Help Me Help You.

Recently, I was called out to a customer site to help them put together  a camera system.  To attempt to narrow the sales pitch, they put together their own “RFP.”  Its clear from the RFP they did this themselves and did not use a consultant.


In the fall of 2001, sixteen Vicon digital security cameras were installed at the roof line around the perimeter of our building. A Kollector server was installed to capture images. Fifteen of the cameras had a fixed focus and direction and one of them was the pan, tilt, zoom (PTZ) type.

After a couple of incidences where we reviewed the images captured by the server, we realized that the system did not provide the information we had hoped for. While we could see a vehicle entering the grounds and a person near the vehicle, the images were not large enough nor clear enough to positively identify the individuals through their facial features nor could we be certain of the vehicle’s make, model, or license number. At night, lights were the only thing visible – headlights, tail lights, street lights, and parking lot lights.

In addition, the images captured were not always continuous. We might see a vehicle in the driveway, then in a parking spot, and then a person several yards from the vehicle, but all the action in between was missing. If there were several persons and vehicles moving about in the parking lot at the same time, one could not always be sure of which person belonged to which vehicle.

As time passed, we chose not to maintain a system that was unreliable. The Kollector server is no longer working and so we are not able to determine if any of the sixteen cameras are still working or not. A number of years have passed since the system has had any attention and the owner has now expressed an interest in a replacement system. There is no expectation to use any of the current hardware. On the other hand, there is no objection to using it if it is in good working order and fits into an overall scheme.

Objectives of a new CCTV Security System

At the present time, the owner is interested in only exterior cameras.

The cameras must be able to positively identify persons and vehicles and vehicle license plates in the parking lots and around the building, day and night. It is quite likely that an onsite real-time demo will be requested. The image collection system must be able to provide continuous imaging.

The following shows a couple of aerial views of the building which is 560 feet by 660 feet by 24 feet high. Employee and visitor parking and entrances are on the east side of the building. Receiving docks, generator, and vehicle storage entrances are on the north side of the building. Shipping docks are in an alcove in the southwest corner of the building. While there are no designed traffic areas in much of the area on the west side of the building and half of the north side, cameras will be needed to monitor for any inappropriate activity – graffiti, trash dumping, drug use, etc.”

First off, this is more thought than many of our customers put in to a design prior to meeting.  It’s obvious they have a system that they are not happy with. They know what they would like to do and they know what they don’t want.

Anyone reputable who has put together a system sees lots of flaws in their design. 

1) Just to get them back to reality I suggested that it could easily be $100,000 + to “positively identify persons in … the parking lots and around the building, day and night“.  This was a crucial start point for the customer because it forced them to put a value to their needs.  We were able to eliminate that requirement.  

2) We needed to put a value on “… cameras will be needed to monitor for any inappropriate activity – graffiti, trash dumping, drug use, etc.”  With a standard camera system, you would come in on a Monday morning, check the video, and see that there had been drug use on your property. But what could be done about it?  Without  a perfect face, and suspects already in the system, there is very little police could do with this video.  The better alternative would be to do remote video monitoring based on motion activated cameras.  This could run $175 per month and up.  This posed the question to the customer is it worth $200 per month to catch the occasional drug deal?  This customer decided it was so infrequent (1 time in 6 years) that it was not worth the cost.

3) The customer required “continuous imaging.”  Without properly defining this, integrators could submit proposals based on capturing 5 up to 30 fps, causing quite a disparity in storage needs.  We looked at some side by side comparisons and decided that 8-10 FPS would be acceptable.

This helped the customer stay within their definitions and get a better idea of what to expect from competing bids.  In all actuality, the customer changed their design requirements again to capture license plates only at the 4 entry points, use their existing 14 working exterior cameras for overviews AND add 9 internal cameras.  Originally the customer did not consider interior cameras, however, based on proper explanation, they came to understand that the 9 internal cameras will pay for the whole system.




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You Put That There?

My little 14 month old “Meats,” my 3 year old, “Cheese” and I were at the playground at Forest Elemntary School playing on the equipment. As is the case with little kids, their attention span waned and they decided to run over by the school, which got me to noticing the camera system and questioning its design.

While its clear what the intended shot was, the camera location was a bit baffeling; it got me to wonder who designed the system; the school, the architect, or the consultant.  From the looks of the design, it would appear that the security professional probably did not do the design.


A well installed camera, clearly with a purpose


This camera was built into the spec, and upon further investegation (and a little common sense), it appears there is a door in this camera that someone at some point thought it would be good to see.



If we move the camera to the opposite side of this door, we can capture a much closer picture of who is entering the area, potentially even getting a face with low quality cameras.  Moreover, we would get great visual detail of what is happening on the playground.  If we were to take this design a step further, and insert 5.0 Megapixel HD Cameras, we would be able to see all the kids on the slides and basketball courts.


Finally, I was left scratching my head on this design.  IF we were going to leave the first camera in its spot, why would we not cover this front door from the same corner?  The taxpayers already paid to have an installer run a line to that corner of the building, it would cost no more to run a second wire at the same time.  The end result will be the same unusable picture from either corner of the building, why pay double?

You already have a questionable design, why make it more expensive

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From Humble Beginnings . . .

This thing was a pain to park, and it didn't look so good either

Recently USA Security’s own Ross Brandon was recognized by Security Systems News as one of the top 20 people in the security industry under the age of 40.    Ross has been the leader of the company and his vision has driven us to where we are today.  In less than 8 years, USA Security has gone from a tiny office with two technitians in pulling a trailor, to a professional office w/ uniformed installers and profssional looking vans.  USA Security has truly ‘grown up.’  While video has always been our forte’ we have been able to branch out nicely into access control and intrusion.




These look much sweeter

What has made USA Security successful has been our commitment to technology in the three main security arenas. 

VIDEO: When the market was focused on low end DVRs, USA Security was introducing 30fps h.264 real-time DVRs.  As the migration went to IP Cameras, USA Security skiped the low end VGA quality cameras and went directly to Megapixel cameras.  Currently IP cameras capture roughly 20% of the marketplace, at USA Security, however, IP (specifically, megapixel) cameras account for nearly 60% of our camera volume.  

ACCESS CONTROL: We were one of the first to introduce and promote hosted access control, a revolutionary new concept that takes the day to day managment of access control off of the plate of the HR or IT staff and places it on ours. 

INTRUSION: Along with Megapixel and Hosted Acces Control, USA Security has long advocated the use of GSM (cellular)  and IP dialers instead of the traditional phone line for Alarm Systems.  If the burglar cuts all your phone lines, and cuts your cable line, we can still dial the police through the GSM.  This technology also allows you to remotely arm, disarm, and control your system.

With this type of technology, USA Security has stayed ahead of the curve by staffing our own IT techs.  While our competitors are quoting software and cameras, but forcing the end user to source their own server, USA Security has found 3 partners for servers to meet the customers needs.  Why? Because we want to be able to assist you at all stages, not point the finger after the installation.  Our savy IT staff has been able to repeatedly use log-me-in to trouble shoot alarm panels, access control panels and camera systems.  By doing this, you can typically turn an $190 on-site tech visit, to an $18.75 tech support call, saving the customer hundreds or thousands of dollars per year.

It may be a small office, but it has better surveillance than some casinos

Its this commitment to cutting edge technology and service after the sale that has allowed USA Security to install systems in 25 states from our humble office in Eden Prairie, MN.  While the majority of integrators are reluctant to join today’s technology, we are already providing tomorrow’s.



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Recognize This? Its Your Face . . .

Scene Tap, is launching a revolutionary new interactive product to the Chicago bar / nightlife scene this summer. According to a review of their product by Read Write Web:

Facial detection software is not just limited to the Web though. A new startup in Chicago called SceneTap uses facial detection and people-counting cameras to scope out your local bar to tell you “what is going on.” What is the male-to-female ratio at your favorite club? Who is buying drinks? SceneTap cameras see it all and provide the data to users and bar owners. Seem a little creepy? Maybe not as much as you might think.”

From a security/ surveillance integrator standpoint, this is a fantastic leap in technology.  Even going back to analog camera and DVR technology, USA Security has had a long list of retail customers who use motion and pixel based analytics to determine the popularity / effectiveness of sale displays or end cap marketing. Our retail customers have been using cameras to see who is stopping, are they just browsing or purchasing, what displays are attracting buyers and which aren’t.  Technology like Scene Tap with facial recognition and people counting would allow retail owners to pull that data without having sift through the actual video.


Is This Effective? Who's Stopping to Look?

Several of our casino customers have gone to implement License Plate Recognition software.  From a security standpoint, the benefits are powerful.  By creating a database, security officers can be alerted when undesirable or  unwanted persons drive onto the property and can respond accordingly.  However, an added benefit, similar to Scene Tap‘s management features, allow guest sercvices and marketing to be alerted when high-rollers or VIP players arive on property. They can have notes associated with the license plate such as “John Doe, plays mostly Poker or Black Jack, enjoys such- and- such scotch on rocks” Guest Services can have someone waiting for John at the door with his favorite drink in hand as he walks into the property.

As budgets become tighter, and companies look to streamline; retail and entertainment providers will be looking for avenues like Scene Tap’s facial recognition technology to blend IT, safety, security, and marketing budgets.  A tool that allows you to keep out who you don’t want, while actively engaging those you do, will show a much faster ROI than the traditional methods of surveillance.

Mentioned in this article: Avigilon, Read Write Web, Scene Tap, USA Security

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Pixels, Compression, or Capture Chips? Yes.

In a recent Star Tribune column, Don Lindich points out what to look for in a digital camera.  As we noted in a previous post, most individuals have better cameras in their phones than in their place of business.

While the artilce was written about consumer digital cameras, many of applications apply to the surviellence industry as well.

“Three parts of a digital camera work together to create images: the lens, the sensor and the “jpeg engine.” The lens gathers and focuses light on the sensor. The sensor reads the light and sends digital data to the camera’s computer (containing the jpeg engine), which processes the raw data from the sensor to create images.  . .

“. . .cameras have sensors with tiny physical dimensions and small surface area. That means that if you go from 8 megapixels to 12 megapixels, each one of those light-gathering cells has to be a lot smaller to fit on the tiny chip. Smaller cells gather less light and the camera’s computer compensates by amplifying the signal. This often leads to grainy, overly contrasted pictures in all but perfect lighting conditions.”

Not all cameras are compressed the same.  An h.264 CODEC is very bandwidth light from the camera to server, howerver much more intensive from the server to the client.  Conversely, JPEG2000 is very heavy from the camera to the server, and much lighter from the server to the client.

As always, keep the end goals in mind when putting a project together and you’ll be sure to be satisfied with the results.

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Cut the Cord, or They Will . . .

Several weeks ago, we laid out  Quick Tips for Avoiding Home Invasions  . In that post, we outlined the advantages of dropping traditional phone lines for communication and going to an IP/ GSM (cellular dialer).  Recently in the Minneapoilis metro area, a rash of high-end home invasions has helped hammer home this point.

According to Kare 11,All of the crimes involved forced entry, outside telephone or alarm lines were cut in two instances . . . ”  With a traditional phone line system, even an IP system, once those lines are cut, the system can’t communicate out; no communication, no police.

At USA Security, we install systems (both commercial and residential) with an IP communicator and a GSM

communicator.  If the IP / Internet lines are cut, the GSM dials out over cell signal.  No cords to cut.

As an added feature, through GSM, you can add Total Connect.  This is the future of home security, allowing you to arm and disarm your system from any smart device.

A typical monthly monitoring contract is $25-$35 per month depending on features, for an additional $5.00 per month you can monitor a cellular dialer.  Don’t waste your money on a system that can be compromised.  Lets cut the cord!

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Barry’s Workin’ Hard to Put in Nothing but the Best


I caught up with one of our service techs, Barry, on an installation.  Based on the finished installations they’ve put in (see previous posts), I firmly we believe we have some of the best techs in the industry.  Our guys take a very real pride in the installation.

Looking Good Barry

Our guys often get in put in some tough conditions, whether its having to move around a loading dock, avoid equipment and work areas, or any other curve ball the installation may throw, they get the job done and their finished product looks great.  Because these guys really have a great handle on their installations, we give them a lot of leeway.  This particular installation was designed by one of our sales reps.  The system was designed to have cameras centrally located and looking back out towards all of the dock doors.  Once on site, Barry thought that he could hit the same camera shots from the outside, capturing deeper pictures and wider angles without going over the labor budget.

Measure twice, drill once

This particular finished product ended up being a 5.0 Megapixel Avigilon camera.  That coverage generates 5 million pixels over these doors, if you include the man doors, thats 1.25 million pixels per door.


So many pixels

That same day I saw a Clinton Electronics DVR (If I try and sell you one of these, please show me the door) and the cameras were recording at 174×144 (25,000 pixels). To get the same level of detail, you would need 50 cameras per door!


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