Digital is the answer at Dayton Hudson
Digital is the answer at Dayton Hudson

Jul 1, 1998 12:00 PM

Mike Anderson and Sam Hildebrandt, asset protection professionals for retailer Dayton Hudson Corp., arrived in St. Louis for the American Society for Industrial Security conference and exhibition last September looking to fill a need. In the city known as the gateway to the West, the pair hoped to find a new video surveillance system that would provide a gateway to 21st century technology. Dayton Hudson was ready to go digital.

And digital technology was the buzz at the security industry's biggest bash, where security manufacturers display their latest and greatest in a dazzling environment, employing everything from Las Vegas-style glitz to magicians-for-hire to showcase the technical wizardry of the products on display.

But to look beyond the surface is to find security technology of ever-increasing sophistication and variety. Even so, at the end of their visits to the booths of companies offering digital recording, the Dayton Hudson team had not uncovered an out-of-the-box solution. They did, however, drop off a package that detailed the performance specifications of a system they hoped to employ.

The response from at least one company was encouraging; Loronix had already developed a similar application for Washington Dulles International Airport.

The digital decision Anderson, director of assets protection for the department store division of Dayton Hudson Corp., says he was looking for a CCTV system for Dayton department stores that would allow them to record every transaction or activity at every cash register at all times.

To record so comprehensively - a Dayton department store typically has 150 to 200 registers - requires massive video storage capabilities. "With analog recording, you wind up with thousands of videotapes, and your library just grows and grows. The recording format is what drove us toward digital," says Hildebrandt, assets protection systems and technology manager.

Loronix had already developed a CCTV system for Dulles, where some 244 cameras are recorded digitally. With the input and assistance of Hildebrandt and his team, Loronix adapted the Dulles application for Dayton Hudson. "Since the product did not exist, we have had a hands-on role in designing and building it," says Hildebrandt.

One important parameter to consider was frame rate. "We had to determine what frame rate we could live with for recording," says Hildebrandt. In a typical multiplexing situation, a 16-input multiplexer offers about 1.8 frames per second, he notes, adding, "We didn't feel that was fluid enough motion to ID all the suspicious activity we wanted." Starting at 30 frames per second, Dayton determined a minimum cutoff, eventually developing a standard of 7.5 frames per second. "That is important, because historically the higher you go up in frames per second, the more expensive your system will be and the larger your system will be," says Hildebrandt. "The digital system has shown us that we are able to maintain the minimum standard and reduce the size of the system itself, and the cost has not gone up incrementally as it would with an analog system."

We record all the time Installed as a beta test site at the downtown Minneapolis Dayton's in December 1997, the system uses both fixed and pan/tilt/zoom cameras from Checkpoint and Sensormatic to record continuously, says Pete Jankowski, chief technical officer for Loronix. The key is the ability to store only the important video and dispose of the rest. "We throw away video that they don't use," says Jankowski. "We have a pre and a post period of time. So when a transaction starts we go back 30 seconds or 15 seconds and then 15 or 30 seconds after, depending on the configuration."

However, all of the previous 12 hours of video is kept on the system, so if something happens during the day that isn't a transaction, security can review thevideo.

Jukebox hero All video is stored on Sony DAT tapes, which are housed in a "jukebox." About the size of a small refrigerator, the jukebox can store about 60 days worth of video. Since a credit card billing cycle is typically 30 to 45 days, the 60-day time period provides enough of a backlog to check the videotape when a report of credit card fraud comes in.

The jukebox, which holds 120 tapes that contain 25 gigabytes of information each, features a robotic assembly that moves tapes in and out of five tape drives. As video is written to the tapes, a record of the transaction is logged on the database. Each recorded event is categorized by a host of criteria: time, date, register number, receipt number, credit card number, employee number - in fact, any data that has been entered into the cash register at the time of purchase. The recording system is in line with an atomic clock synchronization system Dayton Hudson uses on its registers, so the time stamp on the video is accurate to within 500 milliseconds, says Jankowski.

All the tapes are bar coded, so the system knows which tapes hold specific transactions. When Dayton security professionals need to review a video, say back 30 days, they simply enter some parameters - an employee number, a date, a register number, a receipt number - and the system uses the robotic arm to access the proper tape and insert it into a tape drive. From there, the computer can instantly access those parts of the video that have been requested. For instance, if the system determines that tape 102 holds the desired information, the robotic mechanism will grab it, put it into an available tape drive and restore it to the server hard drive for replay.

Software magic The benefits of the system are many. Hildebrandt notes that if a suspected thief claims that the item in question has been purchased, the store has the ability to query the database to see if the product has been sold and, if so, where, when, and with the tape replay, by whom. "If it indicates that it hasn't been purchased, that adds to the evidence," says Hildebrandt.

And, if check or credit card fraud is suspected, Dayton loss prevention professionals can instantly access the transaction in question to see who made the illegal purchase.

"It is allowing us to review and react to cases that historically we haven't had the ability to look at," says Hildebrandt. "By having every transaction recorded, we can evaluate whether what an exception report tells us is suspicious actually is." This reduces the manpower and expense of installing a covert camera and hoping that something happens again, Hildebrandt points out. "We are able to resolve whether or not something did happen in a matter of minutes versus days or weeks," he says.

If an incident leads to prosecution, Hildebrandt says, "It is easy to call up, download and export video to a regular VHS tape and turn that over to any outside agency that we might be dealing with such as law enforcement or a prosecuting attorney's office."

All video is transmitted over a local area network. A security manager can call up any camera through a graphical user interface - simply click on the desired camera, and a live video stream will be displayed on the monitor.

Central investigations Eventually, Dayton hopes to expand the system throughout its chain of stores and have all video accessible over a wide area network, so that investigations can be easily handled from a central location, thereby providing cost savings through consolidation.

Investigations often spring from data collected in exception reports. As the name implies, exception reporting looks for exceptions to standard operating procedures to uncover wrongdoing. Dayton's own software system contains a large amount of data used for exception reporting. "We were not looking for point-of-sale analysis software," notes Hildebrandt. Instead, they wanted to be able to marry the video of the transactions to the transaction data already digitally stored.

"Ultimately, our goal is to be able to connect our in-house exception reporting process directly to the video software system so the two systems will talk to each other," says Hildebrandt.

Phase two The second phase of the project will bring the public view cameras and existing fixed cameras onto the digital system. The cameras, which serve mostly as a deterrent to theft, watch over receiving areas, high-risk merchandise areas, store entrances, mall intersections, the food court and escalators.

While fine-tuning of the system at the beta test site continues, the results thus far have been positive. Hildebrandt points out that video from previously installed cameras focused on store entrances has been used in conjunction with video from the cameras trained on cash register stations to thwart would-be scam artists. For example, individuals have been identified coming into the store without merchandise and seen later attempting to get a refund for products off the floor.

That is just one example of how the beta test site is meeting the performance-package specifications that Hildebrandt and Anderson distributed at last year's ASIS conference. Another indication: The retailer decided in early June to roll out the digital system in 30 additional stores throughout the upper Midwest.

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