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Remote Monitoring: Achieving Maximum Benefits for End Users

by Brian Sims

Here, Jonathan Sturley explains in detail how close working relationships formed with installers can ensure that end users achieve maximum benefit from their investment in a remotely monitored video surveillance system without having to live with the consequences of false alarms which have plagued the electronic security industry since time immemorial.

Remote Video Response Centres (RVRCs) have enjoyed significant growth over recent times. The boom within the construction industry, as well as a large number of solar energy farms springing up all over the UK, are just two examples of where opportunities have been created for RVRCs to offer a cost-effective alternative to having security officers on site on a 24/7 basis.

When I established Arc Monitoring some 18 years ago, it was a technical challenge to offer a viable remote visual response service across the whole of the UK. ISDN lines, then the primary method of transmitting video, were extremely expensive to lease and, while broadband was clearly offering an affordable and practical alternative option, UK coverage was extremely limited.

There was also no Best Practice established for offering a professional level remote monitoring service. Indeed, I’m proud of the fact that Arc Monitoring was one of the pioneers in developing policies and procedures which, in due time, found their way into British Standard BS 8418 covering the operational requirements for RVRCs.

At that time, there was still a widely believed misconception that, in order to effectively visually monitor a remote site, it was necessary for operators to constantly watch a video screen and be on the continual look out for any unusual activity. This was never going to be a sustainable, affordable or effective business model. Aside from the enormous cost of employing large numbers of operators, there was the question of how reliable the service could be, as very few human beings have the ability to concentrate their attentions on a screen for long periods of time without the risk of missing something. Familiarity can – and very often does – breed complacency.

RVRCs quickly moved on to devise Service Level Agreements with end user clients which had ‘exception reporting’ or ‘event driven’ as the modus operandi. Now, operators would have processes in place, agreed in advance with clients, as to what actions to take when it can be visually verified as to why an intruder or perimeter detection device has been triggered.

Intrusion detectors will quite often generate false alarms even though they’re doing what’s expected of them. This may be because members of the public have innocently entered a site at an unexpected time or adverse weather conditions mean that moving tree branches have triggered a ‘phantom’ alarm. During busy periods, this is precisely why operators in police Control Rooms will always treat a report of visually verified alarm activity as a higher priority in comparison with a report of an alarm activation triggered by a ‘detector only’-style security system. This brings me neatly to the subject of ‘tough love’.

Placing the burden on the RVRC

A remotely monitored security system eliminates the risk of the police service having to respond to false alarms. Instead, it places the burden on the RVRC to filter them out (and the cost of doing so on to the end user).

If false alarm incidents are to be minimised, it’s therefore essential that the installer and the RVRC work closely together to ensure Best Practice at that juncture when the system’s installed and commissioned.

Some installers may regard the RVRC as being ‘difficult’ by insisting on the following procedures, but by complying they will ensure that the cost of monitoring a detector-based intrusion system is minimised:

Commissioning The commissioning process must follow a logical progression in order to verify that detection devices and cameras are tested

Daytime Walk Test This involves an engineer on site creating an alarm by walking around the site such that every sensor installed delivers an alarm image to the RVRC. In doing so, the engineer should ensure each detector is correctly assigned to an appropriate camera and, where a camera with telemetry is installed, the correct pre-set is configured. At the same time, the testing of all arming and disarming devices should be carried out

Night-Time Image Testing This is intended to assess the quality of supplementary lighting and image resolution

Lighting Rating Scale Professionals at the RVRC should complete a lighting report as part of the commissioning process for all new connections, with ‘snapshot’ images taken from all on-site cameras during the day and then again at night. The report will identify if there’s adequate visibility in all lighting conditions or if poor visibility necessitates the requirement for additional lighting to be installed

Seven-Day Environmental Soak Testing During this period, the system remains under review to permit evaluation of the effects of environmental influences

Harsh environments

A professionally-designed, installed and commissioned remotely monitored video system can be effective and reliable even in the most harsh environments. Battery technology has now advanced to a stage whereby a system can be rapidly deployed to a site where an electricity power supply may not be readily available. In the absence of access to the network for transmission over broadband, we’re now able to use 3G/4G or even satellite technology to ensure communication between a site and the RVRC.

Depending on the location of the site, point-to-point wireless transmission is also an option as it’s able to send high quality video over long distances with extremely low latency. It’s not unknown for a combination of satellite, point-to-point wireless and broadband to be used to meet the challenge of transmitting data and audio as well as video over large distances.

The resolution of the images which are captured by the latest generation of HD cameras means that, provided they’re correctly installed and configured, it’s virtually guaranteed that RVRCs will receive video of sufficient clarity to enable operators to rapidly decide on an appropriate course of action when lighting and weather conditions are good.

However, a high proportion of alarm events occur at night in what may be low light conditions. Although they were (until recently) too expensive to deploy for the majority of projects, thermal imaging cameras now offer an affordable solution for those sites which may be subject to low light or variable weather conditions as they can ‘see’ through snow, heavy rain and fog. They’re also ideal for use in those projects where there are concerns about light pollution or where it’s not possible to install supplementary lighting.

Choosing a remote monitoring centre

There’s no shortage of monitoring centres who will want your business, but their ability to meet your expectations will vary. Here are several tips to maximise the possibility of you choosing an RVRC which is able to deliver the service levels you require:

*Visit the National Security Inspectorate’s website (www.nsi.org.uk) You will find a directory of accredited RVRCs that operate to British Standards BS 5979 Category II and BS 8418

*Seek confirmation that the selected RVRC is independently inspected to the quality standard ISO 9001:2000

*Check that the RVRC is approved to operate the monitoring centre platforms from leading software developers such as Sureview Immix and Sentinel Plus, and that they’re able to support IP, 3G and 4G transmission protocols (and, if appropriate to you, legacy ISDN and PSTN systems)

*Ascertain if the RVRC has field-based and in-house technical support personnel who will liaise with your installation company every step of the way – from system design through to commissioning – to ensure the optimum performance of your security systems.

Jonathan Sturley is Managing Director of Arc Monitoring

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