As video surveillance, alarm, and access control systems become more sophisticated, security dealers are discovering that they can offer many unique and useful new capabilities to their customers by integrating video with their alarm and access control systems.

The word integration here means much more than simply treating cameras as just one more element of a system. In a fully integrated system, the video camera has an intelligent communication link with the alarm or access control components; multiple devices can work as intelligent team members to provide valuable new capabilities.

“What it gives you is the ability to not only know something took place, but to identify who, what, when and where,” says Joseph Riotto, president of Advanced Video Surveillance Inc., Fairfield, N.J.

Riotto cites the example of an evidence room at a police station. By flagging the recorded output from the video camera whenever someone uses the access control system to enter the evidence room, says Riotto, authorities would not just be able to know that someone attempted to tamper with evidence. They would also be able to see who it was – even if that person were using someone else’s access card.

Video integration isn’t just for commercial and governmental installations. Integrating video with an alarm system can be critical for homeowners, especially in municipalities where police will no longer dispatch unless an alarm is verified. One way of verifying an alarm is to install a module with a built-in modem or a network camera and external modem. With either of these options, the modem sends an image from the video camera when an alarm is tripped. The image can be sent to a central station or to the homeowner’s cellular phone or other device.

For dealers, video integration can offer the sizzle that helps to make a sale and improve customer satisfaction. It also can be offered as a system upgrade to existing customers who may have an alarm or access control system without video or vice-versa – or to those who have video and alarm systems that aren’t integrated, but instead operate as two separate, independent systems.

“A big part of our market is in upgrades,” says Edward Goldberg, president of Alscan Inc., a Birmingham, Ala.-based systems integrator. By explaining the benefits, Alscan salespeople often can persuade a customer to upgrade from a tape-based video archiving system to a more sophisticated system based on a digital video recorder (DVR).

Integrating video with an alarm or access control system can take one of two basic forms, depending on a customer’s needs and on which device is primarily responsible for controlling the integration. The integrated system can be based on either a DVR or on remote monitoring and verification capability built into a network video camera or a separate module.

By integrating video with an alarm system, the images archived on the DVR can be flagged when the door contact is tripped, for example.

DVR-Based Systems

DVR-based systems are most appropriate for businesses that want to archive the output from their video cameras or who already are archiving that material on an older videotape-based system. DVR-based systems are especially well-suited for businesses with around-the-clock security staff.

DVRs from a number of manufacturers (sometimes used in combination with a matrix switching system) provide the intelligence to control multiple cameras. The input from those cameras is stored on the DVR’s internal hard drive, and the recorded input from any camera in the system can be flagged in response to an alarm or other condition.

Many DVRs can be connected to a local or wide area data network so that their output may be viewed from any network-connected computer. Through the computer interface, authorized users can quickly select the archives that they wish to view. A DVR’s network connection also can be used to send images to a central station or to a customer’s cell phone or other device in response to certain conditions.

Depending on the manufacturer and model, DVRs also may provide additional features (either on their own or in combination with a matrix switching system), such as the ability to control pan/tilt/zoom functionality on a video camera in response to system conditions. This could be used to zoom in on an intruder going through a doorway, for example. Another feature on some DVRs is an internal motion detector that senses when the lighting in the image from one of its attached cameras changes, and can flag archives recorded at the time the motion is detected.

Some DVRs provide additional benefits when used with specific alarm or access control systems, often from the same manufacturer. For example, in proprietary systems, the data stream that powers the alarm keypad – and which contains key information about alarm and fault conditions – can be used to deliver that same information to the DVR.

With non-proprietary systems, installation may be more complicated. In that situation, installers typically have to connect dry contacts from individual sensors (or from dry contacts within some control panels) to inputs on the DVR or matrix switch. Often, however, mixing non-proprietary equipment may be the only feasible solution – especially for retrofit installations.

If an access control system is part of the integrated system, it typically becomes the master controller. In that situation, installers may interconnect the serial ports found on both the control unit of the access system and the DVR (although that may entail a distance limitation between the two devices). Alternatively, some DVRs and access control systems can be interconnected via a local or wide area network, offering greater flexibility. If the integrated system includes an alarm system, the alarm controller typically would be connected to the DVR through the access system control unit.

For residential customers and some small businesses, video integration is likely to take a different form. These customers may have little need or desire to archive video images. But they may still benefit from having an integrated system with the ability to send video images to a central station or cell phone in response to an alarm or other condition.

For such customers, a DVR-based option may add unnecessary cost. Instead, there are two lower-cost options. Where only a single camera is needed, dealers may be able to use a network camera that can use internal motion detection (or can accept a dry contact input) to trigger an external modem to send an image to a home or business owner’s computer or cell phone. A DSL, cable or conventional modem can be used.

Alternatively, one or more conventional video cameras can be used with a remote monitoring and verification module that has a built-in modem. Such modules interconnect an alarm system with the cameras and can be programmed to dial out and send a video image when an alarm condition occurs.

Here, too, there may be benefits from using an alarm system and verification module from a single supplier. For example, in a proprietary system, a single call might send out both an alarm signal and a video image to a central station. When devices from different vendors are used, the same task might require two separate calls.

Software installed at the central station displays the video images on the same computer screen where the alarm and access control information is sent. The central station also can archive the video images. Although central stations equipped to handle video were relatively rare just a few years ago, today many of them have added that capability.

In the future, we may find ourselves talking less and less about integrated systems, and more and more about integrated devices. “I think we’re a few years out on it, but as time moves on, we’ll see the integration of the DVR and the host computer for access control onto one platform,” predicts Kurt Will, vice president of sales for systems integrator Will Electronics in St. Louis.

Lessons from the Field

What advice do systems integrators have for dealers making their first forays into integrating video with alarm or access control systems?

Successful systems integration begins with the salesperson’s first exchanges with a potential customer.

“Don’t be rushed by the customers,” advises Joseph Riotto, president of Advanced Video Surveillance of Fairfield, N.J. “Take the time to ask specifically what they want to see and view and which doors are more critical than others. Then give them a feel for the dollar figure on what it would cost per door.”

“Make sure you don’t oversell,” says Edward Goldberg, president of systems integrator Alscan Inc. in Birmingham, Ala. That advice is particularly important when discussing remote monitoring and verification capability, Goldberg adds. “The customer has to understand that he has to have a way to transmit the images – and that it can be awfully slow over some modems.”

Correctly specifying a job also can be critical. Dealers should be particularly careful in estimating labor costs. “You can really lose on the labor,” Goldberg says. “Sometimes you have to go back several times to make sure the customer knows how to do everything.”

The wide range of capabilities available on equipment from different manufacturers may drive some dealers to install a wide variety of devices. But Kurt Will, vice president of sales for systems integrator Will Electronics in St. Louis, cautions against it. Technical support, he says, can become complicated when neither vendor knows the other’s equipment well.

“When we have the choice, we always try to stay on the same platform,” Will adds.