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Home automation a perfect fit on Mother’s Day?

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Flowers, breakfast in bed … and a security system?

In the past, that third item may not have come to mind as a way to make life easier and more enjoyable for Mom on Mother’s Day, but home automation may be changing that—or so a creative new marketing campaign from Vivint underscores.

A news release from that Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security company just in time for Mother’s Day points out that new home automation features can help make life easier for today’s hard-working moms.

The release is headlined: “Vivint home automation makes the perfect Mother's Day gift for busy moms.”

And this is how it continues:

As Mother's Day approaches, grateful children and husbands everywhere are looking for the perfect gift for Mom. For a busy mother looking for something to simplify her life, a new home automation system from Vivint, the largest home automation provider in North America, is the perfect fit.”

Wherever Mom is—at work, home, the grocery store, or traveling—she can check in at home using her smartphone, laptop, or computer. And whether she's a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or a combination of both, she can use Vivint to watch live video of what's happening at home, arm or disarm the security system, get text notifications when the kids get home from school, and adjust the thermostat. All Vivint products work remotely with any web-enabled device, so moms on-the-go can always stay connected to their homes and families.

 

The "haves and have-nots of security integration companies"

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

PSA TEC is in full swing. The action started on Sunday night, but I arrived late on Monday. Yesterday I spent the day (Tuesday) talking to PSA Security integrators and members and attending four different educational sessions.

I attended the State of the Industry panel, moderated by PSA Security CEO Bill Bozeman and featuring a large group of integrators and industry experts; a discussion on Big Data, Business Resiliency and Physical Security moderated by Chris Peckham of Kratos; a session on security finance moderated by Bozeman; and a session on how to adopt managed services, moderated by Sharon Shaw, of Integrators Support.

These folks covered a lot of ground. I’ll be writing more in-depth stories on some of the topics covered, but below are some highlights from the day.

Haves and have-nots

Bozeman started the first session of the day quoting Imperial Capital’s Jeff Kessler, who in a recent report wrote that increasingly the world of systems integration is dominated by the "haves" and the "have-nots." The "have" have an RMR base, are making a good margin on jobs, and are profitable. The have-nots have not moved into managed services and are surviving on installation revenue. Bozeman agreed with Kessler, recommended all read his report, and spent a great deal of time in this session and others talking about how all PSA Security integrators can join the "haves."

Know your verticals
Phil Aronson of Aronson Security Group, Ron Oetjen of Intelligent Access, and Eric Yunag of Dakota Security all said “deep focus” on your vertical markets is key. Yunag, whose Dakota Security is growing rapidly, said that his company made a strategic misstep 7 or 8 years ago when it decided to expand outside of the financial vertical. Banks are something that Dakota had grown to know very very well. The mistake the company made was not the fact that it expanded outside of that vertical, but it did so without the focus and understanding of other verticals.

The message from integrators on the panel was this: Focusing on different verticals is good, but get to know them. And don't delve into too many. How many verticals should an independent integrator focus on? Three, most agreed.

Mad about channel conflict? Look within
Another topic that came up was the problem of channel conflict and manufacturers going direct to end users. Jim Henry of Kratos, said it’s important for systems integrators to remember that manufacturers who go direct to end users fail. However, he noted, “it’s important that and end user sees you as a value, not a middleman making a margin.” Yunag added that if an end user is going direct in your coverage area “that’s your failure as a systems integrator.” You need to know what’s happening in your region, and if this kind of stuff happens take a look at your own organization.

Government Opportunity
Don Erickson, CEO of SIA, was banging the drum about the opportunity for integrators who want to do business with the federal government. Despite sequestration and budget problems, money is in the pipeline for K-12 projects, ports, transportation. “Consider the GSA Schedule program, it’s a very effective contract vehicle for doing business with the federal government.”

How to build an effective business?
During the State of the Industry, Ron Oetjen of Intelligent Access Systems broke it down this way: hire the right people and focus on your strategic plan.  Later, during a finance educational session that got pretty granular about how to make your business attractive to buyers, Kratos’ Jim Henry said that the businesses that he’s attracted to are the ones that are not for sale, the ones with a “clear vision and a mission.”

Boston bombing and video surveillance
In the aftermath of the Newtown gun massacre and the Boston Marathon bombing, Yunag said that now is a “significant watershed for our industry and the services we provide … in the next five to ten years, the way video surveillance is used will change,” he predicted.  The general public has seen, particularly with Boston, how video surveillance can be useful. Jim Henry said that the incident clearly demonstrated how video can be used for “actionable intelligence and business intelligence.” Further, he said, it's important to note that the ability to find the suspect was not because the camera in question was a certain quality or manufacturer,  but because it was a “well positioned camera installed by a professional.” This horrific event showed the world how video can be used, Yunag said, and it's incumbent on integrators now to have those conversations with law enforcement and others about how they can best take advantage of video and other physical security offerings to help prevent and detect situations like these.

There are many more highlights that I’ll report on later, now I need to get to the conference.

Legal pot hot new security market—but ADT declines to partake

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Voters in Washington State and Colorado last fall legalized the recreational use of marijuana—and created a new demand for security, with pot warehouses and stores in those states anxious to protect their valuable stash. However, according to a report from CNNMoney this week, the fact that pot sales are still illegal under federal law is creating some security hassles.

Not only is ADT refusing to provide security services to such businesses, citing federal law, but other security companies that do want to partake are finding it hard to get loans from banks, which are experiencing federal pressure, the report said.

That comes amidst a growing demand for security from pot dispensaries and warehouses, the report said. It said they’re targets because a pound of marijuana sells for $2,000 wholesale and—with pot sales illegal under federal law—business owners prefer transactions in cash.

“A robber who swipes the jars on display alone could make away with $20,000 of product, plus whatever stacks of bills are behind the counter,” the report said. As a consequence, it said, “a typical store has more than a dozen cameras, motion detectors, infrared sensors and flood lights. Some even line the ceilings with tripwire to avoid rooftop burglars sawing their way in.”

However, CNNMoney added, “some store owners who use ADT, the nation's largest security provider, say the company has dropped them in recent months.

Sarah Cohn, ADT director of media relations, told me, "ADT has made a policy decision not to sell security services to businesses engaged in the marijuana industry because it is still illegal under federal law."
 
But other security companies are stoked about protecting newly legitimate pot businesses, the report said. “The security needs create an opportunity for startups like Canna Security, a Colorado company currently expanding to Washington,” CNNMoney said.

Canna Security’s founder, Daniel Williams, told CNNMoney that footage from video security cameras shows that robbers targeting pot growers and stores sometimes rely on far-out methods.

He said footage included video of teenagers ramming an Audi through the door of a pot warehouse and a “cat burglar” who cut a hole in a warehouse roof to rappel down to the green loot. The robbers were foiled in both cases.

CNNMoney said the security demand is so great that Williams’ “employees are working 12-hour shifts every day, installing cameras and alarm systems across both states.”

His only problem is that his bank recently denied him a credit line to finance his company’s growth, even though it accepted his cash deposits, the report said.

“It gets frustrating when I get a whole new channel of business and funding isn't there to adjust to it,” Williams told CNNMoney.

 

Video surveillance after Boston: Carte blanche for Big Brother?

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

There has been a lot of debate in the past few months about the government infringing on the privacy and rights of its citizens. Most of the heat has been generated by the standoff over gun control, but you don’t have to look far to find people who think Big Brother is lurking around every corner—at the IRS, DHS and even your local cop shop.

So what about video surveillance? Did the fact that video helped take down the Boston bombers give the powers-that-be carte blanche to watch your every move, whenever and wherever you go? Will there soon be blanket surveillance every time you step out your door? And if that’s the case, where is the outrage and pushback?

Apparently there won’t be any. In a poll taken after the Boston bombing, The New York Times and CBS News found that 78 percent of Americans favor installing video surveillance cameras in public places, judging that any infringement on their privacy is worth it to help prevent terrorist attacks.

That sentiment bodes well for the security industry, which stands to profit from the increased public and private spending. Even before the bombing, IMS Research was projecting a 114 percent increase in the global market for video surveillance equipment, from $9.6 billion in 2010 to $20.5 billion in 2016. IMS is in the process of revising that forecast, no doubt making it even rosier.

Which brings us to drones (or maybe not, but that’s where I’m going). Last week, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said he would be interested in using aerial surveillance technology to monitor events like the Boston Marathon. He wasn’t talking about helicopters—the price of drones has gotten to the point where local police departments are using them, particularly in rural areas.

The security industry might be able to benefit from that development too. The question is, when will the privacy line be crossed in the minds of the public? You might feel safer knowing that your bank or train station is under surveillance, but how will you feel when a police drone flies over your house? Or am I being paranoid?

It will be interesting to see what happens on that front. For now, though, protection has trumped the freedom to remain anonymous, at least when it comes to surveillance on the ground. The Tsarnaev brothers can attest to that.

Marathon security after Boston

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

After the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, I began wondering what the security would be like at the April 28 Big Sur Marathon.

I ran (OK I jogged, maybe even walked a little) this spectacular course that runs along Highway 1 in California in 2011 and did the same on Sunday. I was curious to see if there would be a more noticeable security presence at the event this year.

There were a few stories published before the race. In an interview with the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Michael Klein, who oversees security for the event, declined to talk specifics, but he was quoted as saying there would be “tons more resources” this year compared to past years.

He said entities involved in security for the event included: California Highway Patrol, California Emergency Management Agency, Cal Fire, Monterey County Sheriff's Office, Monterey Police Department, Sand City Police Department and the Monterey Regional Airport Fire Department. All will be coordinated into an incident command system that will be based on training models used by he federal government for mass casualty disaster response.”

Another story from Active.com about post-Boston marathon safety reported that the Boston Marathon has been a pilot project of sorts for “emergency action techniques” a communication system and protocol called Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS). The Boston Athletic Association coordinated with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard and other local authorities to implement NICS.  

From that story:
“In 2008, Boston Emergency Medical Service Chief Richard Serino told the Boston Globe that they approached events like the marathon as, "planned disasters." He went on to state that such circumstances presented, "an opportunity to test some things you would never want to test in a real disaster."
It just turned out that, this year, the disaster occurred during the marathon.”

In the Santa Cruz article, Michael Klein says points out that the Boston and Big Sur marathon locations are completely different. Managing threat in a crowded city involves different techniques than managing threats along a difficult-to-access highway that has hills on one side and the ocean on the other.

While terrorism may not have been top-of-mind for Big Sur marathon organizers in the past, the possibility of mass casualties that could result from a natural disaster have been, according to Klein. Along the California Coast, earthquakes and landslides are common and occur without notice.

In fact, as the result of a landslide in the winter of 2011 that left part of Highway 1 impassable, the Big Sur race course had to be changed from the usual Big Sur to Monterey point-to-point race to an out-and-back course that started and ended in Monterey.

So, what was Big Sur like? I have no doubt there were more security measures in place, but it wasn’t very noticeable.  Maybe there were a few more police vehicles around, perhaps certain protocol—like maybe tickets to get on buses to the race start (at 3:30 a.m.!)—were checked a little more thoroughly by than in the past, but it wasn’t obvious or restrictive feeling.

The event is really well organized, and as any security director or integrator will tell you, you need policy and protocol in place to make even the best security system work effectively.

More than 4,000 people run the marathon and 6,000 others do races of shorter distances or the relay. That’s a lot of people along the 26-mile stretch of highway.

It takes 200 buses to move people to the start line and various staging points for the relay and other races. The event is manned by 2,500 volunteers who cheerfully transport, feed, direct and assist the runners.

So, I didn’t see more cameras or armored vehicles or obviously restricted access to different venues at the marathon.

What I did notice was a lot of talk about security and the Boston bombing. Ron Kramer, the Boston Marathon event director spoke to the crowd at the starting line.

Many incredible athletes run Boston and Big Sur every year, but this year nearly 400 people did both.  More than ever before.

From a participant’s point of view, the Big Sur Marathon went off without incident. The landscape was as stunning as ever, the hills as beastly as before. There was definitely a new awareness of security among the crowd, (and certainly on the part of the organizers.) but it didn’t lessen the experience for me.  On the contrary, it made me appreciate even more how very well organized this event really is.

Comcast sold on retail security sales

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I’ve been writing about a new trend in the industry: selling home security in a retail environment. And now communications giant Comcast is one of the latest to embrace retail, opening a new store in Albuquerque, N.M. designed to let customers experience its Xfinity Home automation/home security product firsthand.

Philadelphia-based Comcast on April 20 held a grand opening of its new Xfinity Customer Center, the company said. It invited elected officials and community leaders to tour the facility, and Comcast gave a $2,500 donation to the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Mexico.

Comcast said the 2,500 square-foot center, which is open seven days a week, “is designed entirely around the needs of customers and provides consumers with an opportunity to explore, learn about, and interact directly with the latest Xfinity products and services.”

Here’s more on what Comcast had to say about the center:
 

Featuring fully interactive touchscreen displays; the environment enables customers to learn about products and indulge in the complete Xfinity Experience. The center also exhibits a 3D viewing experience, and comfortable seating areas. Customers can try out Comcast's Xfinity Home security system, the Xfinity TV app and popular apps on an iPad. Customers also can experience Xfinity TV, test drive Xfinity Internet's speeds and learn more about Comcast Business Class products and services at Kiosks throughout the center.

In addition, customers will receive personalized service from trained and knowledgeable Sales Consultants and more time-saving offerings, including a self-service kiosk for quick bill pay and a new queuing system that allows customers to explore and be entertained instead of waiting in line for service.

Comcast was a leader in the trend of among telecoms and cablecos entering the security market, launching its Xfinity Home Security product in June 2010. The company renamed the service last year as just Xfinity Home to reflect the fact that it includes many home automation features in addition to home security. The product has been rolled out in major markets across the nation.

Comcast is now part of a retail trend being embraced by both large and small companies selling security.

Telecom giant AT&T has told me that selling Digital Life, its home security/home automation product, in its retail stores is a key part of its sales strategy. Also, retail giant Lowe’s recently announced it is selling its Iris product not only its own stores but in Verizon Wireless stores.

And I just wrote recently about a small, traditional security company, Madison, Miss.-based The Alarm Company, finding its new retail location a roaring business success.

I’ll be talking to Comcast to learn more about its new store.

 

Video takes down Boston bombing suspects

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Looking back on it, it was a little too close for comfort: Walking the streets of Cambridge at about the same time the Boston Marathon bombers were killing a police officer at MIT, just a few blocks from a nightclub where I was heading with a friend. Investigators had released photos of the suspects a few hours earlier and they were now on the run, with a carjacking, police chase (more on that later) and shootout to follow.

The two men should have known they wouldn’t remain anonymous for long. Given the extent of video surveillance at the bombing site and the number of people taking photos of the race on their cellphones, it was only a matter of time before authorities put the pieces together. Credit for identifying the suspects goes not only to the police and FBI, but also to the technology that made it happen.

The use of that technology extended to the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect who fled on foot after surviving the shootout on the night of April 18. Holed up in a shrink-wrapped boat in Watertown, his presence was confirmed by helicopter with the help of thermal-imaging cameras provided by FLIR Systems.

In a black-and-white image that has gone viral since Tsarnaev was taken into custody, his glowing body can be seen through the covering on the boat. Police later sent in an unmanned vehicle to lift the covering, which allowed them to determine that Tsarnaev was not wearing an explosive vest. They soon moved in and apprehended him, ending four days of high anxiety.

My night in Cambridge ended with an improvised escape from town. After leaving the club we found the streets buzzing with dozens of police cruisers, all screaming west toward the shootout in Watertown. Think of the chase scene from “The Blues Brothers” movie—no intersection was safe to cross, even if you had a green light. The main routes out of Cambridge were blocked, so we had to pick our way through a maze of side streets until we found our way home.

What we didn’t know that night was that the MIT slaying and the bombing suspects were connected. That information was confirmed after we made it out of the city, which was soon under lockdown. I'm not sure I would have changed my plans, but I'm obviously glad our paths didn’t cross.
 

ADT “Undercover Boss” gives worker $35K reward

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I wrote previously about Tony Wells, ADT chief marketing and customer officer, posing as an entry-level employee on the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss.”  Wells told me how the experience made him really appreciate ADT’s hard-working employees. But I didn’t know until the show aired on April 12 that the company showed its appreciation to one employee in the form of $35,000.

The employee, a technician named Jesus, has an 18-month-old daughter and he and his fiancée were barely making ends meet. But Jesus showed an outstanding work ethic shown as he helped Wells—in his “Undercover” persona of “James”—learn on the job. So, when Wells revealed who he really was at the end of the show, he also told Jesus that ADT wanted to reward him.

“You told me about your hardships and how hard you were working and we’d like to do something special for your daughter,” Wells said.

He said Jesus would get $10,000 to start an education fund for his daughter, and $25,000 for his family.

Jesus appeared overcome. “It’s too much … thank you,” he told Wells.

The technician used the family money to move into a “dream home,” according to news reports.

Boca Raton-based ADT has 16,000 employees, and it’s not known what salary Jesus earns. But Glassdoor, a salary web site, lists ADT employees' average salary as $44,527, higher than the national average of $41,000, according to the Aol Jobs web site.

Authorities closing in on marathon terrorist suspect?

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Updated 3:40 p.m. April 17

Both CNN and the Boston Globe on Wednesday, April 17 reported that a suspect has been identified in the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing and that an arrest has been made or is imminent. Both backed off of that assertion about an hour later, and the Boston Police made a statement saying that no arrest had been made.

From the Globe:
“ …authorities have an image of a suspect carrying, and perhaps dropping, a black bag at the second bombing scene on Boylston Street, outside of the Forum restaurant.
Investigators are “very close” in the investigation, said the official, who declined to be named.That official said authorities may publicize their finding as early as this afternoon.The same official also said a surveillance camera at Lord & Taylor, located directly across the street, has provided clear video of the area, though it was unclear whether the image of the suspect was taken from that camera.  “The camera from Lord & Taylor is the best source of video so far,” said Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “All I know is that they are making progress.”

Most experts hope that crucial information will be gleaned from video—footage from city surveillance systems, local businesses and videos from the smartphones of those watching the marathon.

This morning the LA Times reported that analysts from the FBI are “sifting through more than 10 terabytes of data for clues about who might have placed the bombs near the finish line. The data include call logs collected by cellphone towers along the marathon route and surveillance footage collected by city cameras, local businesses, gas stations, media outlets and spectators who volunteered to provide their videos and snap shots, said the federal law enforcement source.
The FBI has flown analysts from field offices across the country to Boston to watch and log hundreds of hours of video, he said.

I asked Amit Gavish, GM, Americas, BriefCam, via email, what he thought the prospects were for finding clues in the various video footage taken in the area of the finish line. In addition to working for Briefcam, a manufacturer of video synopsis systems which enable the very quick review of hours of video [],
Gavish, is a CPP, with 16 years of security and military experience in the U.S. and Israel. He served as the Deputy Director of Security at the Office of the President of the State Israel and was in charge of physical and information security. Before joining BriefCam, Gavish was a risk management consultant specializing in risk assessment, development of emergency plans and training programs.

Gavish said it will be important to look at video footage taken days before the marathon: “In my opinion, the person was there before. The person who did this most likely did some dry runs before the event, even days before and probably was there hours before the event.”

He said the footage from Monday is likely “crowded to the point where you can’t see who put the device at the scene, and you have to go back a few days prior and see who was there … who looked suspicious, who was just walking by or loitering.”

He said there “are hundreds of cameras that could potentially have something. There are good cameras there—Boston PD, public cameras, stores in the neighborhood—but part of the effectiveness of the investigation is how fast you can get to something that you can work on,” he said.

I also did an email interview with Zvika Ashani, CTO of Agent Video Intelligence (Agent Vi). I asked Ashani how a product like Agent Video’s VI-Search would  examine video from multiple sources.

Vi-Search can be “used in an offline mode on cameras that are not part of a large pre-installed surveillance system. For example, video can be retrieved from a store or a gas station, which is in the vicinity of the event. This video can then be quickly processed by the software (at a rate of about 10x) and then searched using the same query structure.”

 
 

Video surveillance holds the key in Boston bomb probe

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Marcus Dunn was late for the phone call Tuesday morning, but there was no need to apologize (although he did so anyway). As director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, he had been in a meeting to discuss the bombings in Boston and it ran longer than expected.

Our conversation—we speak every month about legislative issues affecting the industry—quickly turned to Monday’s deadly attack. Less than 24 hours had passed and speculation was rampant about who had done it and why. There were few new facts, but police had started to sift through surveillance video that likely will be key to solving the crime.

That provided a silver lining, however slim, for Dunn.

“When these things happen, despite all the craziness, there’s a little bit of pride in being with an organization that often prevents these types of things or plays a large role in apprehending those responsible,” he said. “There are some critics of the technology and how there are cameras on the streets, but I think we’ve seen time and time again that they’re effective in preventing crime and certainly very effective in capturing perpetrators.”

Dunn said that was the case after bombs killed 52 people aboard three London trains and a city bus on July 7, 2005. The examination of CCTV images helped investigators identify the suicide bombers and arrest others connected to the attacks.

“We’re trying to determine what was deployed in the area in Boston and if a [SIA] member company had equipment deployed there,” Dunn said. “In London, it’s just decked out—there are cameras everywhere. That’s what they used [in 2005]. They were able to go through the surveillance footage very quickly.”

In the aftermath of Monday’s attack, there was also the realization that “soft targets” like the Boston Marathon will always be vulnerable. No matter what security precautions are taken, the risk can never be eliminated—at least not in a free society. With it comes a loss of innocence that deepens the grief.

“The marathon is one of those things that is very open, you can come and go,” Dunn said. “Those days are gone now.”

After SIA’s meeting Tuesday morning, CEO Don Erickson—who is also a marathon runner—echoed the thoughts of many with the following statement:
 
“As someone who has personally experienced the strong community spirit that exists on marathon days, I am incredibly saddened by the horrific events that tragically occurred yesterday in Boston. On behalf of SIA, our thoughts and prayers are extended to those who were injured and to the families of those who lost their lives on what should have been a day of accomplishment and excitement for the city of Boston. We extend our thanks to the first responders who acted so quickly to help the victims of this attack.”

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