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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 insurance premiums.


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 off.


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…






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:





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 network





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, 1610










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 VHS tapes.


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 unoccupied.


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 alert.


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, 2211








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