From national to local news, the country has turned on and tuned into the benefits of closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV). The advantages are plain to see—the good, the bad and sometimes ugly, caught on camera.

You may have seen it on television or the World Wide Web or at least glimpsed at the images before looking away. In a Chicago bar recently, a video recording captured a beating by an off-duty policeman who was pummeling a diminutive female bartender who was curled up on the floor. The result: an arrest and an investigation.

CCTV is one of the most important products in the current arsenal to protect people and property. It’s being used in both practical applications, such as in the bar noted above, which had deployed it for security reasons, and in stealth applications. For example, a swimming pool cover protected by an electronic sensor can be used to trigger CCTV in the home and set off an audible alert if the cover is tampered with or disturbed. In high-security applications, it’s coupled with infrared or other specialized imaging to capture even a minute detail in a license plate of a car in a dark garage.

Gone are many of the privacy concerns of the past, as incident after incident shows the power of capturing video in real time. With the advent of Internet protocol video surveillance (IPVS), CCTV is being smartly deployed, and cameras become network-ready minicomputers. Pan-tilt-zoom may be in use, but arbitrary peering or leering at sensitive people, places and things is avoided with intelligent software. Cameras can switch on with intrusion-detection alarms or other sensors to record only when there is an indication to do so, saving valuable network space and freeing up operator’s time for real emergencies. Everyone is getting in on the action, from the county sheriff in the squad car to the circuit court judge.

Video analytics is the latest trend; this software-based solution allows users to target cameras by triggering recording only after a preset series of events, which is often called an “exception.” Analytics can discern between what is normal behavior and what is not, or track individuals because something out of the ordinary has been detected, according to Gadi Piran, president and chief technology officer, On-Net Surveillance Systems Inc. (OnSSI), Suffern, N.Y. IPVS adds more value beyond surveillance and safety to the facility, Piran said.

“The popularity of IPVS CCTV is tied to lower costs and the fact that it provides a significant operating value for the facility and the ability to view a large area,” Piran said. “The other advantage of intelligence is that one person can ultimately monitor more cameras. Business costs come down because the user can secure multiple facilities. Intelligent video and video analytics means seeing what’s important versus just seeing everything all the time.”

Analytics—the software—determines what video comes up automatically on the screen or monitor. “With video analytics, we apply certain rules, and only when conditions are met do we see the video on screen or record it,” Piran said.

New markets

Lower-cost hardware and improved detection capabilities from video analytics software have lead to the growth of surveillance, particularly in the area of IP-based systems, said George C. Paul, Frost & Sullivan senior research analyst. Terrorism and school violence in North America have called attention to the need for new video surveillance applications in transit, educational institutions, city centers and border crossings, according to the Palo Alto, Calif.-based research firm.

Alexander Fernandes, president and chief executive officer of Avigilon Inc., Vancouver, B.C., said convergence is having a major impact on surveillance.

“This is driving adoption of CCTV as organizations move from analog surveillance technologies to digital. When surveillance systems go digital, there are four primary benefits that will drive user adoption: improved geographic reach, image quality, intelligence and, finally, cost reductions,” he said.

“We are currently experiencing increased adoption driven by the improved geographic reach that is now possible with networked surveillance systems. This improved geographic reach allows facilities to be monitored and managed centrally from a remote location,” Fernandes said.

According to him, the recent arrival of multimegapixel, high-dynamic range surveillance systems, which deliver dramatically improved image quality, is just now starting to drive user adoption, since these new systems allow much larger fields of view to be monitored in extreme detail with fewer cameras.

“It is now possible to effectively monitor the critical infrastructure as well as parking lots and entrances and exits of retail stores and other locations more effectively,” Fernandes said.

As it turns out, Big Brother is watching you, and it’s a good thing. It could save your life.   EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.