It’s 2am and the police just left my house. What better time could there be to write?

1:29am: My wife and I were asleep upstairs in our house when the intrusion alarm went off. It’s indicating the patio door was opened. Within a few seconds, our monitoring company is calling asking if we want them to send the police. I don’t hear anything or see anything downstairs, so I make the walk down. Sure enough, our patio door is open a few inches. Send the police.

1:43am: The officer arrives. We walk around and decide everything is fine. She leaves.

After this happened, my mind started racing. How did the door get opened? Did I leave the deadbolt unlocked? Was there an intruder? Why didn’t my dog bark? Why did it take so long for the police to show up?

Shortly after that, I prioritized this list:

1. Was there an intruder?
2. Why did it take so long for the police to show up?
3. Everything else

I have convinced myself that there was nobody involved in this but myself. I must have locked the handle, but not the deadbolt, and not quite latched the door. One thing that led me to this is lack of evidence that anyone walked on the patio. It’s rainy, and we have a light tile floor. Surely something would have showed up. However, the main thing that put my mind at rest was watching the video from my camera system. There was no activity at all around the house. 

I know that there was no activity because I record continuously at my house. I get in to this conversation all the time in my line of work. How do you know that nothing happened if you employ motion based recording? I get about 12 days of retention at my house recording continuously. That’s more than I need, so why record on motion?  I am very happy that I have the video to go back to. Without it, I would have a much harder time calming my nerves. 

The big problem I have is the response time. 14 minutes is a long time. I live in a fairly small city that gets really quiet after dark. Getting here from anywhere in the city doesn’t take long. Chances are a real intrusion would be over in 14 minutes. I believe this is the biggest variable that people ignore when thinking about protecting their homes. If you think the police are going to be at your house right after your alarm goes off, you’re dreaming. 

The last thing to address is the dog. I don’t know how she would react if there was an intruder. For now, I’m going to assume she didn’t react because there was nothing to react to. 

My point in writing this is to share a real experience as a consumer of our industry. I know that I’ve done what I can to make my home an unlikely target. I have visible cameras, multiple bright yard signs, window and door stickers, a monitored alarm, and a dog. Statistically, I’m a very low probability target for intrusion. 

I guess the real test of my confidence will be to see if I can actually go back to sleep tonight. 

Share Button

ISC West Recap

Share Button

Wow. What a difference a week makes. Freshly back from Vegas, I’ve had some time to think about the events at ISC West.

As someone who has been in the booth for quite a few shows now, it was is very exciting to see that the Avigilon booth was packed for most of the show. Watching this brand, dealer base, and customer base grow is truly phenomenal. The days of people coming to the booth that can’t pronounce the name and have no idea what we do seem to be over, and that’s a good thing. I heard the same question asked several times: “How are you getting all of these people to come to your booth?” Personally, I think the answer is a lot of good product, good support, hard work, and marketing.

I was also struck by how the overall conversation seems to be moving more and more beyond analog solutions. I heard from several traditionally analog dealers and end users about finding solutions in the IP video world. Some of the hesitation to move over involved focusing cameras. It’s not that analog cameras are necessarily harder to focus, but increased resolution shows flaws in focus in much greater detail. Having autofocus and motorized lens options (like the Avigilon H3 line) seems to comfort both the contractor and end user in most cases. The networking side is still commonly brought up as a barrier, but companies are either partnering with someone that can help them, aquiring talent, or training internal resources.

Nothing new here, but late nights and early mornings were the norm for me in Vegas. That town is really good at drawing the night owl out in everyone. I don’t know why, but I’m still amazed at how good Vegas is at hiding the time from you and getting you to not care what time it is. Of course, good company always helps, and I had plenty of that.

I got on a plane Friday morning after just 2 hours of sleep. For whatever reason, that felt like a really natural way to end my week.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the week as well.

Share Button

ISC West 2013

Share Button

Today’s the day I leave for ISC West. I always look forward to the excitement of the show. It’s a great place to see people I normally don’t see face to face. It’s also a stage for manufacturers to showcase their solutions.

I’ve noticed over the last 3 years that the rate of new product announcements at the show has slowed. I attribute a lot of this to the internet. We all know when products are released with minimal effort. We can get sample videos, technical data, and pricing virtually almost immediately. Following releases, we have a variety of ways to find out what early adopters think of new technology. For me, the days of plugging in a camera or DVR and pushing buttons, looking at images, etc. to evaluate equipment will always have a place in my memory. The eyeball test was a good one. Let’s not let it die.

However, Trade Show floors have never been a great place to evaluate cameras unless you own a convention center. Keep that in mind as you’re out walking the floor.

With the growth of online information, releasing new products at the same time as other companies might be a bad strategy.  I’m not involved in this side of things, and don’t have any data to support this. My opinion is based on the Apple model.  They have done product releases away from industry shows. They generate a ton of buzz by releasing products on their own schedule. For people like me, it’s very exciting to build up to the Apple announcement days. I can’t wait to see what the new iPhone has to offer. I just know not to expect to learn anything about it at CES or other mobile device events. Maybe some electronic surveillance manufacturers are following this line of thinking as well.

I look forward to seeing everyone in Vegas. I also look forward to shaking a lot of new hands and meeting new people. For me, this is the largest benefit of industry events. Understand that the exhibitors put forth a tremendous effort to put on this show for attendees. Please support them (us) in return!

Safe travels.

Share Button

Welcome to My Blog

Share Button

Welcome to my new blog.  My name is Jesse Crawford and my goal is to use this site in conjunction with a podcast to provide information about the electronic surveillance world.

I’m still finalizing details about the podcast, but I’m leaning toward a bi-weekly podcast to start, maybe migrating toward a weekly podcast as time goes on.

I hope this will be informative, interactive, and fun.  Please leave comments here or on Twitter at @jessedcrawford.  I’m really looking forward to this!

Share Button