Security surveillance gets smarter

Merging security with the IT department.

The days of the stereotypical ‘doughnut eating’ security guard blankly watching fuzzy images on a black and white TV screen are gone. New networked digital cameras combined with intelligent video analytics software are changing the nature of surveillance from reactive human-based monitoring and replays of past events, to sophisticated automated threat detention and rapid responses to more quickly identify and act on potential issues. As a result today’s CSO and CIO must work closely together, says Scott Basham, Unisys’ Asia Pacific Program Manager for Location, Perimeter and Surveillance Security.

Australia has come a long way since the first closed circuit television (CCTV) security camera was installed in Melbourne in 1981 to help support a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. In the twenty years since, those humble analogue installations have transformed into modern high resolution, networked-enabled, digital systems.

As the technology has improved, and adoption rates have increased, the costs for modern CCTV systems have been significantly reduced, leading many organisations to deploy more and more cameras. However, adding more cameras is only effective if you can accurately and effectively monitor the images they generate. Just hoping that a security guard will happen to notice a change when an image cycles through a bank of monitors leaves too much to chance.

The advent of digital video cameras has allowed large numbers of high resolution cameras to be networked over existing Ethernet networks (rather than expensive coaxial cable networks). When combined with powerful video management systems that incorporate video analytics software, it is possible to automatically detect potential threats in real time, so that security personnel can take appropriate action as events occur. This transforms security surveillance from being a reactive tool for finding out what happened post an incident, into a dynamic and proactive capability for live and real time threat detection using the surveillance camera feeds.

One of the most interesting outcomes of this transformation is how the increasingly sophisticated security surveillance infrastructure is blurring the line between what was once strictly the domain of physical protection specialist, but now is now also squarely in the realm of IT department. As a result, today’s IT and Security departments must effectively combine their unique skills and abilities to deliver the security outcomes the organisation seeks to achieve.

An analytical look at today’s security requirements and tools

For the last two decades, governments and commercial organisations in Australia, and around the world, have used video surveillance as the cornerstone of physical security capabilities.

Whether it was for national security, critical infrastructure protection, securing assets within the finance and banking sector or to protect private property, video surveillance has been universally accepted as the foundation layer upon which an organisation’s ability to protect its people, assets and facilities has been based. And it was solely the domain of physical security experts.

Even though the cost of new cameras has decreased, organisations have faced continued pressure to further reduce operating costs. CCTV provides a convenient and efficient solution to manage and protect large areas at all hours, so many organisations have increased the number of cameras deployed but not the number of people monitoring them.

However, more cameras does not necessarily equate to increased security assuredness. The only relevant measure of the organisation’s real-time enterprise-wide level of security situational awareness is the number of constantly monitored feeds. Unobserved camera feeds only provide retrospective information – which helps to identify what happened, but does nothing to help stop it when the event occurs. What’s more, even if a someone is monitoring the screens, studies show(1) that a person’s ability to constantly monitor a screen rapidly decreases after just 20 minutes.

The solution to this false economy of equating quantity of cameras with quality of security is the advent of Internet Protocol (IP) enabled digitals cameras. The video feeds from these cameras can be networked together and combined with video analytics software to automatically identify and respond to potential security threats as they happen.

Video analytics allow organisations to monitor and manage multiple video surveillance cameras by automatically recognising changes in activity on the screen to generate an alert or trigger a response from the monitoring staff observing the feed, such as automatically locking a door, sounding an alarm or notifying the nearest security officer. This may identify a potential threat before it has actually happened.

The action generated by these analytical tools can be as simple as on-screen alerts of suspicious or unwanted behaviours, or as complex as using biometric facial recognition technology to grant or deny a person access to a high security area. They can significantly increase the capabilities of what might otherwise be a very stock standard video surveillance system and turn it into a highly tuned, mission critical component of the organisation’s entire operations.

Even the simplest of video analytics implementations can increase an organisation’s security. These include motion detection (to notice when a person enters or leaves an area), virtual tripwires (to detect when someone or something enters a secure area), object recognition (which can identify when a particular object is removed or if additional objects appear), and Licence Plate Recognition software to scrutinise cars entering and leaving a facility.

Specialist CCTV analytical tools can help government bodies and commercial groups put their security systems to other uses such as identifying regular patterns in human traffic to review building plans in order to make work or public areas more efficient or safe. The possibilities are limitless.

In the future, organisations will look to further leverage the capabilities of their CCTV network to incorporate specialist functions such as biometric identification and behaviour pattern recognition. Using facial recognition and gait recognition technologies, it is already possible to match surveillance subjects against a watch list of “persons of interest”. As these biometric technologies continue to evolve, we are likely to see even greater convergence between surveillance and identification.

Combining security with IT

The IT department plays a critical role in assisting the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to economically and effectively respond to the physical threats and cover the gamut of security challenges faced by today’s businesses. Understanding the role of technology, and how to use it most effectively, is now an integral part of managing an effective security surveillance system.

Complex IT skills are needed to support the surveillance systems ranging from installing new hardware and software, integrating various network components, and managing the deployment of intelligent video analytic tools, through to managing the ever-growing back end server and storage infrastructure that runs and supports all of those edge devices.

Surveillance systems continue to evolve with the advent of new and better devices that are able to be integrated into the organisations eco-system. As these capabilities grow, so too does the desire of security managers to be able to fuse together all of that data from all of those various devices into a single common operating picture that can provide them the most efficient and most effective means of monitoring and responding to security incidents and threats as they occur.

In such a mission critical environment as security, the search for innovation is constant. The advent of mobile computing devices, such as tablets and smart phones, enables security professionals to view real-time footage and other sensor information while on the move, releasing them from their desks and getting them out of their control rooms. This allows them to get closer to where the action is happening, which in turn then better allows them to understand and respond to the nature of the security threats they face as and when they occur, regardless of where they are physically located, and regardless of the time of day.

(1)Mary W. Green, The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools, A Guide for Schools and Law Enforcement Agencies, Sandia National Laboratories, September 1999, NCJ 178265 (cited:

Scott Basham manages Unisys’ location, perimeter and surveillance solution offerings within Asia Pacific. Starting as an officer in the Australian Regular Army more than 20 years ago, he has provided security and technology advice across both the public and private sectors, across a wide range of sectors including aviation, ports, critical infrastructure, border protection and defence.

This is an opinion piece and is intended only to provide a summary of the subject matter covered. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to render advice. No reader should act on the basis of any matter contained in this piece without first obtaining specific professional advice.


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