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Monitoring Matters

by: Daniel Gelinas - Thursday, May 1, 2008
So, I finally got around to reading The New Yorker article about the man who was stuck in an elevator for 41 hours. Nicholas White, a production manager for Business Week, spent a weekend trapped in Car No. 30 of the McGraw-Hill building in New York City back in 1999. For 41 hours he paced the elevator, pried open the doors, repeatedly used the emergency phone, laid down to sleep and even smoked the rest of his cigarettes (aren't there smoke detectors in there!) ... but nothing. Nobody noticed him, not even the eight (yes, 8!) different guards who were on duty that weekend. Here's an easily overlooked parenthesized sentence in the 8,000 word article that caught my security-honed attention: (Eight McGraw-Hill security guards came and went while he was stranded there; nobody seems to have noticed him on the monitor.) Check out the video for yourself: I don't know how many screens these security guards monitored, but it was a weekend, people. There's little to no activity in the elevators for the duration of the video, and, there's even elevator maintenance work being done, which should at least garner some attention from the guards. (Of course, there's no maintenance work being done on the elevator car that actually malfunctioned and trapped White inside.) I'd say this is a great example of why security guards alone are not very effective. If it had been one guy who missed this, I'd say fine, maybe he was tired. But EIGHT! I know this was nearly 10 years ago and the analytic technology of today wasn't available, but if I were an analytic provider trying to convince companies to invest in notification-based video systems, this example would certainly be in my arsenal.
by: Daniel Gelinas - Monday, April 28, 2008
So, apparently the concept of "intelligent textiles" is more prevalent than I first thought. Here's a blurb about a t-shirt that monitors vital signs such as heart rate and body temperature. It's a good old cotton t-shirt embedded with conductive fibers that's supposedly washable, too. (Good thing, otherwise wearers of this t-shirt may not be welcomed in many enclosed spaces.) Here's how it works: "A micro controller embedded in the t-shirt digitizes the signals and transmits them via a wireless connection to a remote back-end system for real-time monitoring." The article claims part of the five-year development of this technology was partially paid for by the Department of Defense. Interesting. It also said that the company is beginning field testing for the monitoring of emergency service workers such as police officers and fire service workers. My thought is that some company has to be doing that monitoring, why not you?
by: Daniel Gelinas - Friday, April 25, 2008
So there's yet another player in the plug-n-go security market: Rogo. For $10.95 a month, customers can remotely access cameras from their PC or cell phone using this system. The model is similar to other vendors in this arena: making remote video monitoring a mass market product by making it as cheap and easy as possible. But $10.95/month? That's pretty darn cheap. Rogo is pushing the use of USB cameras, which are so inexpensive they can give them away for free, or so they say at least twice in this article. However, the obvious drawback of USB cameras are that, well, they're USB cameras and they have to plug into your computer to work. Who wants 50 yards of USB cord strung through their house, even if the camera is in the form of a cute puppy? (The picture of the puppy camera has nothing to do with the Rogo system, I just thought it was cute and funny ... plus it's Friday.) To counter this downfall, the Web site explains that the system is compatible with AXIS wireless cameras. Another problem from a consumer standpoint is that all the captured data is stored directly on the consumer's computer. The FAQ section of the Web site says that the system only takes up about 5 GB of space, but still... Something interesting and perhaps new about this system is that the cameras can be set on "motion detect mode" and only record when activated. That certainly seems like more of a security-related function. The article also mentioned the ability for the camera to produce graphs and quantitative results based on the footage, or so says the president of the company: “We’ve also moved beyond just security,” [James] Trimble says. Because the system can monitor 24-hour activity and graph it, a retailer can examine the peaks and valleys of activity in a store. That was a first for me, too. It sounds like there must be an analytic component incorporated in the system, right? No mention of the word "analytic" in the article or on the Web site, but perhaps that word doesn't create the excitement in the consumer market as it does among security professionals.
by: Daniel Gelinas - Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Here's an article that follows one woman's experience in contract hell. Her experience is specifically about getting unknowingly roped into a contract with her satellite television provider, but could easily be applied to alarm monitoring contracts. From a consumer point of view I can completely understand her frustration (I just changed cell phone providers, which was quite an ordeal). And, apparently, so can the author of this article. Here's my favorite paragraph: Customer service contracts have become the bane of our consumerhood, a modern form of indentured servitude, a spiral of preset spending from which breaking free is almost impossible. We wince and sign, lured by equipment discounts or other come-ons, all with a sense that we'll regret it later. However, from the company's standpoint, the need for contracts is unquestionable, particularly in the alarm industry where RMR is the number that counts. I monitor several industry listserv's and regularly read posts from business owners about their troubles with contracts: how to write them in a way that's legally binding and inclusive, but at the same time easily understood by the consumer. I don't often read about the enforcement of contracts, so I don't have a good perspective on how much of an issue it is, but I imagine it's not something that's in the 'likes' column for many business owners. I think it's safe to say that contracts are nobody's friend, except maybe your lawyers.
by: Daniel Gelinas - Monday, April 21, 2008
Ooh, I hate those meter reader guys. You know, the ones who spend their days driving up and down city streets in their golf cart-size trucks trying to bust people for running to the bank without depositing adequate change in the meter (can you tell I've been busted a few times?). Well, perhaps I would've been able to find a parking space in the bank lot if they had employed this company. Basically, the company uses security guards to monitor parking lots via video to ensure that people who are parking there are indeed conducting business at the respective owner's place of business. My take on this article is two-fold: One, yes, it's a way to keep people from parking in private lots where they aren't doing business and, two, it keeps those security guards from dying of boredom. Based on the article you can tell these guards are excited to have something to do, too. The example they cite is about a guy who parked in a bank parking lot and then didn't go into the bank (!!).Although the driver insisted he had done business in the bank, Houle said he had the whole thing on camera. "(He) came back 40 minutes after (parking) without any proof that he went into the bank," Houle said. The guards booted his car and charged him $75 to take it off. Apparently, it's working and freed up a number of available parking spots for bank users, but really, $75? That's a wee bit steep, in my opinion, but I guess somebody's gotta pay for those meter maids, I mean security guards.
by: Daniel Gelinas - Thursday, April 17, 2008
Here's a little blurb about a Swiss company working to integrate "analysis modules for biochemical sensing" into textiles for health monitoring. It made me wonder how prevalent true health monitoring was in the industry and the logistics of central stations to incorporate it into their offerings? Granted, this isn't your average PERS monitoring, it involves the analysis of sweat, blood (and tears?). Per the company's Web site: This allows for the first time the monitoring of body fluids via sensors distributed on a textile substrate and performing biochemical measurements. I imagine the development of the specialty "sensing textiles" would be fairly complex, but I wonder about the requirements for monitoring? Could companies that already specialize in PERS and have medically trained operators easily incorporate this high level of medical monitoring into their systems? It's obviously a new technology, but the concept seems plausible to me. And frankly, I'm curious what these "sensing textiles" will look like. I have a hard time believing these techie guys will have even a remote sense of fashion (people have to wear these things, after all).
by: Daniel Gelinas - Tuesday, April 15, 2008
At ISC West I had a chance to talk with Mike May, the president of iVerify, a dedicated video monitoring company in Charlotte, N.C. They just bought a 40,000-square-foot building in Charlotte on a 15-acre secure campus. Here's a good article from the Charlotte Observer about the company. (There will also be an article in our May issue about the purchase, by the way). The Observer piece was interesting because it included alternative uses for video in the retail space and the potential for video to be used for more than just security. May talked briefly about video as a marketing tool for stores to evaluate how much time customers spend at certain displays and the flow of people through the store as a way to better market products. Yet again, another example of additional services that can be incorporated with security. What's the buzzword for that again? Oh, yeah, value-added services. I bet those crazy marketing people pay good money for those kind of statistics, too. I hear there's a new conference that focuses on educating security companies about alternative value-added services to add to their offerings. Check it out: Security Business Development Forum (and yes, SSN, is coordinating a large part of it and, yes, it's certainly worth your click).
by: Daniel Gelinas - Thursday, March 27, 2008
Everybody wants a piece of the remote monitoring pie. Here's an article about SureWest, a California communications company, launching a remote monitoring service. Sounds like a plug and play system where they send you a camera, some sensors, a little bit of hardware/software and, of course, instructions. I'm always curious if these companies have dedicated customer service for new ventures like this, because frankly, no matter how simple it sounds, most of us are mildly-to-severely technologically challenged and setting up a system is probably at least a little tricky. The system appears to be completely self-monitored and I'd say only has a security application in passing, (you get alerts when your front door opens, for example, and can access video on-demand), but the concept of remote monitoring is something the security industry should take note of. The concept itself is fairly appealing. I spoke with Bill Diamond from Xanboo (they're the company that designed basically everything for AT&T's Remote Monitoring system, from technology to service) and he said the real driver for residential video, specifically, is the revolution of the cell phone. When people really start using their cell phones to check-in on their home, turn on lights, regulate temperature and who knows what else, the remote monitoring market will explode. And shouldn't security be the natural driving force behind remote monitoring? Anyone who doesn't at least dabble in home automation seems to be missing out on a significant opportunity to sell more than security to their customers and even if it's not full blown remote monitoring capabilities, at least it's a step in the right direction. I wonder if it could save me from stressing about whether or not I left my coffee pot on?
by: Daniel Gelinas - Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Next time you find yourself trying to defend the amount of false alarms in the industry (yeah, yeah we all know somebody said 97 to 99 percent of all alarms are false), cite this case to prove that SOMETIMES, false alarms can be a good thing. After all, they do get the police out there and in cases like this, cause them to hit the jackpot:PHOENIX — Officers seized 900 pounds of marijuana, thousands of dollars in cash and three firearms at a Phoenix home after responding to what turned out to be a false alarm. Sgt. Andy Hill said Sunday that patrol officers responded to a west Phoenix home after a burglar alarm went off at about 2 p.m. Saturday. While investigating, Hill says officers spotted a man jump a wall by the house. Not knowing if there had been a burglary, the officers chased the man into the backyard of a nearby home. While arresting him, officers saw a storage room door open with numerous bales of marijuana inside. They found a rifle, a shotgun, a handgun and about $10,000 in cash inside the house. All I have to say is 900 POUNDS of marijuana?! In bales? Really? I sure hope the police waived the fine for that guy's alarm.
by: Daniel Gelinas - Tuesday, March 18, 2008
So this morning I found an interesting video monitoring application being used in meat processing plants. I realize it's not exactly the market for the average security installer or integrator, but I thought it was a good example of how security technology is moving beyond traditional applications and is actually being used to improve business operations (and, in this case, the health of consumers). Arrowsight is a company that provides remote video auditing (RVA) technology (a new acronym for me), and installs these systems in meat processing and animal handling factories so managers can constantly monitor "the line" to ensure that employees are following food safety standards. In the wake of this massive meat recall with video surfacing showing unimaginable violations of meat handling compliance, knowing that somebody is keeping an eye on how the nation's meat is being handled is slightly comforting (although the company's who are progressive enough to install video monitoring systems probably aren't the ones using fork lifts to move sick cattle into the slaughter house). For the security integrators out there, this is just another example of how security systems are moving beyond traditional applications and truly becoming a tool to improve business.