By Tony Gardner
In the 1940s, the Germans first used closed-circuit video systems to monitor a rocket-launch pad in Peenemunde, Germany. In the decades since, video surveillance has become a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives, from traffic-light cameras to pinhole cameras inside self-storage facility keypads. But how can these new systems benefit your facility? Whats different about the systems of today from those installed by Siemens in Germany during World War II?
In the 1970s and 80s, most video systems consisted of a black-and-white monitor, some form of mechanical multiplexor to display all the cameras onto that single monitor, and perhaps a time-lapse VCR for recording. Finding specific recorded video on the tape was an exercise that tested the most patient of people, and even when found, it was typically too grainy to be worthwhile. It really wasn't until the beginning of the 21st century that affordable and useable video surveillance became available for the self-storage industry.
When it comes to this technology, theres no single right answer as to the "best" system to install. However, there are a number of factors to consider when building a video system for your facility. These include:
- Budget. A self-storage operator could opt for a basic system that covers only a few public areas or have dozens of high-end megapixel cameras installed to cover each hallway.
- Lighting. Is the facility well-lit at night? Just like the human eye, a camera needs some form of light to monitor activity. If lighting is sparse, then the operator should account for that by installing cameras with infrared LEDs built in to allow a camera to see in low-light conditions.
- Area. Is the facility in a high-crime area that requires additional cameras? Is vandalism a concern, or do you have a problem with graffiti on a back wall or alley?
- Competition. This is the equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. If your competitor down the street just installed a high-end video system and is promoting itself as the safest place in town to rent, then youll likely have to do something on par or better to keep from losing prospects or existing tenants.
Of course, there are many other considerations each facility owner must weigh. One thats often overlooked is how the system will be monitored and by whom. Unfortunately, many facility owners install a video system then forget about it, thinking its mere presence is deterrent enough. Others look at it only after a crime or incident has occurred. There are many ways to be interactive with your video system to not only ensure a safe environment for your tenants but to keep your finger on the pulse of the operation.
Some self-storage owners opt for a hands-off approach and hire a central-monitoring station to monitor facility cameras. This service ranges from reactive, when motion is detected during certain hours, up to live viewing of the camera footage 24 hours per day. Understandably, the price for monitoring will vary with the level of service required. As enticing as this type of service may be, it simply doesn't fit into most budgets. That means owners or managers should take steps to be more involved by using the features built into their modern digital-surveillance systems.
For example, many storage facilities without an office make use of technology, such as a kiosk, to help run their operation. That same principle can be used with contemporary video systems. Digital video recorders (DVRs) are all-in-one devices that can become your operational command center by using the following integrated features:
- Remote access. Most of today's DVRs can be accessed remotely via the Internet either through proprietary software installed on a computer or a Web browser such as Internet Explorer. Once connected, users have the ability to view their facilitys live cameras, review recorded video and make configuration changes. This allows owners or managers to jump on their computers from anywhere to instantly view whats going on at their facilities.
- Portable devices. Premium DVRs also permit users to view their cameras via a smartphone or even a tablet device. This allows busy owners who are on the go and not tied to their computers to quickly log in and check on the office staff or facility status.
- DVD and USB recording. In the "old days," video would constantly record onto a VHS tape, which made searching, archiving and providing evidence to investigative authorities difficult. DVRs now record onto a digital hard drive, just like your computer, which allows for increased storage and instant searches. In addition, providing specific recorded events for the police or an insurance company is as easy as burning a copy of it using the integrated DVD burner or an external USB drive. The original copy of the incident is preserved on your DVR.
- Alarm inputs/outputs. This is where system integration really gets exciting. Imagine adding a connection from your perimeter-beam or office-alarm system that will immediately start a corresponding camera to record when triggered. Or how about connecting a siren or strobe light that activates when motion is detected by a given camera? Both of these scenarios are now possible.
- E-mail notifications. Expanding on the alarm inputs/outputs is the ability of the DVR to e-mail you when an event occurs. For instance, if you want to be notified every time a particular camera detects motion during the hours your office is closed, you can set up the system to send a notification e-mail as well as video snapshots taken seconds before, during and after the event.
- Central monitoring software (CMS). If an owner has several facilities, or if a district manager is responsible for more than one facility, it can be cumbersome to log in to multiple facility DVRs. Advanced DVRs offer CMS software that enables a single login for multiple facilities. Owners can even mix and match cameras from various sites onto a single screen, enabling them to view offices from each of their facilities.
- Audio microphone. Watching video is the essence of a typical surveillance system, but theres no reason to limit it to just video. Now you can improve customer service by placing microphones in the rental office and listening to how your managers interact with tenants. The audio is recorded in conjunction with a selected camera for a true audiovisual playback the owner can watch later or experience remotely in real time.
Advanced Camera and DVR Abilities
If you want to expand the above DVR features and have even more control over your facility, consider a pan, tilt, zoom (PTZ) camera. The price of these cameras has dropped significantly over the years. These enable you to track tenant or manager activities around the facility. Most PTZ cameras can be controlled directly from the DVR software in the facility office or even remotely. When not actively controlling the camera, you can set up "tours" the camera will follow to ensure its always patrolling the grounds. A few strategic PTZ cameras can be just as effectiveif not more soas a dozen stationary cameras.
When you couple all the new DVR features with high-resolution cameras, you can create a powerful, integrated solution that will enable you to provide a safe environment for tenants and their belongings, in addition to staying on top of the daily operation of the facility. Increased securityreal and perceivedshould also allow you to increase rental rates due to the added value and safety at your facility.
Video surveillance has evolved considerably over the years, both in the sophistication of the cameras and what they connect to; however, the basic need for monitoring events has stayed the same. The modern systems available today allow for a more complete and integrated solution, enabling owners, either onsite or around the world, to actually see and hear whats happening at their facility at the touch of a button. Is it time to upgrade your video-surveillance system?
Tony Gardner is vice president of QuikStor Security & Software, a one-stop-shop for security and software products in the self-storage industry since 1987. For more information call 800.321.1987; visit www.quikstor.com.