May 2008

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    EMAIL INTERVIEW Paul Bodell & Ken Sinclair

Paul Bodell, Officer, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, IQinVision

Paul Bodell is a customer focused sales and marketing executive with 20 years of international experience. He has spent 15 years in the security industry and held senior management positions with Sensor/HID, Silent Knight, Philips CCTV and is currently an Officer and Vice President of Sales and Marketing with IQinVision, a US based manufacturer of IP Video Systems and Smart Megapixel Cameras. He is a regular contributor to several industry magazines and active in SIA and other industry groups. Mr. Bodell holds undergraduate degrees in Engineering from the University of Connecticut, Mathematics from Fairfield University and has a Masters in Business Administration from the University of New Haven. He lives in Lancaster, PA with his wife and three children.

Video Surveillance Continues to Grow—But Are We Letting the Bad Guys Get Away?

Security veteran weighs in on getting better results from all that video surveillance equipment that’s not doing the job

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Sinclair:  Security video is used for a lot of different things, but what are the main uses?

Video surveillance is used primarily for two reasons, deterrence and evidence.  For deterrence, the placement of cameras and posting of signs is key:  let people know they are being watched and they are less likely to commit a crime, or find somewhere else to do it.  Strategic placement of cameras is very important to avoid blind spots.  In the past, in some cases video systems were supplemented with “dummy” cameras to give the impression that there were no blind spots.  When dome cameras hit the market they quickly gained popularity in part because they obscured where the camera was pointing, therefore if you could see the dome, you had to assume it could see you.  In this way a single camera could provide deterrence over a much larger area.

Sinclair: What about evidentiary use?

As evidence, video systems enabled you go back after the fact and find out what happened.  With a well-designed system—one that delivers at least 40 pixels-per-foot of resolution—you could review video to find out what happened, who did it, and when it happened.   Since the deterrent and evidentiary benefits of video systems were substantial, video surveillance became the fastest growing segment of the security industry. 

Sinclair: So video surveillance growth has exploded, but how effective is it?

As competitive pressures have increased, to save on a system cost many integrators resort to cutting corners to “win the job”.  This trend has resulted in the installation of many systems that are unable to provide forensic detail from the video.  Specific causes include installation of too few cameras or low resolution cameras used to cover wider areas, in some cases providing less than 20 pixels/foot.  The result?  Complete loss of evidentiary quality video.  At one Philadelphia University, the video system was so bad that when a suspect was apprehended immediately after committing a crime and was shown the damning video evidence, he recognized how poor the video quality was and said, That’s not me.”  Campus Security could not conclusively identify him, so he was set free.

Sinclair: So, those grainy shots we see on TV on in the newspaper are not the exception?

Today, blurry bank robber images are the norm rather than the exception.  Many criminals realize this, and they have become increasingly bold because they know there is a very low probability that the CCTV system they know is there will be able to identify them.  The lack of basic industry standards on what acceptable video quality is has not only negated the forensic value of video systems, it has also substantially reduced the deterrent value of video as well.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Sinclair: What are some remedies for ineffective video surveillance systems?

In order to restore the value of video surveillance, it is imperative that we develop a basic forensic video quality standard upon which everyone including A&Es, integrators, and end-users can agree.  This is no easy task for there are many factors to consider.  However, just because it is difficult doesn’t mean we should continue to ignore the challenge.  Most video surveillance systems need to provide forensic detail so the first step is to define a minimum video quality, pixels-per-foot is a simple way to define image quality and is manufacturer agnostic.  Of course having enough pixels-per-foot doesn’t guarantee forensic quality but not having enough pixel-per-foot guarantees you will never have forensic quality images.  If we start with a minimum standard, the individual manufacturers can fight it out with respect to compression methodologies and other competitive differentiators.

Sinclair: Help us better understand what a pixels-per-foot standard “looks” like and how does frames-per-second impact the system?

If you compare a series of images of similar looking people, you will find at 10 pixels/foot, you cannot tell them apart.  At 40 pixels per foot, while not crystal clear, you can tell one person from the other.  And at 100 pixels/foot, you can tell twins apart.  Once you have a minimum pixels-per-foot standard, you should then determine how many images you need to capture to make the system effective and this number will range widely from application to application.  For instance, if you are trying to capture 10 “forensic quality” images of a car passing by at 40 MPH using a VGA camera, you would need that camera to deliver more than 37 frames/second.  Alternatively if you are using a 5MP IQeye, that camera would only need to provide 10 frames/second to provide the same 10 images.  This is because higher resolution cameras cover wider areas, therefore it takes longer for the car to pass through it’s field of view and gives you more opportunities to capture images.

Sinclair: As you write and speak throughout the industry proposing such standards, what reaction are you getting?

The overwhelming majority of folks I talk with including end users and engineering firms love the concept of getting away from yesterday’s “cut-and-paste your favorite manufacturer’s data sheet” method of developing specs and establishing some minimum guidelines for what a video system should deliver.  End users are increasingly frustrated with the low quality images they are getting from their video systems and want to be able to purchase a system that delivers acceptable image quality at an acceptable frame rate without breaking the bank.  Being able to define their requirements in non-technical terminology like “forensic quality” video that all their potential suppliers must adhere to makes their process easier and is a major step forward toward getting a system that would satisfy their needs.


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