The conversion of video surveillance systems from analog to digital is well underway, according to a recent SDM survey of security managers who are the final end users of security systems. Systems offering surveillance from a local area network or the ability to integrate with alarm or access control systems also are becoming more commonplace. Security managers offer a variety of reasons for the shift towards digital cameras and DVRs.

“We wanted to be able to work with this equipment for the next three to four years and digital gave us the best options, especially if we want to eventually monitor the system through the Internet,” says Julian Ortiz, security director for Sara Lee in Storm Lake, Iowa.

Others want the ability to capture images in digital form so that they can be shared with law enforcement. As a director for Kyle Central Credit Union in South Milwaukee, Wis., Ross Daharsh is spearheading efforts to upgrade the video surveillance system for the organization, which doesn’t have a dedicated security manager. “We wanted digital because it would be quickly transferable to the police,” Daharsh says.

Cameras are perhaps the most frequently purchased component of a video system. Many security managers say they add cameras to their systems frequently as changes are made around the coverage area – and some organizations, such as Sara Lee, automatically replace cameras after five years. When asked to name the one feature that they would most like to change about their video system, “better quality cameras,” named by 29 percent of respondents to SDM’s survey, came in at the top of the list. Another 15 percent said “more outdoor cameras” and 7 percent said “more indoor cameras.”

Increasingly, the cameras chosen are digital. Seventy-one percent of respondents in SDM’s survey say they plan to buy digital cameras within the next 12 months – compared with only 18.5 percent planning to buy analog cameras.

In making decisions about cameras, pan-tilt-zoom capability is another important feature for some security managers. Richard Murphy, vice president of operations for Executive Protection Security Services in Tinley Park, Ill. considers the “ability to follow movement with a joystick and move the camera to follow a suspect” to be one of the most important features of a video surveillance system.

One security manager is using fewer pan-tilt-zoom cameras, however. The reason relates to the addition of a DVR with internal motion detection to the system and to the integration of the organization’s video and intrusion protection systems. Both of those system enhancements provide the capability to easily capture several seconds of video immediately prior to when motion is detected or an alarm occurs. Fixed cameras are more suitable for that purpose, says the program manager for security initiatives and physical security at a large non-profit organization in the Midwest, who asked not to be identified by name. “When you make that tie-in, it’s better to have the camera pointing at the door and not doing double or triple or quadruple duty,” he says.

Some security managers are taking a “wait and see” attitude toward networking their video systems, particularly when it comes to providing surveillance over a wide area network or the Internet. At Sara Lee, Ortiz says, security personnel have taken pains to ensure that their systems can easily upgrade to provide that capability, but that they won’t add it until they are certain that firewall and congestion concerns have been fully addressed.


Despite such concerns, however, respondents to SDM’s survey expressed substantial interest in adding networking capability. Fifteen percent of respondents named “the ability to view cameras remotely” as the one thing they would most like to change about their video system.

Those that do take the plunge may find that some of the biggest challenges involve coordinating which personnel should have remote surveillance capability. Security managers also must accept that, in providing remote surveillance capability, they may need to develop a new mindset. “If some level of trust has to be shared, share that trust ungrudgingly,” says Walter Schultz, school resource officer for Chartiers Valley School District in Bridgeville, Pa., which connected several locations via a fiber network and also enabled the police department to connect to the system.

Integrating an organization’s video system with an alarm or access control system also can be a major undertaking. But security managers seem to easily see the benefits of such a move.

The security program director for the Midwestern non-profit welcomes the enhanced ability to easily identify and capture key events that comes from system integration. “We’ve begun to associate alarms and video,” he says. “When an alarm occurs, video is made available right to the security officer. When we have a door alarm, we can see the person walking up to the door and follow that individual via different cameras to determine if he’s an authorized individual.”

The program director anticipates that the integrated system will need continued fine-tuning, however. “It may take as long as two years to determine how to best associate cameras with a particular alarm. A human has to think through it and tell the system what to do.”

Selection factors

To varying degrees, most every security manager relies on a systems integrator – and most security managers offer similar advice to those integrators. “Be simple and clear; don’t tell us more than we want to hear,” Schultz says.

Security managers rely heavily on their systems integrators to help ensure that video systems meet their most important selection criteria. Reliability was chosen by 38 percent of respondents to SDM’s survey as the single most important purchase consideration, while image quality was named by 30 percent. “I want to let them know what I want to see and let the experts figure out what will work,” Schultz says.

Schultz offers up a wish list of future enhancements that he’d like to add to the Chartiers system, including the ability to integrate more and more capabilities, such as building control, lighting and heating.