Is this the dawning of the age of video monitoring?

After years of development and anticipation, the industry and end users embrace the up-and-coming technology
Monday, August 1, 2005

For those in the video monitoring arena, the planets are beginning to align. After years of anticipation, most now say customers, dealers, manufacturers and central stations are reaching a point that makes video a truly viable option in the monitoring world.
Several factors are converging, among them the requirement, either by ordinance or policy, for verified response to an alarm by several cities and counties throughout the nation. With jurisdictions taking a hard look at the false alarm issue, video monitoring can provide the verification needed to prevent false dispatches.
"A lot of communities are regulating first responders' response to alarms, and video verification is part of this," said Steve Thompson, director of marketing fire and security for Johnson Controls. Video verification by a central station or an internal monitoring set up, "will reduce the burden on first responders," he said.
"Most people are aware that video verification is coming," commented Michael Upp, vice president-business development at Westec InterActive. "In the next two to three years, it will be more widespread," he added, and will overshadow the use of guards or company managers to provide verification.
But while companies may use verified response as a reason to justify a video monitoring system, Upp said he believes other features--both security and non-security related--are also driving the increase in business, such as POS exception reporting, operational audits and people-counting for marketing and merchandising purposes.
For dealers and central stations, video monitoring provides an opportunity to build business via recurring revenue, said Bill Ford, general manager of Sonitrol.
Video equipment sales have exceeded those of other security categories, such as fire, Criticom's Vice President Tom Few Jr. said, yet video hasn't yet been turned into a recurring revenue source. The challenge, he added, is to bring greater value to the end user for their video investment while also gaining revenue for central stations and dealers.
Few noted his company did its homework on both equipment and the commercial real estate market, and "we feel the market is now supporting what we've talked about for some time."
"I believe the industry is ready," concurred Avi Lupo, founder of OzVision, "and the dealers are the key to delivering the message to the end user."
By adding a video module to the alarm panel, he said, not only is video able to be monitored, but also dealers benefit through the installation and recurring monthly revenue.
Those who have been in video monitoring since its infancy acknowledge that the technology has drastically evolved over time, and for the better.
"With the old technology," said Ford, "you didn't have the video capture side. Now it's the best of both worlds." Clips of alarm-triggered events can be captured before, during and after the event, and transmitted to whomever needs to see them, from company executives to police.
The information received, said Lupo, "is tied to the alarm trigger so what the operator gets is very specific."
Few recalled systems from the late 1990s that provided still pictures. Now, systems feature IP-based monitoring that goes straight to the DVR and uses PTZ cameras.
"Before it was reactive," said Few. "Now it's real time."
Improvements in technology are enabling options not available before, said Westec's Upp. Devices can be managed over an IP connection, he said, including monitoring them to make sure systems are working and collecting video as needed, and the ability to reboot them remotely if there is a problem.
Lupo said security services today typically fall into categories such as verification of an alarm event or hold up; notification video services that trigger video clips when specific events happen, such as the opening of a safe; and scheduled video guard tours that produce video e-mails at set times via a scheduler module in the central station.
The customer base for video monitoring ranges from retail and corporate sites to those with high-value items that require alarm verification via video.
Ford said Sonitrol's niche is outdoor protection. "Where there is a fence, there's a reason," he said. High-ticket items, such as lawnmowers or car parts in repair facilities, are being protected via video, he said.
Using day/night cameras, outdoor intruders in fenced spaces can be easily identified through their clothing as well as their location, he said. When monitoring internally, such as watching doors or areas where records are kept, Ford said picture clarity can identify people's faces and features.
Sonitrol is among a number of companies that have offered audio monitoring, "but now we're putting an eye where we can't put an ear," explained Ford.
Upp said retail clients are interested in a host of services using their video systems. One company, he said, asked for an exception report that gives the store name, time and shows a video clip from a location where there was a violation of back door security.
Even though the field of video monitoring providers remains relatively small, Upp said business "has exploded" in the past 10 months and will only continue to climb.
"Applications outside the realm of security are what's driving it outside of high-risk stores."