Archive for September, 2009

Centralized vs. Distributed CCTV Networks

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

A recent article in Security Dealer & Integrator Magazineby Barry Keepence caught my by surprise. The article deals with a fundamental design choice faced by all CCTV system designers in this age of convergence and IP CCTV; whether to create a centralized or distributed CCTV network for customers with multiple sites.

What caught me by surprise? My blissful ignorance. I had taken it for granted that for the past 2 years every security dealer was operating under the guidelines presented in the article when specifying small to mid sized multi-site CCTV installations. What seemed like common sense to me apparently has not been the ‘golden standard’ I thought it was.

I won’t go into the finer details that Mr. Keepences’ article outlines so clearly (please read the article, link is above). What I would like to remark upon is the annoying fact that every security magazine presents IP CCTV as the only way to go, and not doing pure IP makes you somewhat of a less evolved integrator. When our customers get a hold of this type of information/advertisement, we really need to help them understand that IP may not be the best route, contrary to what they just read. Usually, a cost vs. benefit analysis will help clear things up.

In fact there are some big obstacles (currently) that prevent every installation from being a pure IP installation:

Current IP CCTV equipment eats bandwidth. Companies are only now beginning to install Gigabit LANs as the rule, rather than the exception, such as it was just 1 year ago. When this trend extends to the WAN side of the equation, we will see more reason to lean towards pure IP CCTV. Yes, there are protocols to help mitigate the problem, but streaming 256 cameras back to a centralized location still hurts.

Current IP CCTV equipment is expensive! Years ago many people watched with excitement as the cost of desk top PCs fell below $1,000.00 and then below $500.00. The security industry needs this type of watershed moment in order to justify ROI. A typical PROFESSIONAL GRADE, name brand, high quality IP camera costs around $1,000.00. When that price barrier is broken, I think we will see a sudden and swift change to more pure IP installations. IT professionals have already seen the cost of Gigabit switches and networking equipment fall substantially, CCTV equipment will likely follow.

At the time of this writing, the most ‘bang for the buck’ (small to mid size multi-site installations) can usually be derived by a distributed type architecture with hybrid (IP and analog components) systems, managed by a good VMS (video management system) platform.

Of course, technology changes so rapidly these days that the above words might be obsolete by the time you read this!

You Are The Weakest Link, Goodbye!

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Lets try to find the weakest link in any intrusion alarm system.

Response Time? Many customers often ask me how quickly the police will respond to their alarms. I tell them that it depends on a number of factors; How quickly the monitoring station processes the signal (usually under 30 seconds), how the local police department prioritizes alarms (usually: 1 hold up alarms, 2 fire alarms, 3 burglar alarms) and how busy they are when the notification arrives from the monitoring station. If the the police are currently dealing with a bank hold up in progress, well, you get the picture.

……….Of course, all of the above depends on the alarm system actually successfully communicating the alarm signal to the monitoring station, a process fraught with potential problems as we will soon see.

Before we get into all of those potential pitfalls, there are ways to minimize those problems, and it is my job to educate my customers about them. The biggest problem is that during a sales presentation, bringing up these potential problems and solutions seems more like I’m trying to up sell the system rather than enhance the protection (OK, it is technically an up sell). Many customers decline the extra features (there is such a thing as a budget, cost vs. benefit analysis, etc), but wish they had ‘opted into’ these extra features some time later when tragedy strikes. lets have a look………

Signal Transmission Path? Most alarm systems communicate with the monitoring station by telephone line or Internetconnection (the Internet was invented by Al Gore for this purpose). While the Internet connection is much more secure (email me to ask me why), both methods share a weak link; they are both land lines. This means a physical cable connected to the premise that could be cut. Thieves learned this a while ago and now we always recommend a back up radio transmitter. If the customer declines the back up, we get that in writing, that’s how important that is. OK, we’ve taken care of the signal transmission path, what else is there?

Equipment Failure? Most alarm equipment is robust by design and manufacture. Many components in your system have 5 year warranties. Many motion detectors have a 10 year between failure rate. Many door contacts are rated at more than 1 million open and close cycles. OK, this all seems to be in order.

End User? Not using the intrusion alarm on regular basis is a common type of end user error. But there is a more insidious threat, one that is dependent on how the alarm system user operates the alarm system, that could be the weakest link. How can that be? Turning on the alarm system can in itself create a potential weakness? Yes. Thieves have learned to exploit a weakness shared by ALL alarm systems, the entry time delay. This is the 30 seconds that you have to turn off the alarm system once you open the door. This is a short window of opportunity that thieves are learning can be more than enough time to wreak havoc. Thieves have learned that if you break open the door with a time delay, you will have at least 30 seconds to get to the alarm panel and break it before it can sense an alarm and transmit it to the monitoring station. In some cases, this type of attack could even disable a back up radio transmitter.

When we install alarm systems, we always try to put the alarm panel in a hard to get to location, some place that would take more than 30 seconds to get to. This is not always practical or even possible in some cases. In other cases, thieves many have prior knowledge of where the alarm panel is located. We always recommend having as few time delayed doors as possible, one, maybe two at the most.

The best way to avoid this situation to arm your system using ‘INSTANT’ when in the staying mode, and ‘MAXIMUM’ when using the away mode of arming. Of course, if you arm the system using the ‘MAXIMUM’ mode, how will you get into the premise with tripping the alarm? After all, ‘MAXIMUM’ means no time delay on entry! Some people just walk in, let the alarm trip, and wait for the monitoring station to call them, and give their password. They call it a live test. While this might be fine for the occasional use, like during a week long holiday, it’s not something that should be done several times a day!

When setting your alarm in the ‘MAXIMUM’ mode when leaving, the best way to avoid false alarms upon your return, is to use a remote control, or Total Connect from your PDA/ iPhone to disarm the system before your enter! Honeywell’s remote controls speak to you in English and will alert you if the alarm has been tripped while you where away, even before you open the door!

Follow these recommendations and you can say good bye to the weakest link.

“One Nation, Under Remote Control, With …..”

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

The 1981 AT&T motto “Reach out and touch someone” can now be changed to “Reach out and touch something”.

Today, almost all electrical appliances and electronic devices comes with some sort of remote that lets you control the device from a distance, sometimes inches away, sometimes from the opposite side of the globe. Short range remotes usually use infrared or BlueTooth links. The opposite side of the globe stuff is brought to you courtesy of the Internet (invented by Al Gore for this purpose).

When I was  younger (much), I remember watching television in monochrome. Then came color television. Then one day at my Uncles house I saw him holding something in his hand as he watched television. A commercial began and he pressed one of the three (yes, just 3) big buttons on the thing. There was a ‘clunk’ from the television set and the channel indicator rolled up to the next channel (channels 2,4,5,7,9,11 and sometimes 13). I was really impressed. I later learned that that remote control was an option that added about 30% to the cost of the set.

Humans love to feel in control, masters of their world, even when they are not there to press the buttons in person, hence “Reach out and touch something”. If you can’t get home in time to watch that show, program your Tivo via your cell phone or PC.

I have to admit (shameless plug to follow), my favorite remote control is a product from Honeywell that my company sells. It’s called Total Connect. This handy item is actually more of a service that lets you control your security systems from any location, and uses your PC, Laptop, PDA, IPhone or cell phone as the actual remote ‘device’. When people think of this sort of thing, they are usaually envisioning themselves on a sunny beach somewhere, arming and dis-arming systems and watching their employees toil away via remote video.

Closer to the truth, most people never get to that sunny beach and find themselves using their PC at work to arm the storage room on the other side of the warehouse.

Moral of the story; Distance from ‘the problem’ is not always proportional to the happiness gained.