Friday, June 20, 2008

Not Just Your Old Man's Traffic Cams...

Wireless Video! What a wonderful phrase! To think you can build an IP Video CCTV System almost completely without wires, and open it up to the masses or keep it as controlled as you need it…

A major state in the Mid-Atlantic area has recently undergone a phased approach to improving their traffic camera system. They have been placing more and more cameras along the major roadways for the purpose of traffic safety and as a secondary purpose to provide a means by which the public might see a snapshot of the cameras (at 5 minute intervals). Answering the age-old question… How long will I be stuck in traffic this morning?

Nothing new here, right? For years, states (and companies) have been providing traffic cams for emergency purposes, and for traffic reports from your favorite news stations. Except one thing, MOST of those cameras have required a long strand of fiber laid before they can be implemented. This can be a costly endeavor, not to mention time consuming. In addition, consider the major investment requirements to trench and bury fiber, or to carefully pull the fiber through existing underground piping.

Enter Wireless traffic cams. The speed at which these cameras can be added to an existing network is extremely high. A single lift truck, and the right permits, allows a company to mount the camera and associated wireless transmitters or access points (like Verint’s Wireless 5.X equipment, or Motorola’s MotoMESH) to the existing poles along the roads. Using Verint’s Turbo SPCF Protocol, up to 28 Mbps ACTUAL bandwidth is likely, and Motorola MotoMESH, has great redundant path capability. These are just two examples of how technology is making great strides for Wireless Video.

But be careful when considering which product(s) to use! Not all products are the same, and not all products should be used for Wireless CCTV. There’s a little known issue with wireless technology called “Hidden Node” that can cause significant problems for the end user. When collisions occur, the Master Unit says, let’s slow things down a bit, dropping the bit rate to very low levels. This can be disastrous for a Wireless CCTV System. Verint has a technology that organizes the nodes to give recognition to all, so collisions rarely occur. If they do, the Master steps in and re-organizes, and lets everyone continue at their regular speeds. If one camera shows a higher level of activity, the Master allows more openings for it to send its packets. Not many other products deal with the Hidden Node well.

Motorola has a means by which a MESH can be used, so if a failure happens within a system, a redundant path can be immediately routed, and the loss of connectivity is almost eliminated. This is great for a city wide solution where you may have many users trying to access the video system.

Using MESH to get video INTO the network is perhaps not a good move. Mainly because, if a wireless network is built to handle a certain amount of video traffic, and then you try to put a whole bunch more video on that particular leg, jams, and collisions occur more frequently. Now, put these two applications (Verint to get the video into the network and Motorola to serve it out), and you have a GREAT solution, which is highly reliable.

Just food for thought…

- Security Caffeine

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Copper Thieves Beware – Part 2

In the previous post, we considered how cell phone and utility companies have experienced a large increase in copper thievery over the last couple of years. Mainly due to the increased worth of copper, and the ease by which it can be illegally obtained.

Consider construction sites, not typically known for their security, and how they have become a huge target. Large amounts of copper coils are stored at construction sites while waiting to be installed. Security Guards may be present on site, but they can’t be everywhere, all the time. The Copper Thieves quickly drive their trucks up to the coils, load them into the back of the truck with special equipment and off they go.

So, how can a company protect the construction sites from Copper Thieves? Wouldn’t it be cool to have a mobile platform, with a small security system embedded in the base of the platform? The system could have a bank of 4 – 6 cameras (IP or analog), pointed in different directions, all attached to a retractable mast. These cameras can be networked (with an inexpensive switch to an embedded, multi-port encoder, and a small commercial, off the shelf server with a 300 GB Drive. Or, even bring the cameras into a small form factor embedded DVR. Attach this little setup to a wireless transmitter, or other wireless device (EDGE, satellite, etc.) to make the video accessible remotely. In addition, create virtual trip wires, and camera tampering alerts to generate alarms. These alarms, similar to the cell tower solution, could be coupled with relay outputs to trigger lights and speakers with warnings to the potential copper thieves. Something like “attention, your picture has been taken and uploaded to a central monitoring facility… law enforcement has been notified… please leave the premises immediately!”

The Copper is Protected, the thief is sent off without the loot, and all this with an inexpensive solution that is MOBILE! This means it can be used over and over again!

Copper Thieves Beware - Part 1

It’s a warm, stormy evening in the middle of Nowhere, Alabama, the clouds are rolling in with the seasonal thunderstorm. Fifty miles from Nowhere, a truck backs up to the gate surrounding a cell tower on a small rise. Trees surround the area, so the chances of someone seeing this little adventure are slim to none. The driver quickly backs up to destroy a section of the fence. He backs further into the fenced area directly to the copper grounding plate partially buried under ground. A few quick, strategic cuts and some heavy lifting into the back of the truck, and they have their loot. This piece should get them at least $100 (maybe more). “No real harm dun… These big cell companies can just replace it any ol’ time…” says the passenger as they drive off before the storm gets there.

Copper Theft. Doesn’t really seem like a big problem, until you recognize all the possible ways it can be illegally (and easily) obtained – not to mention how much it’s worth these days. In 2006 and 2007, a dramatic increase has been noted in copper worth, as well as its theft! So much so, that the US Department of Energy puts the estimated amount of loss at $1 Billion per year.

A little research online shows many stories of differing ways copper is stolen. Yes, grounding plates from cell towers is one of them. What is an apparently low cost loss to the “big cell companies”, turns into multiple thousands of dollars in service, retrofit, and replacement costs. That’s just to replace one of these grounding plates. But another major concern is the potential for a lightning strike and the damage that can be caused without a grounding plate. ALL equipment in the station is now at risk, with a potential loss in the tens of thousands up to $100,000.

So how can this type of copper thievery be proactively battled? Many would say by installing an alarm system on or near the cell tower. Would an alarm system really be of any help, except to notify the company that the theft had occurred? Not really a deterrent though, because the thieves get away with no risk of being caught. What if the company coupled the alarm system with a video system to capture images of the robbery in progress? Take it a bit further now, and attach the alarm output to the video system. Then, take a relay output from the video system to an alarm flashing light, an area light, and speaker. The alarm flashing light alerts the thief the area is in alarm. The area light, turns on (if it’s after dark), and the video system takes a number of pictures from all the cameras. The video system then sends the captured pictures across the network (very low bandwidth requirements) back to a central site. The speaker, of course, is to tell the potential criminals, “pictures have been taken, and uploaded to a central database… law enforcement has been alerted… please leave the premises immediately”.

Of course, this immediately tells the thieves many things. Number one, pictures have already been taken and sent somewhere off site, so it’s no use trying to find a video recorder to destroy evidence. Number two, they will think again before stealing anything from this site. Number three, they will re-consider any future endeavor in the field of copper thievery, at least, from THIS Company’s cell sites.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Meat Packing Recall Could Lead to Increased Surveillance

Here's a good one. I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine from the USDA. He mentioned a major food recall from a large meat packer called Hallmark:

"...this month, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company recalled 143 million pounds of meat, following a videotape of plant workers treating cattle cruelly and violating federal regulations. Most meat has likely been consumed; at least 37 million pounds were used for school lunches—the company is a top supplier to that program—and federal nutrition programs. "

During our conversation, my friend gave some details as to how companies violate regulations. One regulation says if the steer is "down", due to sickness or injury or else, the steer cannot be "processed". So the workers at the packing plant would do cruel things to the animal to make it appear the animal is walking before the "process" it. The trouble is, the workers always had a lookout. When the Inspectors are seen, all activities are halted. When the Inspector leaves, the cruelty resumes.

As a recommendation, the USDA is trying to get congress to make Video Surveillance a requirement for all meat and poultry packing plants in the US. The theory is if there is video always present, this would deter the workers from violating the regulations. Now we get into the "meat" of this argument...

If the incredibly tight margin'ed industry of meat and poultry packing were relegated to have "Video Surveillance", I expect the response would be to obtain the cheapest possible video equipment (perhaps a Sam's club special), and call it done. All this does is allows the folks who WANT to violate the rules a means by which they can meet the minimum federal mandate and still break the rules.

Of course, if a congressional law stated some specific guidelines as to where cameras must go and with what types of cameras and recording systems, better safety standards might be ensured. But then, we quickly would be faced with outdated policies made by non-security-minded folks. Not a good idea.

WHAT IF... The proposed law were augmented to include a means by which the Inspector can, over remote connection, link into the installed security system. So at any time, an Inspector can monitor the activities at the site WITHOUT having to travel to the site. The Inspector could also do a random search to ensure cameras are being recorded properly and are properly covering the areas where violations might occur.

WHAT IF... The proposed law were augmented to include a means by which the 100+ Inspectors may have access to a group of mobile cameras and wireless transmitters. What if a half mile away from the packing plant, the Inspector could drive up with a mobile platform, make a couple of adjustments, raise a camera and wireless transmitter up a stationary mast and leave it. Do this in a few places around the violator's plant to get different angles and then set up in one central place to view, record and control those camera. Cameras could be night vision and or thermal in nature allowing for catching the night time violations. Cameras could be Pan, Tilt, Zoom capable to allow for moving around and targeting special areas. With some software, the user may able to quickly create automated, Virtual Tours of the plant to give them constant review if the scene. Once they get the "data" or "evidence" they need, they pack everything up and return to process the video into case files.

Just food for thought...

- Security Caffeine

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