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Converging Physical Security with IT:
IT Professionals See New Opportunities in Integrated Security Systems

  Article published in DM Direct Newsletter
January 27, 2006 Issue
  By Skip Cusack

While IT professionals were absorbed with applying logical perimeter security and access control technologies to mitigate threats to their enterprise networks, a revolution has been occurring in security and access control technologies in the physical security world. Terrorist threats around the world are accelerating the need for new, integrated security technologies that combine video analytics and security analytics to help responders act faster during emergencies and potentially preempt attacks. This integrated vision of security is transforming the industry, revitalizing traditional surveillance markets and creating new opportunities for IT professionals.

Traditional video surveillance is rapidly moving away from its coaxial past into a networked future that combines digital video technology, Internet protocols and powerful analytical software to create intelligent, network-centric video surveillance systems that are at the heart of these new generation of integrated security systems, along with other data sources such as biometrics and RFID. These networked video surveillance systems apply powerful analytics to the video data and are known as intelligent video.

Modern digital video surveillance systems employ a network infrastructure that would be familiar to any IT professional, and offer a number of advantages over their analog predecessors, including lower total cost of ownership, greater flexibility and scalability, better image quality and built-in intelligence. As importantly, they open the door to applying computer-based analytical tools to the video data they gather to create intelligent, proactive security systems capable of recognizing threatening behaviors and patterns as they unfold and issuing escalating, actionable alerts and alarms to the appropriate responders.

Despite the Hollywood vision of uniformed guards intently watching banks of monitors for any kind of suspicious behavior, until recently, the principle purpose of video surveillance was to provide forensic evidence of an event after the fact. Investigators might use the recorded images to identify suspects or vehicles, recreate a timeline of events or gather other useful information, but historically, there has really only been one basic tool for monitoring video surveillance systems - the rewind button.

The video surveillance industry now is in the midst of the most dramatic evolution in the use of surveillance cameras and recorders since these systems were first deployed almost 40 years ago. At that time, the typical video surveillance system comprised analog cameras feeding video cassette recorders over costly, dedicated coaxial cables - hence CCTV (closed-circuit television), a term that will long outlive its analog past in much the same way as telephone "dialing" has. Eight years ago, digital video recorders arrived and replaced videocassette recorders with remarkable speed; and more recently, IP based digital encoders and cameras began replacing their analog predecessors in ever-increasing numbers.

In the past five years, the pace of development has been furious, driven both by a heightened awareness of just how important security is, as well as the emergence of low-cost, intelligent, IP-based cameras. In fact, industry analyst J.P. Freeman and Co. Inc. estimates that IP cameras will comprise more than half of the security camera market by 2007. With their potential for embedded intelligence, IP cameras of tomorrow will be able to run today's intelligent video algorithms to automate a number of surveillance tasks, from detecting human behaviors, processing external sensor data, reading license plates and counting people to sounding alarms, opening or locking doors, turning lights on or off and sending email alerts with embedded images.

IP cameras operate as autonomous network nodes, receiving commands and transmitting images and other data over the same low-cost Cat-5 UTP cable used in modern IT environments. At the same time, videocassette recorders and many DVRs have been replaced by commodity network attached storage devices and servers. What was once a purely analog system has been transformed into a fully digital, network-based system that would be familiar to any IT professional, with hundreds of IP cameras feeding a constant stream of digital video information over Ethernet networks into back-end storage, server and processing systems.

Intelligent video software technology is propelling video surveillance from an after-the-fact, capture and replay tool into a proactive asset that will enable responders to more easily detect suspicious activities and breaches of security protocol, and in some cases intervene even before a violation occurs. As a result, the video surveillance field, once dominated by burglar alarm and camera companies, is being strongly influenced by a growing number of traditional IT vendors who will eventually be able to provide a one-stop shop for network security, video surveillance and physical security needs.

According to analysts at Frost & Sullivan, the adoption of video surveillance software is being driven by its potential to boost the efficiency levels of video surveillance, facilitate the reduction of human intervention and achieve related cost savings. In addition to the resultant cost savings, other advantages offered by sophisticated analytical video surveillance software include lower false alarm rates, video content analysis and enhanced system health management. These researchers estimate the global video surveillance software market will grow from $153.7 million today to $670.7 million in 2011 for a robust compound annual growth rate of 23.4 percent. This growth will be derived, to some extent, from the expansion of network-based systems including local area networks, wide area networks and the Internet.

With intelligent video, no one needs to watch monitors on an ongoing basis. When a predefined behavior or event occurs, the video recording is optimized automatically, ensuring excellent forensic video data, and alarms and alerts are sent to responders in real time along with high quality video for improved event interrogation. Sophisticated behavior recognition software available today can recognize a human being, distinguish it from an inanimate object and accurately determine the number of people in the camera view, where they are going and where they have been. Video algorithms can identify specific types or sizes of vehicles, packages, or pieces of luggage, and how long they have been stationary or removed from a location. The algorithms can also detect a wide range of human behaviors and actions such as loitering, access control tailgating, perimeter intrusion or detecting people who violate posted policy by walking in the wrong direction in a checkpoint exit lane. Libraries of algorithms are continuously being expanded and new ones created to serve highly specialized surveillance requirements.

While the information from a single, intelligent camera can be useful, combining the data from several networked cameras offers the opportunity to recognize patterns of behavior. With this type of video analytics, accuracy is achieved not only in terms of recognizing events as they are occurring, but more importantly, having the ability to anticipate a threat before it is carried out. For example, if someone is repeatedly loitering near a secure door, this may portend an imminent human tailgating violation. This type of detected behavior realized not only in one area, but throughout a facility and among facilities, would automatically precipitate an investigation and enable security personnel to take decisive action to interdict the threat before an incident occurs.

Ultimately, achieving the highest degree of success with any security system is about receiving and integrating as many inputs as possible. While video surveillance is a central element for security, it is not the only source of valuable input. Results from a variety of standalone sensors and complementary security systems such as optical trip wires, perimeter radar systems, biometrics and RFID access control systems can be stitched into the intelligent surveillance framework over the network to provide "video plus" situational awareness. In this way, integration of many inputs into a common analytical frame of reference provides the grist for sophisticated forensic data mining techniques and unprecedented real-time awareness that can be used to quickly see the whole picture of what is occurring and trigger appropriate action.

As a result, video analytics will play a larger role in analyzing the huge volumes of data generated by IP cameras, and security analytics will become vital to providing actionable intelligence from sensors and other security systems such as perimeter and access control systems. An airport such as San Francisco International, for example, may have upwards of 1,500 cameras continually sending video, as well as access control and other systems generating event data. Intelligent video professionals have vast experience mining such huge volumes of data for meaningful and actionable information for surveillance purposes, and applying that expertise to the physical security realm is the next logical step.

As new technologies transform video surveillance into an IT-based system, the skills IT professionals have been honing for decades will be directly applicable to the physical security industry. IT professionals, known for being visionaries, will be the driving force behind this convergence. Traditional security companies will have to reinvent themselves to become IT centric, or risk IT security companies stepping in to seize the looming business opportunity. In many ways, it's a small step from IT network security to physical security and intelligent video surveillance, and security analytics will be the bond that brings them all together.

IT is playing an increasingly important role in the traditional physical security and video surveillance industry. This, in turn, is creating new opportunities for IT professionals to apply their knowledge to security applications. As IP-based systems proliferate, the need for IT professionals who understand how the security industry works will only increase. More and more, integrated security systems are resembling the networked environments IT professionals are accustomed to, and this convergence will accelerate as IT and security professionals join forces to not just integrate disparate systems, but provide a new level of actionable intelligence through the emerging technologies of video and security analytics.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Data Analysis, Data Integration and Security.

Francis "Skip" Cusack is chief technology officer of Vidient Systems, Inc. He has 20 years of executive and technical leadership experience in conceiving and promoting technology solutions, with the last ten years focused specifically on intelligent security. Cusack holds several patents in the areas of security system design and biometrics, and was recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a patent considered "one of the ten most important inventions for Homeland Security in 2002."

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