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IFSEC Insider, formerly IFSEC Global, is the leading online community and news platform for security and fire safety professionals.
March 20, 2020


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Surveillance technology

“At a time of crisis, video will prove its worth,” says IDIS MD, James Min

James Min, Managing Director, IDIS Europe, explores how video surveillance technology can support security departments when times of crisis hit.

The Covid-19 pandemic is only just taking hold globally. And it’s becoming clearer by the day how far-reaching its impact will be. From food to finance, from public events to politics, there’s going to be no ‘business as usual’ for many months to come.

So how resilient and how useful will our video surveillance infrastructures prove to be?

It remains to be seen how far the liberal democracies move towards the kind of state surveillance seen in China, or the official adoption of smartphone apps for tracking citizens and monitoring the movements of those who may be infected, as we’ve seen in South Korea and, at the time of writing, Israel.

Even as European and US states impose more stringent restrictions on peoples’ movements, it seems unlikely that they’ll readily adopt such technologies, partly because their data networks and infrastructures are less developed, but also importantly because of concerns about privacy. The EU, and for the moment the UK, continue to be guided by GDPR requirements which would make it hard to track biodata, even if it were anonymised. And in the US, we’ve seen individual states and municipalities asserting themselves to protect civil liberties – for example, San Francisco banning the use of facial recognition, and California introducing its Consumer Privacy Act.

But, as the pandemic worsens, we may see governments taking a different view, and asking their populations to give up some data freedoms for the duration of the threat. If it comes to a choice between saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable fellow citizens, or insisting that civil liberties are not compromised, it seems likely that most people would choose the former.

None of this means that we should relax our guard against the long-term erosion of our civil liberties, or our insistence on the importance of individual freedoms.

And in the security industry we’ve been pretty good at helping to get the balance right, developing technologies that allow very effective surveillance within acceptable limits and in compliance with privacy laws.

As organisations adjust to the changed circumstances, security departments will have a key role to play. And as they come under greater pressure, the investments made in video surveillance capability could really pay off.

With large numbers of staff already self-isolating and working remotely, all the normal stresses faced by organisations will be amplified. Maintaining security and ensuring that working environments remain safe, will be crucial.

Some of our latest advances, such as tools using deep learning analytics, may prove their value in spades, taking pressure off hard-pressed security teams and improving surveillance outcomes.

Operational efficiency – now more vital than ever

One simple example: virtual line-cross analytics can be set up rapidly to help monitor exclusion zones and trigger automatic alerts. Another is fall detection, which can automatically spot if somebody trips or stumbles.

Deep learning analytics provide more accurate and reliable detection of such events, with fewer false positives, which means better, and more targeted responses. With control rooms and security teams under pressure to redeploy to critical, front-line duties, the ability of video analytics to take some of the pressure may prove crucial.

What happens when security managers and team leaders themselves are in self-isolation? Remote applications and client software can ensure they’re able to keep working. Mobile apps can give them VMS-level functionality, including: live view, playback, searching, bookmarking, PTZ control, mobile dewarping for 360-degree fisheye cameras, event notifications and more – in fact everything they need to run their own satellite video control operation, wherever they are.

How is facial recognition technology being used to help contain the coronavirus? 

For more efficient command and control, VMS can now be easily set up with simple rules to allow targeted notifications to be sent to individuals and groups, via SMS or email.

And now may be the time to make better use of the audio functions commonly found on many IP cameras:  instructions, advice and warnings can be given from the control room to save over-stretched team members from being dispatched.

Health & Safety – identifying risks using video

There is a renewed focus on thermal imaging technology as a potential tool for identifying raised body temperatures, as indicators of fever and therefore infection, yet the technology remains unproven. Longer-range deployments that take readings from a distance result in false positives and run the risk of causing unnecessary fear and operational disruption. Yet there is more optimism for shorter range applications used as an indication of potential infection rather than a positive diagnosis.


However, we still need to bear in mind privacy concerns when it comes to biodata and remember that even if the rights to personal privacy and freedoms are temporarily relaxed during the current pandemic, there will need to be assurances they will surely be reinstated afterwards. Adopting surveillance technologies that are judged to be invasive, may also prove to be a short-lived investment, making leasing options an attractive proposition versus capital expenditure.

Certainly, thermal imaging and edge video analytics (EVA) cameras can be easily and quickly added to existing systems to provide automated alerts at key points, most obviously entrances. Having such intelligence could allow security and health and safety teams to intervene more quickly.

EVA cameras also make use of the advanced search capabilities offered by meta filtering, which will allow them to automatically review recorded footage and track an individual’s movements across the site, identifying areas they went, and people they came into close contact with.

Using metadata may also help site managers to more quickly understand and adapt to changing footfall pressures at healthcare facilities, with rapid and easy-to-use heatmapping functions giving insight into the way people move around and congregate in key locations, including temporary care centres.

Of course, the risks posed by crowd control failings can be managed the old-fashioned way, by managers and staff on the ground watching what’s going on. But video heatmapping reveals pinch-points and recurring hotspots from a distance and can highlight risks that hard-pressed front-line staff may overlook, because they are so busy.

Security operations under pressure – video takes the strain

Finally, as normal operations come under pressure, it will be more important than ever to maintain good security. So all those video surveillance tools we’ve been investing in over the last few years may prove more vital than ever – whether that’s the latest 360-degree cameras giving a complete view across all areas, in all lighting conditions, or the latest analytics giving early warning of behaviour such as shoppers attempting to bulk-buy scarce items.

Much will change in the coming weeks – video will be one of the tools we have to manage that change safely.

Free Download: The Video Surveillance Report 2023

Discover the latest developments in the rapidly-evolving video surveillance sector by downloading the 2023 Video Surveillance Report. Over 500 responses to our survey, which come from integrators to consultants and heads of security, inform our analysis of the latest trends including AI, the state of the video surveillance market, uptake of the cloud, and the wider economic and geopolitical events impacting the sector!

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