Friday, May 7, 2010

Using Civilian Video Surveillance

The news last weekend right after the fireworks bomber fizzled was full of information about how many video cameras were in the Times Square area and how that would be sooo helpful in tracking down the incompetent terrorist. We won’t know how useful those cameras actually were, but it sure sounds like it was just good old-fashioned police work that allowed law enforcement to track down the apparent perpetrator. Since I have some idea of what it takes to go through video recordings to track down something that might have happened in front of the cameras, I just ignored the claims of the newsies. Then I finally got around to reading an email from John Honovich from Tuesday that briefly described the real problems that police were having with those videos. Long time readers will probably recall John as the owner/operator of the web site that provides educational and technical information on video surveillance systems. John’s email briefly described the problems and provided a link to a subscription portion of his site that provides more details and a continuing conversation about the issues with a representative of a company that provides video surveillance equipment and services. I’ll summarize John’s points, but to get the details you’ll need to be a subscriber to his service. For this discussion John skips the tedious part of carefully looking and re-looking at each video, usually several times, to see if it contains useful information. Even if you do see something that looks useful, it will still take time to have investigators run down those leads. And the one video shown on all news outlets of the man changing shirts in the street demonstrate the types of information you have to wade through. No, John focuses on three technical issues:
Lack of standards amongst recorders; Lack of network access to recorders; and Lack of controls to access recorders.
The current crop of security video recorder do not use the ‘old-fashioned’ video tape used by security cameras in TV shows. The video streams are recorded on hard drives and there is no ‘standard’ format in use. This means that the LEOs need to have devices for reading each of the different types of recorder formats. To make matters worse, most of these systems are not accessible via the Internet. This means that the LEOs have to go from facility to facility to download copies of all of the videos that might be useful. Then they carry them back to the video lab and ‘read’ the recording with the appropriate equipment. At that point they are into the ‘tedious’ part that I described earlier. While most business owners and security managers will have wanted to cooperate with investigators in a terrorist case like this, there will still be constraints to access to those video surveillance resources. So we can see that this isn’t the “Get the surveillance video” scenario that we see on police shows every night. The more videos cameras that might have recorded valuable evidence the more time and energy is going to be needed to identify and track down that evidence. This is one of the reasons for the FBI video that I discussed in a blog back in March. Security managers need to remember the importance of these issues as they talk with security consultants and integrators about the latest and greatest video surveillance systems. You need to have a clear understanding of what you want that system to do before you start writing the request for proposals to go to the venders.

No comments:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */