On the Waterfront: Improvements in Visual Surveillance Systems

Security surveillance can be accomplished by a variety of means, but advances in technology have been making some of those means more efficient than others. The security officer walking a prescribed beat and punching a watch clock has in many situations been replaced by closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. In many industrial facilities today, security officers are still sitting in front of banks of monitors, watching input from CCTV cameras. Emerging technology may soon change this picture, particularly in the maritime environment, to one officer watching a console displaying data develop from analysis of video content, or what is called intelligent video. Personnel costs represent an expensive line item—frequently the single most expensive line item–in a company’s or organization’s overall security budget. In addition to hourly wages, overtime and holiday pay, shift differential, and the health, retirement, and other benefits available to all facility employees, the port facility security manager faced with a choice between hiring fulltime employee guards or contract personnel–or pursuing other options–must consider a number of other factors before making a final decision. Those other factors usually include substantial initial and ongoing training to meet state regulatory requirements, uniform costs, union dues and/or state license fees, background investigation costs, and procurement of a variety of equipment (including but not limited to radios, flashlights, and other-than-lethal weapons). To reduce the costs associated with having a large guard force on the company payroll, many firms have replaced at least some of the guards with CCTVs, and use their full- or part-time security personnel primarily to watch the monitors and respond to displayed incidents and breaches of security. Cost, Storage, and Other Problems Until about five years ago, most CCTV systems consisted of cameras attached to a multiplexer (a device that transfers images from multiple cameras into a single video feed). The camera images were fed into a monitor (or to several monitors or a time-lapse VCR) for recording onto tapes. To ensure reliability, the tapes had to be changed on a regular basis and/or replaced when worn; security professionals also recommended that the VCRs themselves be replaced every two years. Facilities that needed to archive their security tapes were often faced, therefore, with some serious storage problems. These older analog systems have largely been replaced by digital CCTV systems. “Digital CCTV surveillance uses current personal computer [PC] technology to digitize the CCTV camera images and compress them into a PC- friendly format. These digital images can then be stored on a PC’s hard disk drive,“ said Joss Cohen, a United Kingdom digital surveillance expert and webmaster of ezCCTV.com. “As the digital CCTV images are stored on a computer’s hard drive it is possible to save digital CCTV footage and access it speedily and easily,” he continued. Digital CCTV also has a major advantage over analog CCTV systems, Cohen pointed out, “because the [digital] images are of a far higher resolution. “ In digital CCTV, images are recorded on a digital video recorder (DVR) capable of saving the images to a PC – without the loss of resolution that usually occurs with the copying of VCR tapes. High-risk/high-consequence maritime facilities such as refineries, chemical plants, and passenger ferry docks are subject to new maritime security regulations that require security measures that must be upgraded and enhanced when port-security—also called MARSEC, or maritime-security—levels increase. These facilities, many of which are characterized by large perimeters and/or multiple points of entry, require systems, therefore, that are not only cost-effective and friendly to business activity, but also effective in preventing security incidents and breaches. “Both Boring and Mezmerizing” One problem with the CCTV system is the requirement that, to be useful, the data that the camera records must be assessed by a man (or woman) in the loop; in other words, by the system operators. Before the invention of intelligent video, the making of these assessments was one of the most important duties of the guard force. Unfortunately, a number of reliable studies—including several carried out by the Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) in New Mexico–showed that guard effectiveness at detecting suspicious events while watching multiple monitors declines substantially after 60 minutes; this is true even if the watchers are told to expect the suspicious events. “These studies demonstrated,” said the SNL’s  Mary W. Green (in Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools, a 1999 National Institute of Justice report), “that such a task, even when assigned to a person who is dedicated and well-intentioned, will not support an effective security system. After only 20 minutes of watching and evaluating monitor screens, the attention of most individuals … degenerated to well below acceptable levels. Monitoring video screens is both boring and mesmerizing. There is no intellectually engaging stimuli, such as when watching a television program.” Intelligent video provides one practical solution for the problem of the need for constant human attention. Video content analysis, or intelligent video, uses a spectrum of software-based technologies to monitor video and to sound (or flash) an alert when suspicious activity has been detected. Intelligent video is often deployed in sites in which there is a need not only for perimeter surveillance itself but also for asset surveillance and/or restricted-area surveillance within the perimeter. In operation, the intelligent-video system compares the pixel activity on each frame of each camera monitored by the system, and uses detection-software algorithms to determine if an object that has been detected falls within the parameters postulated for “a suspicious object or event.” Alert boxes and information about the object or event detected–for example, the type of object and its speed, size, and location–overlay the image of the object as it appears on a console or monitor. Don Campbell of VistaScape Security Systems, a provider of intelligent security systems, explains (in Designing for Automated Wide-Area Surveillance: Principles of Intelligent Video Design for Critical Infrastructure Protection) that, with standard CCTV, security guards need high-resolution pan-tilt-zoom cameras to have a reasonably high likelihood of recognizing a suspicious object or activity. For maximum effectiveness, the CCTV cameras are positioned to have a close view of areas where suspicious activity seems most likely to occur. In intelligent video design, though, the most important factor in camera placement is the ability to cover a maximum area with a single camera. A False-Alarm-Filter Bonus VistaScape already has customers for the company’s surveillance systems in six of the 10 busiest ports throughout the United States. One of the company’s systems—installed at the Port of Long Beach (Calif.), the nation’s second busiest port–incorporates several other major sensor modes and technologies such as radar, global positioning system (GPS), radio frequencyentification (RFID), chemical, and biological sensors. “If a fence sensor is tripped,” said Wade Coleman of VistaScape, “the software will slew the nearest pan-tilt-zoom camera to that area and give the user control so that … [he or she] can see if it [the object detected] is an intruder or just an animal.” The same system can be tuned to filter out false alarms, according to company officials, from environmental causes such as the wake of a boat or the movement of ice on water. The system’s software has threat levels built into it that can be geared to the MARSEC level, a capability that allows the facility to instantly escalate the security measures throughout the entire area under surveillance. It seems clear that maritime-security professionals who are considering converting to systems using intelligent video should at least factor in the return on investment (ROI) of the new system. An excellent study on this subject is an article–ROI Inside, in the September 2005 issue of CSO Magazine–by Scott Berinato. In 2000, when digital video surveillance equipment was new on the market, as Berinato notes, Intel Corporation’s security manager, Allen Rude, began a painstaking ROI study to justify the cost of replacing Intel’s CCTV system with a digital system. Rude eventually decided on and eventually got his digital system. Berinato provides some of the calculations behind Rude’s ROI decision, and in his article implicitly points out that the chief security officers (CSOs) of major corporations face the same arguments and hurdles that the CSOs of smaller companies–and port facility security officers (FSOs)–also face. Asked to speculate about the future of video content analysis, Wade Coleman said that, “In a sense, we are successfully making cameras into sensors. Yet even with intelligence at the camera level, there must be a situational awareness component at the enterprise level to manage all the alarms and data these sensors will generate.” 


Digital Surveillance & CCTV Camera Specialists http://www.ezCCTV.com 

Green, Mary W. Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools http://www.ncjrs.org/school/178265.pdf 

VistaScape Security Systems http://www.vistascape.com/about.htm 

Berinato, Scott. ROI Inside. 

CSO Magazine (used with permission) http://www.csoonline.com/read/090105/roi_3826.html(LINK NO LONGER ACTIVE) 



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