Our Man in the Field: Security in the Blind

In all my years working with CCTV equipment, systems, and training, it never ceases to amaze me that we can call ourselves an industry of professionals.

OK, that's a bit harsh, but it has you reading a second line. Two months ago, I was contacted by a prospective client to see if I could assist in reviewing bids that had been presented to them for new and upgraded CCTV systems at two of their sites. Being that kind of guy, and wanting to pay the rent, I said, "Of course, as long as the bids are presented to me blind." By "blind" I mean that I really don't want to know who put what together for how much. It's just not necessary information for me and, in the end and in most cases, the general lack of information ultimately saves someone humiliation. My client did not bring me on the job because they were struck or confused by the technology (as many are, but who won't admit it). Rather, my client was struck by the extreme differences between the bids in both equipment and costs. There were three bids ranging from 45 cameras to 125 cameras. One used outdoor microwave technology; another used outdoor video motion detection (only the best I might add), and the last one used pure visual "Oh-my-God-someone-is-going-to-have-to-watch-all-these-cameras" technology. So I start at the top and looked down.

What was the process that stirred all this mayhem? Simple -- my client had a grant to upgrade or install new security measures. Since they had the money, they figured all they had to do was call at least one local security company and a couple of industry experts ... you know, the ones with the big names in the phone books. Upon arrival, the first question out of everyone's mouth was "What do you want?" Once that question was answered, the second question was "Where do you want them?"

Come on folks, the map has wet ink and we still think that the world is flat. So the client pointed out that they had to maintain a perimeter watch on their fence line. The client pointed out that they did not want to add to the existing guard force. The client was very helpful in most cases -- more than I would have been under the circumstances.

So the first bid comes back offering to use 50-plus cameras to watch the perimeter and to use outside microwave motion detection for a trigger. It wasn't a bad idea, unless of course you understand that outside microwave, leaky coaxial and other such related systems are designed to be used inside a controlled area. This system was designed to put up about two miles worth of perimeter trigger outside the fence. Why outside? Too much activity on the inside. Of course, the deer, fox, raccoons and occasional straggling bum wouldn't set off the system on the outside of the control area, right? Overall, the system design and bid took up about four pages; equipment literature took about six more. Company brag sheets about what a good company and how big they were totaled about 15 pages.

Then came the second system: about 75 cameras with lots of PTZ, coupled with a video motion detection system. It was the good stuff, the best stuff, the kind of DVMD that only $10,000 per camera can buy. Overall bid and design was about five pages; equipment specification sheets were about six pages. Company brag sheets about what a good company they were and how big they were and who were their existing customers took up about 20 pages.

Lastly came the good one: 100 plus cameras, mostly fixed with a few support PTZs. There were no triggers; there was no automation; there was no hope. But the design demonstrated that 15-plus images can be displayed on a single screen at one time. According to the bid, this would help keep the number of screens needed to a minimum, and I suspect it would keep the guard's attention to a minimum as well. Total bid and design ran about six pages; equipment specification sheets were about another six pages. Company brag sheets about what a good company they were and how big they were and who were their existing customers totaled just two pages.

So what was to be expected of me? Simple, just pick the system that best suited the needs of the client and respected their budgets. The decision was easy. None of them.

The microwave, although an effort toward automation, would have been a false alarm nightmare. The outdoor DVMD system was overdone for the application and could have been done with stuff that would have cost about $8,000 less per cameras. The total camera job? Well, let's just say that I am glad that the client looked before leaping.

The net result was that we redesigned the entire system from scratch and then put the design out for bid. For triggers we would use a fence alarm with PTZ and long-range lenses, on low level, day/night cameras for response. Total cameras were 30, with 24 PTZ and six fixed. We also added a new control system that was designed to integrate with the clients access control and alarm systems; it was to be fully functional and fully adapted. All the cameras have normal working and after-hour jobs that are totally unrelated to the perimeter. If the fence goes into alarm or a gate opens (other than the main gate), one of the cameras will respond and alert the appropriate personnel when it happens. The net result is that there will be about 20 pages dedicated to the design, not counting the individual camera specification sheets, five or six pages dedicated to equipment specifications and NO PAGES dedicated to bragging about what a good company we are.

The lesson learned once more by the unsuspecting public is that our industry has a heck of a long way to go before we can tote the "professional" representation next to the security logo. Please, folks get some training!

About the Author: Richard A. "Charlie" Pierce has been an active member of the security industry since 1974. He is the founder and past president of LRC Electronics Company, a full service warranty/non-warranty repair center for CCTV equipment. In 1985, Charlie founded LeapFrog Training & Consulting (Formally LTC Training Center), a full service training center specializing in live seminars, video-format certification training programs, plain language technical manuals and educational support on CCTV. He is an active member of: ASIS, ALAS, CANASA, NBFAA, NAAA and SIA. He is the recipient of numerous security industry awards, and is a regular contributor to Security Technology & Design magazine. Look for his columns to also appear regularly via SecurityInfoWatch.com and this website's Security Frontline e-newsletter.

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