A modern-day security solution wins the favor of self-storage operators.

June 13, 2008

9 Min Read
Digital Video Surveillance: A Modern Security Solution

Video surveillance was first used by the military in the 1940s. In the early ’70s, analog cameras or closed-circuit television (CCTV) prevailed in the market, giving criminals second thoughts.

As the name implies, CCTV is a closed system. Video is transmitted to a limited set of monitors using coaxial cables. Today, the technology has evolved to digital to the point that it has truly revolutionized video surveillance. Digital video is dominating modern-day security for homes, businesses and public entities. In this article, we’ll take a look at why digital video has become so widespread, its advantages and costs.

What Is Digital Video Surveillance?

The continuously increasing computing powers of personal computers (PCs), the greater availability of high-speed Internet access, networks, and the advent of wireless technology have propelled the emergence and popularity of digital video surveillance. CCTV or analog systems transmit video to specific local monitors for viewing and are confined to that physical location. Digital video systems, however, can be transmitted to multiple viewing and/or storage sites by utilizing network infrastructures and IP (Internet Protocol) technology to transmit video over a network or the Internet. Before the digital world, CCTV cameras were hooked up to a VCR for recording video. Today, the same CCTV cameras can be digitized using a digital video recorder (DVR), network video recorder (NVR) or network DVR.

What’ so great about digital? Going digital has added more functionality and flexibility to video surveillance. Video can now be transmitted wirelessly. Camera systems are no longer tethered to cables, thus, larger areas and locations—once impossible to cover due to lack of connectivity—can now be covered by cameras without degradation of video quality. Video can now be stored digitally without the need for a massive amount of ancient VCR tapes. These systems also allow remote access to cameras using a PC connected to the network or the Internet, or even your personal cell phone.

A new breed of digital camera, the IP or network camera has emerged in the last few years. IP cameras operate over a computer network. No special recording box is required—any PC can be used as a recording mechanism. These cameras produce high-quality images. Some have advanced features that include tools such as video analytics, compression technologies, remote video monitoring and enhanced search capabilities. With these technologies, finding specific events or points in time are faster, easier and more economical.

Why Change to Digital Video Surveillance?

The most common security measures employed by self-storage companies are access control, alarm systems, perimeter barriers, video surveillance and traditional guard services. Compared to alarm systems, video surveillance is simply more effective. Police have been understandably reluctant, slow at best, to respond to reported alarms due to their high frequency.

In fact, they are so common that the expression itself—false alarm—has rapidly become a cliché in modern English. Owners of alarm systems have even been fined for false alarms in many municipalities. Video surveillance, whether performed by a property owner or a central monitoring station, provides live visual verification, thus eliminating false alarms.

Traditional guard services are still effective, but can be cost-prohibitive and unreliable. In areas with low labor rates or high cost of living, guards might be tempted to look the other way for a piece of the action.

CCTV technology has been around for years and will probably survive for many more. But the major movement currently in the security field is the convergence of physical security and information technology (IT), exemplified by the proliferation of digital video surveillance.

Costs, Choices and Common Sense

Whatever you decide for your security system, make sure that it’s future-proof. Don’t invest in equipment and systems that will be outdated or obsolete in just a few years. Long-term overall cost must be taken into consideration as well as initial expense. CCTV cameras may be relatively cheap compared to IP cameras, but over time, it will be more costly to repair equipment that is nearing extinction. As with any newer technology, as it matures, IP camera prices and cost of ownership will be driven down.

Total deployment costs and overall return on investment must also be taken into consideration. Although CCTV cameras may be cheaper, they are often more expensive to deploy. Expensive coaxial cables typically cost 30 percent to 40 percent more than a high-quality network cable. One coax cable must be attached to each and every camera and threaded to a multiplexer, which requires another coax cable feed from the multiplexer to the monitoring screen or recording device. IP cameras use Ethernet cable. One cable can forward images simultaneously from hundreds of cameras within the network.

Whether you flip through the Yellow Pages or search the Internet for digital video surveillance, you will face hundreds of choices. Beware of integrators selling you on a “digital system.” When they sell you a DVR or NVR system, only the recording medium is digital—the camera is still analog or CCTV. A true digital video surveillance setup consists of IP cameras that can be networked and generally provide higher-quality images. Any PC or server can be used as the recording medium.

If you have already invested thousands into an analog camera system don’t despair! In order for this older technology to benefit from all the functionalities of digital technology, CCTV signals can be digitized to mimic the features of IP cameras using video servers or encoders. Only then can a CCTV system be truly networkable and incorporated into a centralized management system.

Centralized management system of cameras allows a single access log in to all your cameras within the network. Unlike DVR systems, where you need to log in separately to every box, you can view all your IP cameras in one dashboard with one log in.

Applications for the Self-Storage Industry

Security. Providing security is a no-brainer. The presence alone of security cameras on your property is a significant form of deterrence. Criminals will shy away from properties with good camera coverage. However, some reckless or desperate criminals will circumvent cameras with disguises, or by covering or destroying cameras. Sure, these activities are recorded. The problem is it’s after the fact. By the time the incident is reviewed, the crime has already been committed and the criminal is long gone.

The only way cameras can be completely effective is when they are consistently monitored. As a busy property owner or manager, who has the time for that? Hiring a security guard to watch the cameras is cost-prohibitive. Not to mention the costs of equipment, a monitoring station, space and software required to do in-house monitoring.

You may not be responsible for a tenants’ property loss, but the probability approaches certainty that you will lose that tenant if you didn’t have adequate security to protect his valuables. Even worse, that customer will be sharing his negative opinion of your facility and won’t recommend your facility to friends and relatives.

There are some companies that offer real-time, digital video surveillance via the Internet at a fraction of the cost of hiring your own dedicated people or a security guard to monitor cameras. This is the newest and most cost-effective way to protect your property and realize the full potential of your investment in a digital IP camera system.

New Residual Revenue. There is very little differentiation in the self-storage industry. You can be creative by employing security as a marketing tool to create that differentiation—and justifiably charging a premium for that difference. Here’s an example. Say you have a 200-unit facility. Designate a “maximum security” area for customers that store more than just old clothes or furniture. Start small. Let customer acceptance finance the growth—two or three cameras can cover a significant number of units—and have a remote surveillance company monitor the cameras in real-time during off hours. You won’t need to hire a dedicated person to monitor the cameras.

Every tenant welcomes extra security, but not everyone is willing to pay a premium. You can market this special section of your facility to customers that store expensive jewelry, cars or use storage units for warehousing or inventory overflow. The shared cost of real-time video monitoring will not be a big burden when spread over several tenants.

Now, if you really want a state-of-the-art storage facility, you can equip certain units with inexpensive IP cameras and offer your customers the ability to access their own camera remotely, 24/7, wherever there is an Internet connection. Or if they don’t have the time, have a video surveillance company monitor it for them. With growing competition in a homogeneous industry, you need to be creative in differentiating your facility from the rest.

Self-serve kiosks. The concept of self-serve kiosks started with ATMs, self-serve checkouts at retail stores, and pay-at-the-pump gas stations. This concept has transferred to the self-storage industry.

Kiosks in the industry became popular in late 2003 as the newest way to increase operational efficiency and profitability. Kiosks extend a facility’s office hours—without having to hire a manager. New customers or existing customers can transact business 24 hours a day without human interaction. Some of these kiosks have built-in cameras.

But who is monitoring these cameras? Unless an area is crime-infested, event-based video monitoring may be more cost-effective for kiosks. How does this work? The remote surveillance company will only view the camera when motion is detected in areas you designate.

Unmanned facility with remote personnel. Beyond kiosks is the concept of an unmanned facility with remote personnel. In conjunction with kiosks, digital video surveillance allows facility managers to manage their properties remotely. This is highly efficient when you have multiple properties. You can literally see your entire operation in one computer screen view, simultaneously in real time, without having to log on to each individual facility or camera.

Video data you collect will allow you to assess day-to-day activities in your facilities and enable you to compare trends and activities across your properties. You will be able to track your traffic and generate data to help you improve operational efficiencies. With digital video surveillance technology, the possibilities are endless.

Luz A. Berg is the senior vice president of operations and marketing for Iveda Solutions, a full-service IP surveillance company based in Mesa, Ariz. Iveda Solutions specializes in real-time Internet-based video surveillance services using a combination of network cameras, a secure data center and intervention specialists. For information, call 800.385.8616; visit www.ivedasolutions.com.

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