Acquiring lots of high-tech gadgetry is easy; stopping it
from being pinched is another matter entirely. There’s lot technology can do to
help protect your investment, but don’t forget the home security basics…
You’ve heard it all before, a home or business in the UK is
broken into every 20 seconds, yada yada… but just wait until it happens to you,
and statistically speaking there’s quite a good chance it will! Afterwards, in
a classic case of stable-door bolting you will probably become something of an
expert in security matters, so why not get ahead of the game now, and hopefully
stop yourself from becoming just another sorry statistic.
Securing your home is actually very easy and relies on a
simple confidence trick, persuading a would-be intruder that it is just too
much bother to break into your property and to try their luck elsewhere. Most
burglars are by nature cowardly individuals, fearful of identification and
capture so the key to successful prevention is to provide highly visible cues,
that your premises are both occupied and protected.
The first bit is simple, and it’s an old cliché but
whenever you are out make it look as though you are in. During the day leave a
radio switched on, make sure mail and the rubbish that pours through your
letterbox during the day can’t be seen from the outside – a simple notice
saying no junk mail or free newspapers works wonders – and leave a light on, or
connected to a timer switch so that your house isn’t in darkness when you come
back after a night out.
If you are away overnight, at weekends or going on holiday
use several timer switches to turn lights and radios on and off in different
rooms at preset intervals. Some models have a ‘random’ setting, which is even
better. Needless to say – but we’ll say it anyway – don’t leave doors and
windows open, fit good quality locks to all windows and points of entry, don’t
leave ladders or tools around and secure sheds and garages.
So much for the common sense stuff, but for serious deterrent
effect you need something a bit more high-tech. Your basic external security
arrangements should include some PIR (passive infra-red) security lights that
switch on whenever anyone comes with a few metres of the sensor. They should be
sited to illuminate dark corners and approaches to your property. They are
remarkably effective; in addition to the surprise effect for the intruder they
can attract the attention of neighbours and passers-by.
An external alarm bell box or siren is another simple measure.
At a pinch even a dummy box mounted prominently is worthwhile though there’s
really no substitute for a professionally installed alarm system. It’s a good
investment – compare the price of an alarm system to the cost of the property
you want to protect -- and you may be able to negotiate a reduction in your
Video surveillance is one of the most powerful weapons in
the security arsenal. This particular technology has advanced in leaps and
bounds in the past four or five years and the prospect of being caught on
camera is enough to deter even the boldest burglar. A couple of cameras placed
strategically around your property can provide highly effective 24-hour
protection and they have even more of a deterrent effect than security lights
and alarm boxes so the number one tip is to mount them where they can see, and
be seen. Don’t even think about using dummy cameras, most of them are blatantly
obvious; you can be sure villains read the gadget mags and can spot them a mile
The choice of camera is important; most of the models sold
in DIY shops for home use have fairly low resolution and limited low-light
capability. They’re generally okay for wide-area coverage in daylight and
extreme close ups – they work well for door entry – but you would be hard
pressed to make out a face or a number plate at distances of more than a few
metres. At dusk the picture will usually disappear altogether, though some
models have built in IR illuminators that light the scene immediately in front of
the camera lens. You can overcome the low light problem with a PIR floodlight
covering the camera’s field of view but it’s far better to spend a little more
on higher-resolution low-light cameras.
In general monochrome cameras work best in poor light but a
growing number of colour cameras have low-light functions and switch
automatically to black and white operation when light levels fall. A security
installation company will be able to advise you on the best choice of camera,
lens and location. If funds allow you can increase the effectiveness of your
system using PTZ (pan tilt zoom) cameras, which sit on motorised mounts, built
inside weatherproof housings or blackened ‘domes’.
The obvious problem with video surveillance is that someone
has to monitor the pictures. Clearly this is impossible when you are out, or
have something better to do than stare at a screen so the alternative is to
record the images. There are several ways of doing this, the simplest method is
to use a time-lapse VCR and a device called a ‘multiplexer’. Most timelapse
VCRs record on standard VHS tapes (the deck mechanisms are designed for
continuous operation) and record for between 12 and 960 hours on a very slow
moving 3-hour tape. The multiplexer takes the inputs from several cameras,
slices up the images and records them sequentially as a series of ‘snapshots’.
Most multiplexers also generate a ‘quad’ or multi-screen display, dividing the
monitor screen into four or more mini screens, so you can observe several
camera images at once whilst they are being recorded or during replay.
Advanced multiplexers make even more effective use of the
tape with a technique called motion detection; so that when unexpected movement
is detected in the scene it triggers an alarm and the VCR switches to
‘real-time’ recording mode, to capture more detail.
Time-lapse VCRs are being gradually replaced by digital
recording systems, that use PC type hard disc drives and digital tape formats.
These can provide even better quality images, over longer periods, however, the
most dramatic advances in video surveillance – and of particular interest to
home and small business users – involves the use of PCs and the Internet. PCs
and dedicated devices built around PCs combine several surveillance functions in
one box including video recording, image multiplexing, motion detection, camera
control and video display. PCs can process images from standard web cams and
surveillance cameras, using a video interface adaptor. The Internet adds a
whole new dimension, namely remote surveillance, whereby real-time video images
from one or more cameras can be sent from the PC and viewed anywhere in the
world on another PC or laptop with an Internet connection.
It gets better, the remote surveillance PC can replay recorded
images down the line, let you control a camera and send out an alert – via
email or by contacting a local monitoring station – that an alarm has been
triggered. The remote link can even carry two-way audio, so you can listen to,
have a chat with, or scare the bejeezus out of whoever is attempting to break
into your home, or holiday property, wherever it might be…
HITACHI REMOTE ACCESS, £POA
Internet based subscription service using a central secure
website that monitors and records incoming images from your PC cameras. It
allows remote viewing and control of up to 16 cameras from a standard net
browser. Facilities include motion detection and date and time stamped images
can be sent to users via email
Inexpensive software-only package for a PC that captures
logs and records images from webcams and allows remote viewing of live video.
The program can be scheduled to run at pre-set times, it has a highly
configurable motion sensor feature and it can be set to send an alert by email.
Trial software can be downloaded from:
VIDEOCATCHER NOVEX 2000, £350
Advanced software and 4-channel video capture device that
plugs into one of your PC’s spare PCI expansion sockets. VideoCatcher software
provides recording and playback facilities it has a built in motion sensor
feature and remote monitoring is possible via the Internet or over a local
RSTV RECAM, £POA
A high-end dedicated remote surveillance and alarm
transmitter system that can be connected to up to 8 cameras and sensors. Images
can be viewed over a phone line or via a GMS mobile phone on a PC or laptop.
Includes PTZ camera control, motion detection, two-way audio and optional
digital video storage using a hard disc drive.
EYESITE 300, £1450
Integrated remote monitoring system that supports up to 4
cameras and alarm sensors. When triggered the unit dials up a PC or mobile
phone to relay pictures and sound (sound only on a mobile). Control facilities
for door opening and switching on lights at the remote site.
Ó R. Maybury 2002,
SECURITY FEATURE – ADD COPY
THE IP REVOLUTION
Video surveillance is a remarkably conservative business
and heavily reliant on technology that by current consumer electronics
standards is decidedly old hat. Pictures from many multi-camera CCTV setups are
scanned only infrequently, often by bored, underpaid operators suffering from
‘monitor fatigue’ and more often than not the images go unrecorded. Even when
they are it’s often on an ancient low-resolution time-lapse VCR long overdue
for a service. Judging by the quality of those jerky, grainy security camera
videos you see on Crimewatch and news bulletins it’s likely that most villains
mothers would have a hard time recognising their own offspring...
Maybe not for much longer, there’s a definite buzz running
through the industry at the moment and everyone who’s anyone is talking about
‘IP’. That’s short for Internet Protocol, it promises nothing short of a
revolution for the surveillance industry and not just for law enforcement and
big-time operators in the public and private sectors but for everyone who wants
to keep an eye on their property and personal safety.
Traditional video surveillance mostly depends on cameras
connected by wires to a nearby monitoring centre or operations room. On large
sites where the cameras are a long way from the monitoring station, or where
cabling would be impractical or uneconomic video signals can be transmitted by
wireless link or microwave but for the most part, when you see a security
camera you can be fairly sure that if anyone is watching they’re probably not
too far away.
IP changes all that, instead of video signals from CCTV
cameras going more or less directly to a monitor screen they’re fed into a
computer, which converts the pictures into a stream of digital data. Once a
video image enters the digital domain many interesting things can be done with
it – more on that in a moment – but the key benefit is that pictures can more
easily recorded, at higher quality, and distributed over a local area network
or onto the mother of all networks, the Internet. Once on the web they can be
viewed on a PC, anywhere in the world with the appropriate software and access
to a telephone line.
Everyone involved with video surveillance, from the
companies selling and installing the equipment, to end users, are getting very
excited about IP because it frees them from the expense and complexity of
setting up dedicated on-site monitoring facilities. There are other advantages
too, because IP systems can use existing computer networks there’s a big cost
advantage. Recording and archiving recordings is a lot easier too; video is
stored on a hard disc drives, the image quality is potentially better than
video tape, it doesn’t degrade with repeated playback and it’s easier to find a
specific event or image on a recording, compared with wading through piles of
With IP surveillance monitoring of remote sites can be
handled centrally, or carried out automatically, by the server computers
processing the images. At a corporate level that means a large company can
consolidate its security operations for several widely separated locations into
one monitoring station, and because images can be more easily distributed,
security staff can be deployed more effectively throughout the company. IP
surveillance is not just for big business though; companies are already
springing up offering remote video surveillance services for small companies,
shops and residential property.
All good stuff but perhaps the most interesting spin offs
from IP are automated surveillance and alarm systems. Basically that means
doing away with the fallible, forgetful and easily distracted human element.
The computer software used in IP systems has been steadily
evolving and many programs now incorporate advanced motion detection
facilities. A CCTV camera image of a corridor or doorway, for example, can be
monitored constantly by the system – uninterrupted by tea or comfort breaks –
and the system programmed only to respond to unexpected events, such as someone
opening or closing the door when the house or office is supposed to be
Most motion detector routines can also be programmed only
to respond to movement in specified parts of the image area, and to ignore
random or natural movement. In other words if the camera is looking at an
outdoor scene, such as a car-park, the movement of trees or leaves blowing in
the wind, or small animals crossing in front of the camera will not trigger an
alarm but a person walking or even skulking around the area would flag up an
Incidentally, motion detection is not new and it has been
available on conventional analogue CCTV systems for several years and it is
often used to trigger a recording device such as a time lapse VCR. However that
usually means the recording device will only capture in detail what’s happened
after the alarm has been activated whereas on an IP system -- which is
recording all of the time -- the events that led up to the alarm being
triggered are also captured and flagged up for an operator to review.
Unlike the movies most alarm systems operate silently when
triggered and this is another area where IP systems have an advantage. Since
they are already connected to a network or the Internet they can send out
alerts using a variety of methods. Messages and images can be flashed up on
monitoring screens within a local area network. Systems can be programmed to
automatically send out an email, in some cases with still images of the event
as attachments. Other possibilities include direct dialling a telephone number
and replaying a pre-recorded message and sending an SMS text messages or emails
to a mobile phone.
IP security and surveillance is still a work in progress
and there’s still plenty to come, including a made in heaven marriage between
IP technology and the next generation of 3G mobile phones, which have a video
streaming capability, so you’ll be able to watch villains ransacking your home
whilst you’re sunning yourself on a Mediterranean beach, now that’s progress…
Ó R. Maybury 2002,