How to Get the Most Out of a Video Surveillance System

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A video surveillance system is like a snowflake; At first glance they all seem the same, but upon further inspection you’ll find that no two are totally alike. Some may have stationary cameras while others use pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras to gain a larger field of vision. Some might simply record what they see while others will feed the video onto displays that are monitored by security personnel. Some systems are simply used as deterrents, placed in high, visible locations to scare off would-be threats. Some are interested in recognition, and utilize lighting and angles to gain the proper visibility of the people on-screen, while others are interested in getting a clear look at the license plates of vehicles entering and leaving the premises. Some do all of the above.

When deciding what type of video surveillance system you need for your corporate office, it isn’t about researching the myriad devices that exist and trying to mix and match to form the perfect system. Unless you’ve been heavily involved in security AV in past positions, you just aren’t going to be able to do such a thing. As with many AV installations, procuring the perfect surveillance system is all about working correctly with the integrator or consultant that is helping you build and install your system. It’s a two-person job; you provide the knowledge of what your company needs out of a surveillance system, while the integrator does their best to fit those needs based on what is available (and at-cost).

“To come up with one simple thing doesn’t work,” says Bob Wimmer, President of Video Security Consultants. “There’s no one-stop shopping. It would be nice to go to something like Home Depot, buy a camera system, plug it in, and there’s the video. Well, you do get video, but don’t expect much to work.”

So the question, when it comes to the tech decision maker, isn’t ‘What surveillance system do I need?’ The question is ‘What do I need from my surveillance system?’ And the answer comes in the form of more questions:

  • Who do we want to be able to see?
  • What do we want to watch?
  • Where should we be watching?
  • When should we be watching them?
  • Why do we want to watch these areas?

Before you even reach out to an integrator or consultant, you should have a good idea as to the answers of these questions. That’s the first step in solving your surveillance needs.

Who do we want to see?

The ‘who’ of a security system is going to determine the way in which cameras are placed. This question can be answered in thinking about how you want see people. Do you want to inspect a person’s face or do you want to identify them? Do you want to recognize the face?  Are you simply trying to detect an intrusion? Or are you using your system for crowd control? All of these factors will determine the height and viewing angle of the cameras placed throughout your building.

What do we want to watch?

“One of the first questions I would ask would be ‘Is this a security system or a surveillance system?’ and that’s really how they use it,” says Bob Grossman, President of R. Grossman and Associates, Inc. “If you’re watching things you’re primarily a security system and if you’re watching people you’re a surveillance system. And it could be a little bit of both.”

This basically comes down to what you are going to watch. For example, a company that has a warehouse with inventory is interested in making sure the inventory isn’t stolen. They can focus on the shelves with inventory, and while they would catch thieves, the main focus is the objects. This is a security system. They could also focus on the full warehouse, in which case they would be monitoring the people that enter, leave, and work there. This is a surveillance system. The distinction is something of a technicality, but it’s an important technicality. For surveillance you may need a PTZ camera, but then you run the risk of focusing on the wrong area if something is stolen. For security you may need a stationary camera, but if an incident occurs between employees you won’t have it captured.

Decide what is more important to you, or rather in what way an incident is more likely to occur. If an area is highly trafficked then surveillance is probably a better idea. If it is mostly occupied with objects that may be stolen or vandalized, then security may be the better option.

Where should we be watching?

This question is pretty straight forward. What are the problem areas? Are they indoors or outdoors? Where are the areas with the highest amount of traffic? What are the areas with the most important information, documents, or products? Essentially, where do you think trouble is going to happen? If you have only a few entrances you may want to place cameras at each of them. If an area is constantly vandalized then a camera there is a good idea, too. If you have a parking garage you may want to monitor the cars coming in and out of the premises, and if so you should think about license plate recognition as well. And areas where only authorized personnel are allowed can be good to monitor. It all depends on where you think incidents, whatever they may be, can occur.

When should we be watching?

This is something of a two-fold question. Of course it is important to understand what times of the day you want the camera to be active, and for many companies the answer will be 24/7. Why run the risk of missing out on something if an incident occurs? On the flip side, the question is asking when you will be viewing the actual footage.

“I guess another way to ask this is ‘Will anyone be watching the cameras or are you just going to go back and look later?’” says Grossman.

Obviously, having an employee watching surveillance feeds can help to detect a threat and act more quickly than using the footage to identify what happened after the fact. However, hiring a full-time employee is going to cut deeply into your surveillance budget, and companies may find it an unnecessary expenditure. If you do have an employee monitoring, it’s important to know when that will be: full-time between multiple employees, only during the day, only at night? It all depends on when risk of incidents is highest.

Why are we watching?

The ‘why’ is an extremely important question for procuring the correct surveillance system.

Perhaps you are only using a camera as a deterrent. Your system could be as simple as placing a few cameras around the premises and heavily displaying the fact that the premises is under surveillance through signs posted around the area. Maybe you want to monitor in case of a crisis, so that you can go back and find out what happened. In this case you won’t need any video feed, simply the recording. Otherwise you likely want to monitor in real time to respond to a crisis as it occurs. This will require an extra employee (or several) to monitor the video feeds. Put simply, do you want to deter, detect, or capture an incident? Each answer will result in a vastly different surveillance system.

“It also falls on budget,” says Wimmer. “You know, everybody wants the world, but how much are they willing to spend?”

The Snowflake

Now that you have thought about all of the nuances that go into your security system, you’re ready to speak with a consultant or integrator. They will be able to take your needs, concerns, and considerations and turn them into a unique security system that works for your company. Further, you won’t be roped into unnecessary expenditures, nor will you miss out on important pieces of your system. In no time you’ll be more secure than ever.

To learn more contact MCC’s Security Solutions Division today!  

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