Video Surveillance System Design: Watch Your Step
Hanssen recalls a situation involving a large corporate client, which called with a complaint about its video system going offline. “What happened was that in an attempt to go green, the company was turning off power to sections of the facility,” he recalls. “The integrator had not ensured the cameras were powered by mission critical power, and therefore they were not exempt from those power cycles.”
Hanssen’s recollection points up the need for security dealers and integrators to strive for nothing less than excellence when designing a video surveillance system.
If the system is to be as reliable as intended, dealers and integrators must keep in mind a myriad of considerations, from existing infrastructure to environmental factors to the staff operating the system. In the pages to follow, SDM talks with integrators and other video surveillance system experts about these considerations and much more.
KEYS TO RELIABLE VIDEO SYSTEM DESIGNSAchieving excellence in video system design always starts with understanding the problems the customer wants to solve, says Kurt Will, executive vice president of St. Louis-based Will Electronics, a 53-year-old security integrator of CCTV, access control and intrusion systems.
Once the security dealer or systems integrator has an accurate picture of the problems, they can devise solutions that put cameras in correct positions, create monitoring stations if cameras are going to be actively monitored or recording solutions if customers require the images to be recorded.
Excellent video system design also must take into account proper infrastructure. That means understanding the physical as well as logical layout of any existing system, says Hanssen. His company, Salient Systems, started in medical imaging in 1995, transitioned to video surveillance in 2000 and now focuses on video management systems.
Understanding the existing system’s physical and logical layout means involving clients’ IT departments from the very start or bringing IT resources to the table, Hanssen says.
Mike Kuhn, vice president of business development with Schaumburg, Ill.-based Convergint Technologies, a systems integrator responsible for security, building control systems and fire-life-safety applications, is another observer who stresses the need to meet with the client’s IT department, particularly if tying in to existing systems.
By doing so, the integrator can learn about the various standards that department has established and discuss with the IT staff the standard to which the integrator will need to adhere as the closed circuit TV system is built out, Kuhn says.
“That incorporates switches, cables, jacks, testing procedures used, and all of the things they would have on the network side of their business,” he adds.
Too often overlooked is the fact that environmental factors can impact today’s IT equipment, which have stricter environmental envelopes related to temperature, humidity, airflow, dust, dirt and proper power controls, Hanssen adds.
Taking the system’s environment into full account during the design stage can ensure better, if not optimal, working conditions for equipment, which in turn will translate into better and more reliable systems for the long-term, he says.
Cost-effectiveness is another crucial consideration, says Scott Sereboff, CEO with Dallas-based Veracity USA, specializing in video surveillance applications. “You need to have the video surveillance system designed to provide the maximum coverages with the minimum number of cameras,” Sereboff says.
“You can go into a building and throw up cameras all over the place and get coverage, but you’re going to waste the installer’s time, and the end user’s money,” Sereboff declares. “So the first thing you must look at is actual installation need, and decide on the cameras that will actually cover that need. A combination of standard IP and megapixel cameras will potentially provide 50 percent more coverage with fewer cameras.”
The system design also must take into account that the people operating the system will be not $80-an-hour IT specialists, but security guards toiling for perhaps one-eighth to one-tenth that wage.
“Systems must be designed with the lowest common denominator in mind â€” and that’s the operator of the system,” Sereboff says.
AVOIDING THE PITFALLSAs Hanssen’s recollection at the outset of this article attests, security dealers and systems integrators must sidestep landmines that can undermine efforts to achieve excellence in video systems. Kuhn believes avoiding pitfalls starts with carefully ensuring that the addition of IP-based camera systems does not disrupt a client’s existing business network.
“You’d better know what you’re doing,” he says. “If you start degrading the quality of their data and other business processes, those IT managers are going to come looking for you.
“They’re already hesitant to put any kind of streaming video on their networks, and once you put it on there and start to degrade their business processes, it’s not going to be on there very long,” Hanssen promises. “If you are not properly trained and don’t have the certifications from the manufacturers, you’re going to mess up your first jobs.”
Failure to manage expectations of clients can be another serious stumbling block, Sereboff says. He believes integrators must talk with their clients about what the clients expect from a system design and rein in overly optimistic expectations.
“They will tell you they want the sun and the moon,” he says. “But you have to drill down, and find out what they really want is a nice view of the sky.”
For example, Sereboff says many clients want real-time recorded imagery from their cameras. Their specific request might be to store 30 cameras for 30 days at 25 frames per second. But such a system would necessitate an enormous amount of storage. If the system design instead called for storing 30 cameras for 30 days at five frames per second, the client would reap a huge reduction in cost.
“In order to find out what your customer truly needs, you have to educate them on what they actually want,” Sereboff says. “Because chances are, they don’t actually know what they want.”
From his standpoint, Hanssen believes a common mistake is failing to provide appropriate environments for cameras and other equipment being installed.
In some settings, equipment can be placed in un-air conditioned space, causing it to overheat and shut down. “You must fully understand the current infrastructure in place, as it relates to current production networks and the environment,” he says.
Inability to recognize all potential weak spots in the client’s end-to-end physical security layout also can prove nettlesome, Hanssen says.
For instance, a system design might call for a vandal-resistant dome-covered camera in an area the client believes to be a possible trouble spot, he says. But the same design might overlook a networking closet elsewhere in the system that is not properly secured.
Those intent on disrupting the system could gain access to that closet and unplug the cameras, or plug in a laptop and attack the network.
If not secured, similar mischief could occur back in the server room, where the video management servers could be powered down or unplugged from the network.
When concentrating on physical security, system designers also can overlook IT security, Hanssen adds. “It must be addressed in an intelligent manner,” he says. “Again, you want to involve the customers’ IT departments in determining how best to secure the video surveillance systems from an IT perspective.”
If security dealers and systems integrators listen carefully to what clients are telling them they will use the video for instead of giving them exactly what they think they need, reliable, economical systems and more satisfied customers are bound to result.
SIDEBAR: The Components of ExcellenceChris Goff, senior design consultant with Sonitrol Security Systems of Hartford, Conn., a 37-year-old security provider specializing in school and municipality security, believes achieving excellence in video system design involves paying close attention to the details, which include but are not limited to the following:
Equipment performance. Goff believes in keeping a demonstration kit that includes several types of cameras. A good kit should hold a standard analog camera, a basic IP 640-by-480 camera, a 1.3-megapixel camera and a 5-megapixel camera. A printout detailing the difference among cameras also should be part of the kit.
Equipment limitations. Goff recommends capturing video at the proper record rate for the recommended model in the demonstration kit, which will allow the client to witness proof of performance before installation proceeds.
Review of expected results. The customer should indicate number of days of storage expected, as well as who will have responsibility for network hardware. “You will find in most cases, the client will either provide network hardware, or ask to include specific hardware they will manage after the installation,” Goff says.
“That will leave us responsible for cabling, software and field equipment,” Goff continues. “In cases where a separate network provided by the integrator is desired, the integrator must be capable and certified in network design to install an independent network.”
Recording settings. Balance between camera capabilities (up to 30 images per second) and actual recommended recording rate of 5 to 10 images per second should be discussed, due to the fact recording settings affect the length of storage. Needs and types of storage mediums should be reviewed as well. Technical teams from the software provider are skilled in discussing storage and server requirements.
“It takes multiple meetings and communication to align the expectations, and understand design implications and challenges,” Goff says, adding that this is the best way to achieve the result of common purpose and direction.
SIDEBAR: Look to Clients for InputGaining the right information from clients is crucial to forging excellence in video system design. At its most basic, that information must include what the current video system is being used for, what the client likes and doesn’t like, and what the client expects from a new system, says Scott Sereboff, CEO of Veracity USA, Dallas.
Beyond that, client expectations in terms of functionality, scalability and performance requirements need to be clearly identified before the system design process can begin, adds Cynthia Freschi, president of North American Video, a Brick, N.J.-based security systems integrator.
“In addition, any information on what, if any, existing systems need to be integrated with the new system – including information on existing and new infrastructure – should be mandatory,” Freschi reports.
North American Video looks for key client input at many points, including the site review stage. At the time of initial recommendations, the company expects clients to weigh in with their thoughts about security expectations relative to actual budget.
When presenting its proposals, the company wants clients to discuss their short- and long-term objectives. “This allows us to identify and address specific issues that may affect the longevity of the systems outlined in our proposals,” Freschi observes. “Of these concerns, the need for future system expansion is of most importance.”
For his part, Kurt Will, executive vice president of Will Electronics, St. Louis, believes gaining the desired information from clients can be most difficult when serving larger corporations. “You may be meeting with one individual,” he comments. “But at the same time, you may be expected to meet the expectations of other individuals who are not part of that meeting.”
SIDEBAR: Resources, Education and TrainingA number of helpful resources are available to systems integrators to help them with excellent system design.
“Equipment manufacturers and suppliers are often a good source of technical information relative to the feature/performance attributes of specific products,” says Cynthia Freschi, president of North American Video, Brick, N.J. “It is also advisable you seek out peers in the industry who have experience with the type of system planned, to see what challenges they faced during the design/build process.”
Anixter, a supplier of communications products used to connect voice, video, data and security systems, is an excellent resource about the cable infrastructure side of the business, according to Mike Kuhn, vice president of business development with Convergint Technologies, Schaumburg, Ill. “They can help you, as an integrator, determine the procedures and rules to install the network infrastructure needed to support an IP-based camera system,” he says.
Anixter’s Glenview, Ill., laboratory undertakes independent testing of devices and cables to determine which components deliver the best results when being used to install an IP-based camera system, Kuhn says.
The company tests the cameras of every manufacturer to determine which ones, for instance, provide the best picture quality or perform best in low-light situations.
Education and training resources also abound. One resource used by Convergint Technologies is an online program for technicians provided by CompTIA, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., according to Kuhn.
“It’s an online certification program to teach technicians about terminology and different components making up a network,” Kuhn explains. “You buy seats for your technicians to take the training through the Internet, and they send certification back to you that you’ve passed those courses. It’s a really good curriculum to put your technicians through to give them the knowledge they need â€” without putting them in a classroom.”
Kuhn recommends learning more at www.comptia.org. Organizations such as Security Industry Association (SIA) (www.siaonline.org) and the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) (www.asisonline.org) may provide certificate-level training desired by systems integrators. The latter, for instance, offers the Physical Security Professional (PSP) and Certified Protection Professional (CPP) programs of ASIS, says Kurt Will, executive vice president of Will Electronics, St. Louis.