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New legislation requires convenience stores to install high-def cameras

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Apparently, the city of Milwaukee is fed up with poor-quality video footage, too. A new piece of legislation passed by city councilors last week will require convenience stores to install not one, but two high-definition surveillance cameras.

According to an article in Milwaukee Magazine, the Milwaukee Police Department requested the legislation, which is intended to provide more reliable video evidence for criminal prosecutions.

Under the new ordinance, stores must have at least two “high resolution surveillance security cameras.” One camera must be pointed at the store’s entrance to capture people’s faces as they go in and out, and the other must be focused on the store’s cash register area. Stores will also be required to store the video on recordable CDs or DVDs, thereby disqualifying the old videotape systems still used by some stores.

Currently, stores are only required to keep video recordings for 72 hours. Under the new rules, they would have to keep the discs for at least 30 days.

I'm a little confused by the storage requirements of this legislation. This makes it sound like convenience stores will be recording all footage directly to discs (either CDs or DVDs), but chances are they're just keeping footage stored on a hard drive for 30 days, right? Usually, footage isn't transferred to a disc unless it's an actual incident that police need to use for forensic purposes, otherwise that's a heck of a lot of CDs, right?

Anyway, I think this is interesting that the city is requiring private businesses to improve their video surveillance programs. While this legislation is directed at convenience stores that are considered "high risk" businesses, I wonder if this concerns those in the private sector about the precedent this legislation could be setting? While I'm sure that most folks reading this blog agree that video surveillance should actually be a useful tool and provide clear images, there is a cost burden associated with such legislation. I'm sure there are some convenience store owners in Milwaukee who aren't happy about having to buy new digital, high-res equipment this week (but if you're an integrator in Wisconsin, you might want to get on this one).

Ohio is about to be a whole lot more integrated

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's good to read about projects that are actually designed to improve the way police and first responders do their jobs. And, it's heartening to know that the government (local and federal) as well as private organizations have the ability to learn from past incidents, aim to change it, and actually receive the resources to do so.

I just read this article in The Columbus Dispatch about the integration of thousands of video cameras, aptly named the Camera Integration Project, which will give law enforcement and other officials the ability to view cameras owned by public and private entities:

The new network will be far more comprehensive than anything that has come before, tying together government-operated cameras on roads, public buildings and airports with private security systems at malls, office buildings and other major centers. Private companies won't be required to join the network.

The project has been allotted $235,000 and will be launched in a year or two, according to the publication.

Ohio's network is modeled after Virtual Alabama, apparently the first statewide camera network that launched in July 2006. And, according to Alabama's homeland-security director, the network has been useful for everything from tornado response to solving a rash of shootings.

I think a network of this scale is great in theory, but what are the concerns? Obviously, it's important to have strict policies in place regarding who has access to the cameras, but are there other network-related issues to be aware of?

NYPD increasingly relies on video in subways

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I am a huge fan of public transportation, but subways freak me out. It's a combination of too many people in a small place mixed with traveling several stories underground. Plus, this job hasn't helped at all. It's made me all too aware of security threats (to the point that I check my shower stall when I come home, just to make sure someone didn't break in and is hiding in there. Is that paranoia? It might be, but you trying being a single female living alone on the first floor).

Anyway, I'm always on guard in subways, and apparently for good reason. This New York Daily News article found that the NYPD requested surveillance footage from NYC Transit more than 2,000 times last year.

There are now more than 3,100 cameras installed throughout the subways, with 900 of them just installed this June. Plus, there are more cameras on the way. The MTA said 1,000 more will be installed by the end of next year.

While the article found that crime in the subway is at a historically low level, with less than six felonies a day in the 468-station system, it still makes me nervous. Video surveillance, as those in the industry know, can be great forensic tools (if they're properly installed and working correctly, which all too often they are not). But, because those cameras are often not monitored, they contribute little to preventing crime. And frankly, that's what I'm looking for. And with that in mind, I'd say it's probably a good thing for me to stay here in Maine where we're forced to just drive everywhere.

Vancouver blames Olympic overspending on security

Friday, July 9, 2010

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver was largely a success. Well, let's say nearly a success, especially if you consider the uncooperative weather and the death of luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia. I guess what I should say, is that on the security front, the Olympics were successful.

A few weeks ago I wrote a follow-up story about the Olympic Games and discussed the city's strategy to keep citizens and visitors safe. I spoke with Kevin Wallinger, the director of emergency management for the City of Vancouver, who was involved extensively in the planning and preparation for the Olympics.

He told me that one of the biggest challenges was developing the communication channels for various agencies. To support that effort the city renovated its emergency operations center (which is co-located with its 9/11 center) to better monitor the Games. All of this obviously costs money. And a lot of money. The EOC itself was a $1.5 million project. The city also deployed a temporary 100-camera video surveillance system that required a fairly extensive network be put in place (fiber ain't cheap folks and neither is wireless).

Overall, Vancouver officials said the cost of security was around the $900 million (Canadian) mark. That's no small sum, obviously. And that final price tag was five times what Canada estimated when it bid for the Games, according to this Reuters article. That's a huge difference and I'm guessing Canadians aren't so thrilled about it, especially now that they realize they'll actually have to pay for it.

Today, the Finance Minister is partially blaming increased security costs on the higher-than-expected pricetag of the Games:

“We did go over because of the added security costs by an additional amount that took us up to the $765-million total,” he added. “We have always been clear that there are other things that we would do to leverage the Games.”

But, in my humble opinion, Vancouver is not taking measures to leverage some of those security components. For example, those 100 cameras that the city installed in its entertainment district, well, those cameras are sitting in a warehouse now, totally unused.

Although, to be fair, the city has made some effort to make back some of that investment. As reported by SSN, the city is selling off some of the equipment in an auction. Recently, it opened up the sale of a 1,000-plus camera system to be sold piece-by-piece because it couldn't find buyers to take the entire load. But, is that really getting the most out of its investment? Obviously not. It seems to me the city would be better served by actually using some of this technology. I bet most cities and municipalities would die to have access to this kind of equipment and the infrastructure to boot. But, because Canada has so many restrictions on privacy (they even have a "Privacy Commissioner"), they're unable to maintain those systems in the city.

So, I don't buy it Mr. Finance Minister. Don't blame security for your sticker shock.

Investing in a $689k video system knee-jerk or necessary?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

After a racially-driven incident at South Philadelphia High last year, the school invested in 126 video cameras at a cost of $689k and not everyone is so happy about the expenditure, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has even said that the addition of so many cameras is making the school "a police state."

The school added the cameras after 30 Asian students were attacked in December of last year. The incident apparently began when a disabled African American student was beaten up by two Asian students outside school. The next day, large groups of African American and Asian students attacked at least 30 Asian students, seven of whom required treatment at a hospital. Some of the attackers went from room to room, looking for students to target, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

During the investigation of the incident, one student testified that security officers forced Asian students to follow them into a lunchroom where they were attacked and then directed the frightened students to leave school after they were beaten.

The district responded by increasing security in and around the school and also formed a Task Force for Racial and Cultural Harmony to recommend changes.

While the article doesn't say, I'm assuming the addition of video surveillance was one of the recommendations. Prior to this installation, the school only had 23 cameras. But does installing 126 additional cameras really solve the school's problems or is it just a demonstration that the school is doing something in response to this incident? Often it's not until something happens that an organization is motivated to invest in security. I think the important element for the school to share with the public (who paid for this system after all) is that having a better video system would not necessarily prevent an incident of this scale, but rather it would act as a deterrent as well as aid in the investigation.

USC chief shares video patrol strategy at ISC West

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I had a chance to attend the International Association of Chiefs of Police seminar on Tuesday before the start of the ISC West show and I must say I was pretty impressed.

My favorite speaker was Chief Carey Drayton from the University of Southern California who talked about how the school is using video patrols to monitor its campus. He said there are six active gangs near the university and it is critical to be able to actively monitor the area and stop crimes before they happen.

He also talked about predictive policing and trending strategies to help the department determine where best to focus video and traditional patrols.

One of the biggest challenges for the department was getting the LAPD to understand that the university even has a crime problem since their 60 robberies a year don't exactly compare to the 14,000 that the LAPD deal with every year. But, he said, those crimes can be devastating to the university community and really impact the perception of safety for students and their parents.

Another challenge was getting the university community on board. Originally the faculty was completely against adding the system and also said students were against it as well. However, the department did an online poll and 75 percent of students responded that they didn’t have a problem with video monitoring.

And, the best part, was that the system has been so successful and has been able to prevent and deter so many incidents that Drayton said they continue to get funding to add more cameras. That's the message that every security person wants to hear.

Security never wins: Somebody print that Olympic security was a success. Please!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Perhaps we're all experiencing a little Olympic withdrawal, because our article on Honeywell auctioning off the security equipment used to protect the Olympic games was a hot story on our newswire this week. It's a cool story, I'll admit, especially when you see the numbers:

Honeywell Building Solutions is beginning the final stage of its $30 million security contract with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police here: the removal of all the equipment that’s been installed to protect the 18 Olympic venues. But what to do with the roughly 1,300 Panasonic IP cameras, Computar lenses, 4,000 Xtralis PIRs, etc.

Although, $30 million is a minor expenditure compared to the $1 billion overall security tab that the Olympics racked up. But according to this article in the Vancouver Sun, Canadians are mixed about the departure of this equipment. Here's the lead graph (which in good journalism would be the basis of the rest of the article, but apparently not at the Vancouver Sun):

With the end of the Olympics, 1,000 or so Games-related surveillance cameras are being removed from Vancouver streets, sparking calls to keep them.

That's the only mention in this article that anyone would ever want more security cameras because, after all, it's just Big Brother "recording our every unconscious nose-pick or bum-scratch." (That's in there, for real.)

Actually, you would think Canadians were rioting in the streets trying to have the equipment removed based on the headline:

Good riddance to Olympic security cameras

Living in a democracy is about being able to feel free, not watched, whenever you leave your home and walk down the street

Um, pretty sure there's no expectation of privacy on public streets and as the article itself points out there are already 2,000 private cameras monitoring the downtown area. I don't get it. If there are already all these cameras monitoring public streets, why would this article so blatantly say having additional cameras is an effort to take away the freedom of its citizens?

And, the article continues, it's not like cameras actually make us any safer:

there doesn't seem to be any significant effect on crime rates from these cameras and the cost-benefit analysis numbers are very dodgy.

If surveillance cameras eliminated crime there would be no bank robberies, convenience store stickups or jewelry store heists.

I think the biggest point this article misses is that there were no major security incidents at the Olympics. Sure, there wasn't enough snow and some broken Zambonis, but there were no huge security issues. Other than some demonstrating that turned into rioting, it was pretty quiet, security-wise (well, that the public knows about anyway). But, no terrorist attacks and no real violence. Well, that means security was a success and was worth every penny, right? If you're in the security industry you know the mainstream media would never, ever, ever come out and say that. After all, it's only the bad stuff, the where-was-security stories that make the news.

Again, this really just confirms the security industry's biggest issue: You can't necessarily prove that having cameras and high-levels of security in place stopped any incidents from happening.

Oh, and just for your reading enjoyment, no article like this would ever be complete without a 1984 reference, right?

George Orwell's fictional world in 1984 is a perfect example and I can think of no more eloquent argument against the indiscriminate use of surveillance.

That is what is wrong with the push to add more cameras downtown.

Man found under plane sparks fresh security concerns

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I got away with not writing about aviation security for two whole weeks - that feels like a record. Well, if you were starting to miss the drama, rest assured, there's always more to be worried about when it comes to securing airports. Frankly, I'm sort of shocked this story isn't making bigger headlines. At first, I thought I had just missed it on the mainstream news, but after consulting with some of my more prolific TV-watching colleagues, I learned that they hadn't heard a peep about this incident either (guess everybody would rather talk about the weather).

So, it all started when a man was found dead in the landing-gear compartment of a Delta Air Lines jet that flew to Tokyo’s Narita Airport from New York on Jan. 6. First of all, this man must not have been very bright or aware of the plane's destination because spending 20 hours, 30,000 feet above the ground in 50 degree below zero temperatures with no oxygen, is, well not worth the free ride.

Anyway, the more pressing question is: How did this man manage to get in the plane in the first place? Obviously, tarmacs are considered secure areas of the airport. However, especially at a large airport like JFK, there are a lot of remote areas that may not be easily accessible, but may not be as well monitored as inside the airport, for example. Especially after the Newark incident, where it was found that cameras were not functioning properly, it seems likely that perimeter security may also have some similar challenges.

In this article, our friend Doug Laird expressed his own worries about this incident: “If a person can gain access to get in the wheel well, a person can gain access to plant a device on the airplane,” said Douglas R. Laird, a former Northwest Airlines Corp. security chief who is now president of consultant Laird & Associates Inc. in Reno, Nevada. “It’s a major concern.”

This incident will likely trigger a review of tarmac security procedures. I'm just waiting to see how long it takes for this to be all over the mainstream news. My guess is not until the storm blows over.

Video analytic roundtable - The last session

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Last session of the conference. Roundtable discussion about video analytics. Panelists are:

Erick Eaton, BRS Labs
Doug Marman, VideoIQ
David McGuinness, ObjectVideo
Carolyn Ramsey, Honeywell
Moti Shabtai, NICE Systems
John Whiteman, ioimage
Sam Pfeifle, Security Systems News (moderator)

Important in understanding video analytics is understanding customers needs.

Sam: Just motion detector with video?
Eric: Analytics describe broad array of how pixels are changing. Other approaches where object tracking and try to establish rules and rules and learning. All different and easy to slap a label on it and sometimes try to distsance ourself from video analytics not specific what trying to do.

Sam: What does algorithms mean and different approaches?
Eric: Misunderstanding what algorithms are. Algorithm is mathematical equation under the hood and built into user friendly tripwire draw on screen. What's difference between vendors? Are different approaches of science toward computer science.

Sam: If difficult to accomplish why proliferation of company and what say to market?
Moti: Has to do difference in implementing in lab and in field. Analytics great value for customer, but to do in lab it's quite easy.

Sam: What is meta-data and how contribute to analytics?
Carolyn: Think can consider separate and apart. Analytics trying to get video from it. Things we can predict in real time, set up a rule to look for certain things, but certain things we can't predict, but would like to know about. So metadata is descripton of things happen in video at any point in time, whether told system or not or just want to file away for later review. Many end users don't ahve time to look at video in real time and enabling them to sift through video and meta-data allows you to select what interesting opposed to digging.

Sam: How apply things? Seems like are sweet spots where people should expect some good results not as experimental. Where analytics work well?

Carolyn: Perimeter with designated time rules. At high level it's about predictability, easy for analytics to definitively say this rule has been broken.

Sam: Baseline for quality of system?
David: Typically 7 frames/second, number of pixels different images.
Indoor applications and think it gets back to resolution figure out how many cameras I need for a space. Those are some considerations. Also gets back to understanding what customer wants to accomplish.

Carolyn: Think it comes down to application. How much do you need to know about what that object is doing that determines how many pixels you need.

Sam: How do you compare different vendors? What data should we have?
Eric: Already asking for lab results in control environment. How effective is technology in field. More than lab test, field test results. Needs to be done by folks in security industry to analyze.

John: If we want to compare technologies I would suggest on probability and false alarm rate. Think important and go into real world and compare side by side and what accomplish and in our world it's vehicles or people or objects and determining what performs better.

Moti: Think way sell system. Company has policy to set expectation. Once realize what customer achieve enough experience and detection than I think set expectations right to avoid disappointment and get value from system. One thing if company is willing to do that exercise and analyze the problem, before buying the system

Carolyn: Think difficult discussion because every customer wants plain and simple. The issue is what trying to do? What's next best alternatives.

Sam: Set up and go, zero configuration. That sounds good to integrators. Installation and configuration are questions that should be asked?
Doug: Doesn't need configuration and learns on its own. Another benefit is if environment changes doesn't matter.

Sam: What get with more sophistication? What's better and value?
Eric: What get from set-up time that putting up? Learns on its own. We're able to alert scene. Help you find things didn't know to look for.

Sam: What about configuration?
John: Each of 40 manufacturers take a different approach. The time up front we have looked at in past automated learning. From ROI standpoint most easily measured, what rich data generating didn't have access to before.

Sam: Hear a lot of: "I could do this." It seems like more theory than practicality?
Carolyn: Our experience that people don't like to be out of comfort zone. Take sales person based on cost successfully and makes quota and ask him to start talking about ROI. Think challenges as offerings become more complex and customers engaged in critical thinking about where spending dollars we have to help customers help themselves.

Sam: Do end users have communication in organizations to be able to convey to the marketing guy?
Moti: Sometimes meet champions have wider scope and open gate could be operations where ROI successful. More see fits in IT more willingness to approach others in businesses.

Doug: Perimeter detection has huge ROI so powerful, remote guarding is similar and remote doing far less expensive.

Sam: Impact on standards? And what most important to you?
Dave: First area of focus working on is events and make sure common outputs that are understandable from system to system. And we're also PSIA has pulled in industry so integrators participate and getting from different groups.

Moti: If industry find way to measure objectively on performance. In UK, put framework on companies with different scenarios like to see something like that going forward.

Carolyn: Don't think tests they put the product through serve 80% of customers. Absolutely critical is end user engagement saying these are the scenarios I face every day. I think if industry had that it would help end users make better, educated decisions.

Sam: How consolidate impact market?
John: Challenging question we are embarking on cooperation strategy. On some level we compete and other ways we bring added value. DVTel acquisition because there are no standards we had embarked on open partnership strategy. None embraced all abilities of technology.

Doug: Like idea of open system really big step but getting lost is dumb cameras attached but losing adding values of intelligent cameras.

Sam: Perception of analytic companies that looking for exit strategies. How deal with that?
David: Just came out of horrific economic times. Think video analytics starting to become strategic and people able to take positions today. We're comfortable with fewer players.

Sam: People say analytics should be a feature, not business alone. Can be business.
Eric: If look at expertise - takes specialized knowledge used to analyze content of video and retaining and innovating is critically important and always capabilities to advance technology.

Sam: Future look. Make some predictions about what see coming down pipeline that don't know now. Also, price. Perception that expensive, what pressures on pricing.

Carolyn: Price is interesting one and I think that people are always going to fight about price if no clear expectation of value. My feeling that in last two years we've heard fewer complaints about price. Interesting in down economy. I contribute to increasing awareness of value and help sales voice talk to specific applications and as soon case, what's next alternative?

Eric: Value proposition is key piece. How much more effective by putting technology in place? Price point components and continue to improve algorithms. Have balancing act that price same I would say in 3 to 5 years.

Moti: More verticalized solutions solving specific customer problems. Trends in price simple and low cost installations and also customers not compromise on solutions. Cost of security system, analytics not that much part.

John: Driving factors and think: Cost effectiveness, ease of use, interoperability and plug and play, liability. Product has to meet expectations and it can't be labwear, has to be proven.

Doug: We take approach we look at future analytics becomes free have cameras and it becomes free and it's just there. That's approach we take is instead as seeing as add on just trying to make smarter camera. In market has to have shake out of technologies that aren't adequate. And consequently installing these systems and having problems and thinking reflection on analytics.

John: For us part of future revolves around work doing at SafeCity and early deployment picking up intrusion and capability of next generation of algorithm to detect crowds and tracking, etc.


LP execs take it too far

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

While loss prevention executives are well aware of the staggering amount of revenue lost each year to theft, both internal and external, there are really some lines that shouldn't be crossed. But, of course, people don't understand boundaries.

Here's a story from about a Pennsylvania Walmart being sued by seven employees after it installed a video surveillance camera in one of its bathrooms/dressing room. The camera was allegedly installed by employees in the company’s loss-prevention department, with the aim of monitoring employees for theft, according to the article.

In response to the incident, Walmart has fired two of its employees who were responsible for installing the camera and names four local Walmart managers who were also allegedly involved in the installation.

The Walmart is also accused of dismissing three of the employess after they complained about the camera.

Although I do think cameras in bathrooms and dressing rooms are a direct violation of privacy, I also know that shrink is a $36 billion problem for retailers (and I imagine one of the biggest issues for Walmart) and the majority of that loss comes directly from internal and external theft. If you can't keep an eye on employees or customers and allow there to be areas of the store where they know they aren't being watched, how are LP execs suppose to combat this problem?