By Randy Fountain
Security features are often what sets one self-storage facility apart from another, and video surveillance is an important part of any security solution. Choosing a quality system, planning the placement of your cameras, and understanding the features of your equipment are all important elements of this powerful crime deterrent and sales tool.
For a long time, video surveillance existed as minor variations on a common theme. Cameras were analog, and resolution was measured in TV lines (TVL). Standard broadcast television (before signals went digital) was 480TVL. I saw some standard analog cameras get up into the 750TVL range, but that’s as good as they got. There was no zooming in to get a clear image. There simply wasn’t enough data being captured by the camera.
Things have changed in recent years. High-definition (HD) analog and fully digital Internet-protocol (IP) cameras have become a more affordable solution.
HD cameras are packing more data into an analog signal transmission over standard co-axial cable. These cameras are a great option for an existing self-storage facility looking to update its video surveillance without having to completely pull new wire. The cameras use different compression and transmission protocols with a compatible digital video recorder to convert the signal into viewable images.
Fully digital or IP cameras have revolutionized the way video surveillance can be deployed. Each camera becomes its own individually addressed network device and, with the use of switches, you no longer need run a single continuous cable from the recorder to each and every camera.
The main obstacles to overcome in a fully digital surveillance landscape are the Ethernet signal distance limitations and bandwidth constraints. Bandwidth is the largest obstacle to digital video feed. Megapixel video chews up a lot of bandwidth. Standard “10/100” megabits per second networks simply can’t keep up with the amount of data that needs to be transmitted.
Gigabit networks are much better at transmitting all the data, but there still needs to be load balancing and an awareness of distance limitations. Gigabit switches will need to be employed throughout to act as signal repeaters/boosters. Because all this data transmission is digital and network-based, it’s also possible for the savvy professional to employ wireless data transmission to loop in remote or hard-to-reach locations.
There are three main questions that will help you determine the type of surveillance system you need:
1. What are you trying to view? Your answer to this question allows your surveillance professional to determine the specific camera and lens equipment you’ll need. Are you looking down long hallways with a narrow field of view and long distances? Are you looking out over wide open fields of parked vehicles with a wide field of view and long distances? Or are you watching driveways between buildings, with a wide view but relatively short distances?
2. What kind of coverage do you want? This will help your surveillance professional determine how many cameras you’ll need. Are you looking to cover every hall, corner and blind spot? Or do you need a more basic level of coverage, with emphasis on the office, points of access and high-traffic areas?
3. What’s your budget? This is the question every security professional hates the most. Many people start with a budget and allow it to dictate the type of equipment they use. This nearly always lead to an inadequate system that will underperform.
In security, you get what you pay for. Every decision-maker may have an idea of what he wants and is willing to pay. Unfortunately, these two things are almost never the same. If you’re truly looking to secure your facility with functional video surveillance, let budget be your last consideration. You’ll be much happier with the system you get, especially when there’s an incident and you have high-quality recorded footage.
Placement and Usage
Once you’ve decided on a system, you need to consider camera placement and use. The question of where to place cameras is going to be largely determined by the first two questions asked above: What are you trying to view, and what kind of coverage do you want? You also need to consider the “how” of placement, not just the “where.” Surprisingly, this can make a large difference in the usability and functionality of your system.
First, please note that any good system will use motion detection. This feature will minimize the amount of footage recorded and maximize your video storage. However, make sure your point of installation is solid to avoid activating this feature unnecessarily.
For example, let’s say you want to watch over a parking lot. Some professionals might recommend putting a camera on a pole to view the area. While poles are a cheap and easy way to gain the height you need, there can be consequences. Wind is a concern, as it can cause the pole to shake. This leads to a wiggling camera, which is detected as motion by the video recorder. What you get is hours of needless video footage, making it harder to find an event you might be seeking. This effect can also be caused by mounting a camera to flimsy siding on a building.
Another thing to consider is whether there any sources of frequent motion in the camera’s field of view. Traffic on a busy street or trees blowing in the wind can set off motion detection and cause unnecessary recording.
In most cases, this can be solved in the recorder software with a feature called “masking,” which will allow you to mask off sections of the viewable area. Just be careful, as you’re effectively creating dead zones on the camera view. If you find that masking is taking over or your cameras are still recording even with the masking setup, perhaps some plant trimming is in order. Otherwise, it may be a sign the camera placement is wrong.
Another factor that’s often overlooked when choosing outdoor camera placement is sunrise and sunset. If not angled and adjusted properly, east- and west-facing cameras can produce footage that’s completely washed out by the sun at certain times of year. Avoid putting your cameras here because they’ll be completely useless due to sun glare for at least a couple hours each day.
Business operators often want to know, “What’s the single most important factor in a good security setup?” My answer without hesitation is always “good lighting.” There are all kinds of low-light and infrared (IR) cameras available, and many are quite good; but there’s no substitute for good lighting. Low-light and IR cameras are almost always in black-and-white mode because they’re trying to get as much visual information as possible. The view can become quite grainy, leading to a less than optimal image quality.
IR is only good as far as the IR LEDs can “illuminate.” If you’re trying to view a long range or large space, it just isn’t going to cut it. Upgrade your lighting to high-efficiency LED fixtures, and get away from sodium or sodium-halide bulbs. Not only will you save money on energy costs, you’ll be amazed at the video-quality difference in your night-time cameras.
The images you collect with your video-surveillance system will often be used to review a crime or accident. If you budget for a quality product and carefully plan your camera locations, it will maximize the investigative, deterrent value of your system and provide you with a powerful sales tool.
Randy Fountain has worked in the self-storage industry for more than 15 years. Starting his career at QuikStor Security & Software in 1999, he took time away to manage a growing portfolio of storage facilities in Los Angeles. As QuikStor expanded its operation, he rejoined the team as a business-development consultant to share his extensive experience in software, security and storage operation. To reach him, call 818.922.2000; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.quikstor.com.