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The safest city in the great state of Texas

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Have you ever wondered which is the safest city in Texas? Is it McGregor--which is not too far from Crawford where our former president has a ranch? Or is it Bryan--which is next to College Station, home to the A&M Aggies? Bryan has and McGregor is about to install ADT municipal surveillance systems. We heard today, in a lively presentation by Ty Morrow, police chief retired of Bryan, and Bryan deputy police chief Peter Sheets, why Bryan is the safest and we heard from Steve Foster, police chief of McGregor why his city is the safest. McGregor wanted to install cameras as a "force multiplier" for the small police department, while Bryan was dealing with a major crime problem. Morrow, Sheets and Foster described why they decided to partner with ADT (they're looking for a partner and ADT fit the bill in terms of service and products) and had interesting things to say about their strategies for getting the police force, local politicians, and the general public on board for the projects. "Get them buy into to the vision that we want to make the City of ____(fill in the blank) the safest town in the great state of Texas." And once everyone's on board, how do you pay for the project? Morrow found seed money for the project by selling assets confiscated from criminals. We're talking about some serious cash--they've got $45K in the bank right now as the result of the program. And they've got an orange cadillac for sale if you're in the market. Foster's city council actually increase its city budget this year. These guys know their politics. Steve Foster, a former Texas Ranger who stands well over six feet tall, said the state objected to the placement of a pole which was to hold a camera. "One guy from the state said he was going to arrest me if I put a pole there. I said, 'If you think you can do it, c'mon down...I never did hear back from him." The municipal security panel discussion today was one of four events during a day-long event at ADT's fancy Dallas HQ, which is in Carrollton. We also heard toured the IP Lab and Demo center, where customers have systems configured and performance tested and where customers can compare system options side by side. More on this later. Gotta get ready for the dinner right now. Oh, and about the Texas Hold'em last night. I had to fold 'em after not too long. No wild cards you see. If twos had been wild it would have been a different story. The good news is that Leischen Stelter, managing editor of our sister news outlet, Security Director News, won the tournament. I take credit for sitting next to her. Ask Sam, it can be very lucky to sit next to me when you're gambling. And if anyone can find a place that observes wild card rules, watch out.

Ever heard of Allied Telesis?

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009
They just invited me for a booth visit at ASIS, and since I'd never heard of Allied Telesis, I said yes. They claim to be in the IP surveillance space, and you can find a white paper they've done on their presence in surveillance here, but I've never heard anyone mention them. Just like I seem to discover a new storage manufacturer about once a day who's suddenly paying attention to IP surveillance because they've seen some crazy ABI numbers about doubling of the surveillance market to $41 billion by 2014, so, too, I guess, should we expect switcher makers and other network types who know how to move gigabits around to pay attention to security. Can't be a bad thing, really. Just hard to keep track of them all sometimes. Guess that's kind of my job, though.

Twos are wild

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Monday, August 24, 2009
Just arrived in Dallas, Texas where it is 97 degrees at 5 p.m. I've been here a few times in February and enjoyed the city, but I do not know how in the name of Sam Houston these Texans go out in this? So, what am I doing here when it's 70 and beautiful on the coast of Maine? Well it's the annual ADT media event, "a Security Round Up" they're calling it. Fortunately we won't be hanging out outside during any of the events. Here's the line-up for tomorrow: We're going to the ADT IP Technology Lab in Carrollton; seeing a municipal security demo and talking with ADT folks and three local chiefs of police about trends in municipal and local public safety camera systems; meeting with the security director for Kinder Morgan, who's going to talk to us about securing petrochemical and chemical facilities and the effect of DHS's C-FATS standards; and, a "security roundtable" with four security directors and three chiefs of police. Tonight's just meet-and-greet stuff, but I hear we'll be invited to play in a Texas Hold-em mini-tournament. I'm no ringer, but I did play a lot of poker with my brothers and sisters growing up. We favored lots of wild cards--twos, Suicide Kings and One-Eyed Jacks would all be wild in one hand. That's my strategy and I'm sticking to it. I'll let you know how it works out.

License-plate reading in Ohio questioned

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Monday, August 24, 2009
In the same vein as the Vancouver article I linked to earlier today, here's a piece from a Dayton, Ohio, paper about the use of license-plate-reading cameras by the cops. I think this is fairly well done, actually, exploring the concerns that exist out there and explaining well how the technology will be used. But, oh, how I hate the lede (that's journalism spelling there):
Are they cutting-edge tools in the war on crime and terrorism? Big Brother in a box? Or maybe a little of both?
Gah! Drivel! "Big Brother in a box?" Are there cameras that are not in boxes? What does the "in a box" refer to that's different than normal "Big Brother" references about cameras? And "maybe a little of both"? Is that the most over-used hedging of bets ever? How is that a lede to a story that anyone wants to read? Why wouldn't you cut that first paragraph and start the story with the second (amended by me): "Area police are excited about the possibilities offered by the automated license plate reader, a camera with a scanner mounted in a housing on selected police cruisers. But area activists are concerned that the readers present potential invasions of privacy." Anyway, some of the concerns presented are real. No, license plates that are read and recorded by the cameras shouldn't be kept on file unless they triggered a match to a license plate that's linked to a wanted criminal or stolen car. The critics are right about that. And the lack of a strict policy on that matter by the cops is cavalier at best and negligent at worst. The guy's right here:
Stephens said “if in fact data is stored, that is extremely troubling. There should be absolutely no storage of the data” pertaining to innocuous vehicles. Such data could be subpoenaed in civil litigation, Stephens said. For example, he said, a person suing for divorce could try to obtain license-tracking data to show the past whereabouts of a cheating spouse.
As a journalist, I would FOIA the crap out of that information any time I was trying to figure out where a public figure had been when he shouldn't have, etc. And while it may just be a characterization on the part of the writer, this paragraph is troubling:
Local authorities brushed off those concerns, saying they only plan to use the cameras for legitimate law enforcement purposes.
You can't answer public concerns with: phsaw! You need to be able to say, "look we have definitive policy x, and if anyone violates that policy, they'll be reprimanded." The public employs the police to keep them safe - it's not too much to ask that they respect their valid criticisms and take them seriously. There is no way the video should be used to monitor the activities of law-abiding folks, and while it's unlikely they'd do anything with those recordings, it's appropriate for the public to be able to question the policy.

Vancouver? Security? Call Mike Jagger

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Monday, August 24, 2009
If you're looking for lessons on raising your public profile, call Mike Jagger, head of Provident Security in Vancouver. I don't think I've seen a story about security in Vancouver in the last year that Mike wasn't involved in. Dude is an impressive networker. Today, he's quoted in a story about some people with idle time on their hands going around and counting the number of security cameras in Vancouver. Who ya gonna call (if you're a reporter looking for a balancing source?)? Well, Mike Jagger, of course. So, why are they counting the cameras?
[T]he Public Space Network and the Surveillance Project are just hoping to provide a more accurate count -- so the public will have a sense of how often they're caught on camera -- often without even realizing it.
Hasn't this gotten tired by this point? Is there really anyone in the world anymore who's shocked - SHOCKED - by the amount of cameras watching the public domain? Isn't the anecdotal evidence overwhelming that people want cameras in their neighborhoods because they think they combat (or at least move) crime? Anyway, good thing they called Mike:
Michael Jagger of Provident Security says technology is also getting to a point where it risks invading people's privacy less. "We've programmed a number of rules to say, for example, if somebody gets too close to the windows you can see it's creating an alarm each time he's crossing the line," Jagger said.
Um, does that quote actually follow the first paragraph? If you understand that he's talking about video analytics, and that it's only going to record if someone gets too close to the windows and triggers the recording, then, well, sure, that makes sense. If you're Joe Blow on the street watching the TV news? That makes about zero sense. "Creating an alarm"? What does that have to do with me being videotaped in public and having my God-given right to never be seen by anyone unless I want them to stripped away thousands of times a day?

California says enough is enough with DO NOT RESPOND list?

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Monday, August 24, 2009
I was going through my email this morning when I came across a Google Alert claiming "Bay area officers weary of false alarms." I thought to myself, well there's some news... false alarms are wearisome? The link is from San Francisco Bay Area CBS affiliate CBS 5. There's a neat video report from one of the news anchors and what caught my attention was mention of a "Do Not Respond" list that the report asserts is taking hold in the area. The police interviewed in the spot are with the Vallejo, Calif. PD, where the Do Not Respond list was started 2 years ago, but other towns mentioned in the report include, Concord, Berkeley, San Francisco, Livermore, Fremont (where 99.7 percent of alarms are false, according to the report) and Palo Alto. Another thing that struck me about the CBS 5's news clip is the prominent parade of alarm company signage... There're yard signs and window decals from Bay Alarm, Edison Security, Brinks Home Security (CBS 5 couldn't be bothered to go and find a Broadview sign, it appears), and Morgan Alarm (a company without a website, it would appear) popping up right and left. The thing that's kind of funny is that, despite the plethora of security industry advertising displayed, CBS 5 didn't bother to talk to anyone from the security industry. Huh? If you're going to include all those advertising materials from the industry, shouldn't you at least make an attempt to contact them? I mean, I know the Westphals don't really talk to the press, but there must have been someone from one of the other companies who would have loved to talk to the media, right? Oh, actually, they did get a nice soundbite from a German shepherd, presumable guarding a location... Does that count? I've got emails out to some industry folks to see what their take might be. More on this later.

Sure he's below par on the green, but is he above par on his CEUs?

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Friday, August 21, 2009
CenterPoint VP Ops & Biz Dev MJ Vance recently passed on some info on the St. Louis-based monitoring center's next big event coming up in October. The Communications Industry Expo will be held Oct. 7. Info and registration forms can be found here. The event is a great way to stay current on your CEUs and is preceded by the 5th Annual Alarm Association of Greater St. Louis Golf Tournament at Pevely Farms, which takes place on October 6. So drop MJ a line and get your training and your eagle on!

Is this like Filene's Basement for security?

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Friday, August 21, 2009
Interesting press release (sorry, no link) out of Pelco HQ this morning: Pelco Announces Strategic Relationship with Northern Video Systems But this isn't your standard manufacturer-distributor marketing relationship:
Clovis, CA (August 20, 2009) – Pelco has entered into a strategic relationship with its Distribution Partner, Northern Video Systems of Rocklin, California, to market and sell Pelco Select Goods inventory. Pelco Select Goods are products that could be overstock products, discontinued products, products being replaced by newer models, and/or Factory Refurbished products. Unlike other companies, these products all carry the same Full Factory Warranty as all Pelco new products. Northern Video will actively market these products at a substantial savings to Factory New products. Since there is a varied supply of these products, quantities and availability will be unpredictable.
The bolds are mine. Maybe this is standard practice in the industry and I've just never come across it before, or maybe it's one of those things where you hear about it once and then all of a sudden hear about it all the time, but this is the second time in three days I've heard a manufacturer talking about inventory and overstock. On the Mace call, Dennis Raefield said they'd reduced their inventory by some $1.7 million by getting rid of overstock and older products. Hey said they actually created their own overstock web site where they're even willing to sell other people's products. They even used eBay. Seriously, eBay for video surveillance products. Who would have thought? Anyway, now Pelco seems to be doing something similar - trying to make some profit of used, discontinued, and overstock items. Is this the sign of a company in trouble? Mace is certainly struggling, if not "in trouble." They need to get to profitability and a strong balance sheet, if only to please the stockholders (they've got a decent amount of cash on hand - though if they keep losing $2 million a quarter the cash from the car wash sales will eventually run out). Is Pelco "in trouble," or is the company just being creative with new ways to find revenue? From what I've heard from smaller dealers looking to increase margin any way they can, I think this idea is a good one on Pelco's part. I know when I was broke and looking for a Mac, I always checked out the refurbished section on the Apple site. Same basic principle applies here: refurbished is good enough if the price is right. Here's Pelco's explanation:
These products have long been available from Pelco but have not been widely sold to its customers. The company believes this is simply due to its limited sales and marketing efforts around these offerings. With Northern Video Systems building a sales initiative around the distribution of these products, Pelco management feels that many more of their customers will be able to take advantage of these great savings. Northern Video will soon be marketing the availability of these products to the industry and have an energetic sales force ready to help customers with choosing products that will satisfy their requirements.
So, they've always had these products sitting around but never thought to sell them before? Doesn't that roughly translate to: "We were riding high on the hog for a long time and didn't care much about selling these products, but now we could use the cash so we thought, 'Hey, why don't we sell this stuff, too?'"? (Sorry for the weird punctuation - my point stands.) (Oh, and if you're not from New England, you may not know that Filene's Basement was this great store in Boston for finding cheap clothes that didn't get sold at Filene's proper. Of course, Filene's Basement closed. I'm not implying anything with that.)

The Inc. 500 - A security analysis

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Thursday, August 20, 2009
A couple days back, I sort of mocked Somerset for this line in its press release about its earnings: "the exponential growth in concern and demand for security." But then I started feeling a little guilty about that. I mean, security is outpacing other industries, right? Right? Isn't that what everybody says - security is a safe harbor in the financial storm? So, I thought to myself, since security is dominated by private companies, with a lot of technology start-ups, surely security is well represented on the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest growing public companies in the country. Surely! Well, not so much. Any security companies in the top 50? Well, there's Ahura Scientific, at #25, which "develops rugged, compact optical systems for rapid identification and verification of liquid and solid chemicals. Applications include environmental testing, detection of pharmaceutical counterfeits, sampling of potential liquid explosives at airport checkpoints, and medical diagnostic tools." I think that definitely counts as security. They did went from $990,198 in 2005 to $46.2 million in 2008. Not too shabby. Of course, I've never actually heard of them. Which is probably on me. Moving on: The ID Experts come in at #32. They don't really count for my purposes, though, since they're all about identity theft, and I'm going to put that out of the realm of physical security, which is the type of security that's supposedly going through the exponential growth, and none of you readers really deal much with identity theft. But then to find anything even close you've got to go to #164 for Packet360, which isn't really a security company, but at least plays in the security realm, dealing in wireless backbones. I don't think that really counts, but at least I've seen a press release from them. At #180 we've got GuardianEdge, which sounds like a security company, but just does data encryption. Doesn't count. At #238 we've got elQNetworks, which, as you might think, does network and data security. Doesn't count. Finally, at #242 there is a legitimate security company working in physical security, doing threat assessments, integration, etc. Ever heard of Hilliard Heintze? The do this: "Emergency preparedness, crisis and disaster recovery planning and management, background screening, computer forensics, and security staffing for corporate functions are among its core competencies." Maybe you haven't heard of them because they only grossed $4 million last year, and are on the list because they started out at $400,000 in 2005. Remember, this is about growth. Still, a company I should at least know about. They are followed at #243 by Bargain Locks. No explanation necessary. Still, proof of growth in the demand for security, no doubt. And at #305 we have our first traditional security company, Power Home Technologies, which installs alarm systems and CCTV in homes and small businesses, based in North Carolina. They're a Vector dealer, and they've got a snazzy web site, and they grew from $1.1 million in 2005 to $9.6 million in 2008. Now THAT'S what I'm looking for. That's some exponential growth, right there - 781 percent growth. And, yet, it ranks #305 overall. Hmmm. I think Premier Integrity Solutions counts, too, at #313. They do drug testing, but also criminal monitoring, etc., which is physical security in general. It counts. But they probably don't read my paper. Oh, hey, WOW, Devcon is at #329! Oh, wait, that's not the same Devcon... Psyche! A guard firm, Securit, comes in at #367. Not bad. They do background checking and such, too. One hundred and eighteen employees on only $5 million in revenue? Yep, that's a guard firm. ESET, at #379, is a spyware blocker. Doesn't count. We've been talking about this potential growth of video monitoring - well, iVerify is actually putting up the numbers. They clock in at #405, going from $1.2 million to $9.1 million, 2005 to 2008. That is a terrific vindicator of the model, if you ask me. To quote them, "The company's audio and video monitoring center houses specialists who oversee the security of clients' employees, critical assets, inventory, entryways, cash registers, and other high-risk targets." 637 percent growth is nice. And, oh my stars and garters (boy is that a weird saying), there's a video systems manufacturer here, too, Luxor Direct, at #460. They do: "Luxor sells surveillance and security DVR technology for homes and businesses throughout the U.S. and Canada. The company is currently expanding its markets and its product line in anticipation of future growth." I have not heard of Luxor before, but they're an OEM, so it's not that surprising. They use proprietary "ClearPix" compression, which they claim is better than H.264, et al. Still, something's going right: They went from $844,000 to $5.6 million in three years. And that's it, for the top 500. So what conclusions can we draw? Maybe not many. The 500 companies on this list grew ridiculously fast, even if they didn't really get hit by the economic slide till the end of the reporting period. The 500th company grew 528.5 percent. Who can do that? Well, only little start-ups, mostly. Those that can go from something in the hundreds of thousands to something in the millions in three years. They're start-ups, most of them. Legacy companies like Pelco aren't going to be on the list because growing that fast would mean going from $300 million to $1.5 billion (although TV maker Vizio is on the list, with 2008 revenues of $2 billion, so it's not impossible to do that). Further, some of the most innovative young companies in security, especially in manufacturing, are overseas, and this is an American list, so there's that. However, that said, it's not like there aren't a lot of start-ups in security. All of the PSIM companies, IP camera companies, IT-savvy integrators, video management software companies, analytics companies, etc., are start-ups, sort of by definition. Where are they on this list? Shouldn't one of them gone from $500,000 to $5 million? Maybe they just didn't fill out the survey, or submit their financials. Security companies are conservative by nature. Maybe Inc. just didn't explore the security industry very thoroughly. But if that's so, it's emblematic of security's lack of visibility in the mainstream consciousness, which I have maintained all along is a problem. Clearly, there are companies growing fast in this market, but when you compare security to industries like government services (where there may be some overlap, but I didn't see much), media, consumer goods, even retail, security gets smoked. Why is that?

Do analytics work?

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Well, of course they do. And don't. It depends on what your definition of work is. Anyway, John Honovich is exploring the topic, with attendant poll, and you can see my comments on the matter at his site.

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