Subscribe to Monitor This! RSS Feed

Monitor This!

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 8, 2013

For residents of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in America, terrorism probably doesn’t top their list of concerns. But with video surveillance in the spotlight after the Boston bombing, those cities now have a chance to take advantage of the attack in the name of safety.

The danger list, presented last week by the research website Neighborhood Scout, includes the usual suspects. Detroit, Chicago and Flint, Mich., all made the lineup, with Detroit taking the top three spots based on the predicted number of violent crimes per 1,000 neighborhood residents.

No surprise there. What is surprising is the number of smaller cities that are cited, places that aren’t typically associated with murder, rape, armed robbery and aggravated assault. A neighborhood in Greenville, S.C., comes in at No. 8, Indianapolis shows up twice, and even Nashville takes a hit—residents of the Eighth Avenue South/Wedgewood Avenue area have a 1-in-14 chance of being a victim of violent crime in any given year.

"So many people think, well, I live in a medium city so it can't be that bad, not like big cities like New York or Los Angeles," Andrew Schiller, the founder of Neighborhood Scout, told The Huffington Post. "But those cities aren't that dangerous overall—of course they have dangerous neighborhoods—but they aren't nearly as dangerous as places like Indianapolis."

Schiller’s contention is backed by FBI data from more than 17,000 local law enforcement agencies, making it tough to dispute. For the cities on the list, it can only be seen as a black eye. But for those who see better security through video surveillance, it’s an opportunity to add to a growing chorus in the wake of the Boston bombing.

In the past three weeks, there has been an official push for more video cameras—and for greater integration of surveillance systems—in cities including Philadelphia, Houston and Los Angeles. The successful use of video in identifying the suspects in Boston has tempered criticism of the cost and given rise to discussion of public and private partnerships to share video data.

"If [a company has] a camera that films an area we're interested in, then why put up a separate camera?" said Dennis Storemski, director of Houston’s office of public safety and homeland security, in an interview with The Associated Press. "And we allow them to use ours too."

That kind of cooperation holds promise for cutting crime and increasing arrests, but only if the network is properly set up, integrated and monitored. Success will also hinge on addressing privacy concerns and fears that freedom will fall prey to technology run amok, especially if the surveillance extends beyond city centers and into residential areas like those cited by Neighborhood Scout.

 “Look, we don't want an occupied state. We want to be able to walk the good balance between freedom and security," Deputy Chief Michael Downing of the Los Angeles police told The Associated Press. "If this helps prevent [and] deter but also detect … who did [a crime], I guess the question is can the American public tolerate that type of security.”

Right now the smart money is on “yes.”

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 1, 2013

There has been a lot of debate in the past few months about the government infringing on the privacy and rights of its citizens. Most of the heat has been generated by the standoff over gun control, but you don’t have to look far to find people who think Big Brother is lurking around every corner—at the IRS, DHS and even your local cop shop.

So what about video surveillance? Did the fact that video helped take down the Boston bombers give the powers-that-be carte blanche to watch your every move, whenever and wherever you go? Will there soon be blanket surveillance every time you step out your door? And if that’s the case, where is the outrage and pushback?

Apparently there won’t be any. In a poll taken after the Boston bombing, The New York Times and CBS News found that 78 percent of Americans favor installing video surveillance cameras in public places, judging that any infringement on their privacy is worth it to help prevent terrorist attacks.

That sentiment bodes well for the security industry, which stands to profit from the increased public and private spending. Even before the bombing, IMS Research was projecting a 114 percent increase in the global market for video surveillance equipment, from $9.6 billion in 2010 to $20.5 billion in 2016. IMS is in the process of revising that forecast, no doubt making it even rosier.

Which brings us to drones (or maybe not, but that’s where I’m going). Last week, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said he would be interested in using aerial surveillance technology to monitor events like the Boston Marathon. He wasn’t talking about helicopters—the price of drones has gotten to the point where local police departments are using them, particularly in rural areas.

The security industry might be able to benefit from that development too. The question is, when will the privacy line be crossed in the minds of the public? You might feel safer knowing that your bank or train station is under surveillance, but how will you feel when a police drone flies over your house? Or am I being paranoid?

It will be interesting to see what happens on that front. For now, though, protection has trumped the freedom to remain anonymous, at least when it comes to surveillance on the ground. The Tsarnaev brothers can attest to that.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Looking back on it, it was a little too close for comfort: Walking the streets of Cambridge at about the same time the Boston Marathon bombers were killing a police officer at MIT, just a few blocks from a nightclub where I was heading with a friend. Investigators had released photos of the suspects a few hours earlier and they were now on the run, with a carjacking, police chase (more on that later) and shootout to follow.

The two men should have known they wouldn’t remain anonymous for long. Given the extent of video surveillance at the bombing site and the number of people taking photos of the race on their cellphones, it was only a matter of time before authorities put the pieces together. Credit for identifying the suspects goes not only to the police and FBI, but also to the technology that made it happen.

The use of that technology extended to the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect who fled on foot after surviving the shootout on the night of April 18. Holed up in a shrink-wrapped boat in Watertown, his presence was confirmed by helicopter with the help of thermal-imaging cameras provided by FLIR Systems.

In a black-and-white image that has gone viral since Tsarnaev was taken into custody, his glowing body can be seen through the covering on the boat. Police later sent in an unmanned vehicle to lift the covering, which allowed them to determine that Tsarnaev was not wearing an explosive vest. They soon moved in and apprehended him, ending four days of high anxiety.

My night in Cambridge ended with an improvised escape from town. After leaving the club we found the streets buzzing with dozens of police cruisers, all screaming west toward the shootout in Watertown. Think of the chase scene from “The Blues Brothers” movie—no intersection was safe to cross, even if you had a green light. The main routes out of Cambridge were blocked, so we had to pick our way through a maze of side streets until we found our way home.

What we didn’t know that night was that the MIT slaying and the bombing suspects were connected. That information was confirmed after we made it out of the city, which was soon under lockdown. I'm not sure I would have changed my plans, but I'm obviously glad our paths didn’t cross.
 

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Marcus Dunn was late for the phone call Tuesday morning, but there was no need to apologize (although he did so anyway). As director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, he had been in a meeting to discuss the bombings in Boston and it ran longer than expected.

Our conversation—we speak every month about legislative issues affecting the industry—quickly turned to Monday’s deadly attack. Less than 24 hours had passed and speculation was rampant about who had done it and why. There were few new facts, but police had started to sift through surveillance video that likely will be key to solving the crime.

That provided a silver lining, however slim, for Dunn.

“When these things happen, despite all the craziness, there’s a little bit of pride in being with an organization that often prevents these types of things or plays a large role in apprehending those responsible,” he said. “There are some critics of the technology and how there are cameras on the streets, but I think we’ve seen time and time again that they’re effective in preventing crime and certainly very effective in capturing perpetrators.”

Dunn said that was the case after bombs killed 52 people aboard three London trains and a city bus on July 7, 2005. The examination of CCTV images helped investigators identify the suicide bombers and arrest others connected to the attacks.

“We’re trying to determine what was deployed in the area in Boston and if a [SIA] member company had equipment deployed there,” Dunn said. “In London, it’s just decked out—there are cameras everywhere. That’s what they used [in 2005]. They were able to go through the surveillance footage very quickly.”

In the aftermath of Monday’s attack, there was also the realization that “soft targets” like the Boston Marathon will always be vulnerable. No matter what security precautions are taken, the risk can never be eliminated—at least not in a free society. With it comes a loss of innocence that deepens the grief.

“The marathon is one of those things that is very open, you can come and go,” Dunn said. “Those days are gone now.”

After SIA’s meeting Tuesday morning, CEO Don Erickson—who is also a marathon runner—echoed the thoughts of many with the following statement:
 
“As someone who has personally experienced the strong community spirit that exists on marathon days, I am incredibly saddened by the horrific events that tragically occurred yesterday in Boston. On behalf of SIA, our thoughts and prayers are extended to those who were injured and to the families of those who lost their lives on what should have been a day of accomplishment and excitement for the city of Boston. We extend our thanks to the first responders who acted so quickly to help the victims of this attack.”

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Twenty-five years ago, the only tattoo I remember seeing was the one on my father-in-law’s left bicep. It was a simple black anchor, a reminder of his Navy days, that hadn’t fared well over the years. Its once-sharp lines had morphed into blurry tentacles, an embarrassment that he kept covered with shirtsleeves even during the dog days of summer.

How times have changed. Ink art is now de rigueur, with nose, lip and cheek piercings often part of the package. You may not like the look or believe it’s wise given the bill that will arrive with advanced age, but that’s never stopped fashion before. It’s all the rage and it’s coming soon to a coffeehouse near you.

But what happens when the look goes beyond the baristas and it reaches your security company? If a sales rep’s stud earring gives way to a ring through the lip, or an operator’s ankle shamrock begets an arm’s length of more colorful ink, how will it affect co-workers? More importantly, how will it affect your customers?

The problem isn’t a lack of professionalism—it’s the image of a lack of professionalism. You can nip the problem in the bud by having a workplace appearance policy, but you’ll need to tread carefully to avoid running afoul of anti-discrimination laws. Cross that line and you could end up in court.

A great primer the topic was provided via email last week by Judge Ruth Kraft, chairwoman of the Labor and Employment Group at Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum. Here’s what she had to say:

Body art and piercings are personal expressions. However, in general, you have a great deal of discretion with respect to appearance standards. You can require that ‘ink’ and piercings not be visible. There is no legally established right for workers to display them in the workplace. Unless the employee can establish that they are indicia of religious or racial expression, tattoos and piercings are not protected under federal anti-discrimination laws.          

Therefore, you are entitled to establish policy. The best policy is one that explains itself in terms of reasonable business needs. Just as a manufacturer may require assembly-line workers to wear protective clothing and to tie back his or her hair for safety reasons, a pediatrician may ban hanging earrings or nose rings which could be torn out by a recalcitrant youngster or prohibit nail extensions which could harbor bacteria.

   The typical approach in establishing policies is a midground which limits restrictions to employees who have contact with the public and requires that the tattoos and piercings not be visible. This is the most practical to implement since it doesn’t restrict employee self-expression but simply limits what they can show at work. A policy which provides that, if an appearance standard is violated, the employee will be asked to correct it, including going home to change into clothing that covers the tattoos and/or piercings, puts workers on notice as to the consequences of their actions.  The policy should be enforced just as you enforce other behavior policies. If your rules call for progressive discipline, then you should follow the same steps for violation of the appearance policy, beginning with verbal warning and proceeding to written warning, etc.

  Caveat 1: If the tattoo or piercing represents a genuine religious or racial expression, then it may be protected under the federal anti-discrimination laws. The rights of observant Jews to wear yarmulkes in the workplace or of Sikhs to wear their turbans and beards have been upheld in the courts, except where such outward manifestations of belief could pose health or safety risks in particular occupations. There is limited case authority on this point, but I believe that the courts will differentiate between a volitional outward manifestation of belief (i.e., a tattoo of Jesus on one’s arm) which is not religiously mandated, and tattooing which is required of members of a bona fide religious or racial group.  

   Caveat 2: Be sure to enforce your policy consistently to prevent claims of unfair application or discrimination against a member of a protected class under the law.

For more information on workplace appearance policies, or to update or create one for your company, contact Kraft at RKraft@Kirschenbaumesq.com. For advice on how to remove tattoos, go to www.tattoohealth.org.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Using video technology to spy on Fido or your terrible teens while you’re away from home isn’t new. But now a California company has launched an app that will allow you to use a smartphone for the job, bypassing the need for a traditional IP camera system.

People Power, a Palo Alto-based software firm, is touting its Presence app as a way to monitor and protect the homefront for free via WiFi. “Use it … as a webcam, security cam, baby cam, party cam, you name it,” the company states on its website. “Customize and get meaningful alerts that give you [the] peace of mind you need knowing that loved ones are safe.”

The iOS app provides real-time audio and video streaming, motion-detection video alerts and two-way voice. The idea is that your outdated iPhone or iPad can be converted into a remote camera, with you as Big Brother—or Big Mother—watching it all on a similar device at your office or favorite watering hole.

And that’s all well and good. Like other DIY systems on the market that offer video, being able to see when Jimmy gets home from school or who is polishing off the last of the ice cream has its merits. As for Fido, now you can reprimand him from the cloud when he gets into the trash. Talk about Big Brother ...

Then there’s the protection angle. Users can program the app to record a 5-second video clip when motion is detected and then send them an email alert. If you have a collection of unused iOS devices, they can be arrayed to cover different areas of the home.

“We really are creating this disruptive app that really creates an inexpensive security system,” People Power CEO Gene Wang told the Los Angeles Times.

The translation is that the app user is now the central station. But does the average homeowner really know what that entails?

A number of questions immediately come to mind. For starters, what happens when Presence detects an intruder, or what the user thinks is an intruder? Should he call the police, or maybe a neighbor to check on the house? If it is an intruder and the intruder is hostile, what happens then? If the police are called and it’s a false alarm, how will municipalities handle that?

It will be interesting to see how it pans out. While Presence without question has some very attractive features—don’t forget that it’s free—taking it into the security realm comes with responsibilities that might be best left to professionals. As with most services, typically you get what you pay for.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Checkpoint Systems, a global supplier of loss-prevention products and solutions for the retail industry, announced earlier this month that it was negotiating the sale of its CheckView integration and monitoring business. On Monday, the buyer was ID’d: Platinum Equity, a California-based private equity firm, which will make the deal for $5.4 million.

In a blog Tuesday, Seeking Alpha analyst Brenon Daly called the deal “one of the more financially lopsided divestitures we've seen in some time. ... The electronic security unit generated roughly $77 million of revenue in 2012, although it did run slightly in the red.”

The transaction includes CheckView’s CSAA Five Diamond-certified central station in Chanhassen, Minn. CheckView also sells digital video cameras and monitors to combat retail crime, along with fire and intrusion alarm systems for that vertical.

In a prepared statement, Checkpoint said its board of directors had determined that CheckView could better serve its customers as an independent, entrepreneurial and more focused organization. George Babich, who was named Checkpoint’s CEO and president on March 4, said that Platinum Equity has “a strong track record helping companies reach their full potential. … We are committed to support CheckView throughout the sale process to ensure an orderly transition with full continuity of service to customers.”

“CheckView will act as a platform acquisition and allow us to focus on the core business while pursuing organic-growth initiatives and strategic add-ons in a highly fragmented space,” said Platinum Equity principal Jason Leach.

On March 5, Checkpoint reported a fourth-quarter loss of $35.4 million, or 86 cents per share. That compares with a loss of $19.1 million, or 47 cents per share, a year earlier. The company’s shares closed at $13.43 on Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

ASAP honors for Richmond: Computerworld, which bills itself as “the leading source of technology news and information for IT influencers,” recently gave a nod to Richmond, Va., for a tech program that’s been making headlines in the alarm world: the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol.

Richmond’s participation in ASAP earned the city a 2013 Computerworld Honors Laureate, an award that recognizes “visionary applications of information technology promoting positive social, economic and educational change.” Richmond was one of three public safety answering points that served as charter municipalities for the program; six were participating by the end of 2012.

“Receiving Computerworld’s Honors Laureate acknowledges the outstanding achievement and advancement of our city’s Department of Information Technology and 911 staff in providing excellent service to Richmond’s residents,” Mayor Dwight Jones said in a prepared statement. “The benefits of the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol program are tremendous as it reduces 911 processing times, reduces response times by first responders, and provides an extremely accurate data exchange between the alarm monitoring companies and [PSAPs].”

by: Rich Miller - Friday, March 22, 2013

Sad news out of Texas: Don Trask, former vice president of operations for Online Alarm Quotes, died last week in Dallas at age 75.

“Don was one of the very first employees of Monitronics and helped build their central station,” Tom Fowler, president of Online Alarm Quotes, told SSN. “A very good soul. He was one of the nicest people I ever encountered in any walk of life. Please make mention of his passing and keep his family in your prayers.”

Trask was the executive vice president and CEO of Trask Enterprises, doing business as New West Security in Duncanville, Texas. Before his employment at Online Alarm Quotes and Monitronics, he worked for Southland Corp., the Arthur Trask Corp. and 3M Corp., according to his profile on LinkedIn.

Trask was born and raised in the Chicago area and attended the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Sheri Trask; daughters Nancy and Elizabeth; stepson Corey, and his grandchildren.

“Don was the kind of friend that renewed faith in people,” Fowler said. “He was there for you without asking and without question.”

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, March 20, 2013

ESX is one of the fastest-growing trade shows in the country, a distinction that hasn’t been lost on the industry’s top monitoring and integration companies. The expo floor is already more than 70 percent sold for this year’s event, which will be moving down the street from Nashville’s Convention Center the new Music City Center.

More than 140 exhibitors were on board as of Monday, including 30 companies that weren’t on the floor last year. Among the new participants from the monitoring world are Criticom Monitoring Services (CMS), Metrodial and SAFE Security.

Some of the busiest real estate at ESX 2013 is likely to be found at the NexTech Zone, where exhibitors focused on home automation, energy management, IT and interactive services will display the latest products and services. With Time Warner, ADT and other big players increasingly moving into this space, it’s probably a good idea for central stations to stay ahead of the curve (or at least not fall behind it).

There also will be 10 educational sessions at ESX focusing on central station operations and technology. Topics range from how to find and retain quality operators (and customers) to the monitoring world beyond PERS, with some of the top names in the industry leading the discussions. To find out more about what ESX has to offer—pencil in June 17-21 if you haven't already—or to register, click here.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Telguard has expanded its reach into the PERS marketplace by licensing its cellular technology to Mytrex, a South Jordan, Utah-based manufacturer of medical alarm systems.

Mytrex is targeting independent seniors who are doing away with POTS but still want medical response service. The technology used in Telguard’s TG-P cellular PERS communicator can now be found in Mytrex’s MXD3G “turnkey” PERS solution.

Mytrex President Richard Bangerter said his company was looking for a partner “with proven cellular technology and service to enhance our product line and help us address the growing no-landline senior population.” That led to Telguard, which provides solutions for wireless monitoring of intrusion and fire systems.

One of the selling points for the MXD3G is that it's "central-station agnostic," eliminating the need to purchase and maintain proprietary equipment.

“As long as a dealer’s central station advertises support for two-way voice, the MXD3G using Telguard service can be installed to deliver it,” the company said in a prepared statement.

The device is available through Telguard or Mytrex.

Work hard, play hard: COPS Monitoring is planning a Dealer Appreciation Bonanza during ISC West that will include cocktails, dinner, line dancing and a mechanical bull riding competition for anyone brave enough to saddle up.

“We wanted to celebrate the opening of our 8,000-square-foot central station in Texas and our recent acquisition of AlarmWATCH,” COPS President and COO Jim McMullen said in a prepared statement. “Our dealers work hard all year long. We thought that it would be exciting if we hosted an event that gave them the opportunity to play hard as well.”

The gathering will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. at Gilley’s at Treasure Island in Las Vegas. There will be door prizes and dealers will be able to commemorate the evening with a Western-themed picture from the event photo booth. Co-sponsors are Alarm Funding Associates, CheckVideo, the SS&Si Dealer Network, Telguard and TimePayment.

Space is limited and is reserved for qualified alarm dealers and their guests. For more information or to find out if you qualify for complimentary tickets, click here or call Betty Hudson at 800-367-2677, Ext. 1256.

Pages