Common Security Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

There are three common mistakes that companies make when looking to have a security project installed. Security systems can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, so making the right choice for the company and which products to use is vital.

 1.  Picking the Wrong Security Company

It can sometimes be a difficult and daunting task to find qualified security companies. There can be literally hundreds of companies in a given metropolitan area. So how do you narrow down the field to just a few companies to get bids from? Then the problem is finding the time to check references and perform background checks on the companies you do select. These are important factors that will impact not only the initial project, but your company’s security for years to come.

 So how do you get the right security company? Start by asking other companies that you have relationships with. Ask who they use for their security and how their experiences have been with their security provider. This should get you a good list of names while at the same time it checks company references. Next, make sure you check the certifications of the company. There are numerous industry and manufacturer certifications a company should have. Finally, check how long the company has been in business. A company that has been in business for less than 7 years can be risky since a typical security system will last for about that amount of time.

 2.  Implementation Strategy

A commonly overlooked aspect when installing a security system is the short and long-term strategy used to implement the system. You should have clear defined goals that you want the new security system to accomplish. Goals could include: decrease theft or vandalism, help with workman’s compensation claims, and/or restricting access to restricted or sensitive areas. Some of these goals may be long-term and others short. Once you have formulated all of your goals, you can make sure that the security products you select will accomplish those goals and the company installing the system clearly understands the expectations of the system.

 3.  Selecting the Wrong Equipment

Selecting a bad security company can be bad but selecting the wrong security products can be devastating from both a financial and from a time loss standpoint. When I say wrong equipment it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad product or manufacturer. This may be the case but it can also be that the security company sold you only cameras when what you really needed was access control. Or you have a guard service and the interface software isn’t user friendly and is difficult to learn. The decision to implement a security system, whether it’s cameras, access control, or an intrusion alarm, can be a large investment. Getting the right equipment the first time is essential. To make sure that you select the best equipment for the project ask for a demonstration at your location or request to see a system installed at another location. This simple step may take some time, but greatly improves your odds of installing a system that works well and solves your goals.

 These common mistakes can easily make or break your security project. More importantly, they can be the difference between receiving a system that will serve you well for years to come and becoming an aggravation that wasted too much of your company’s time and money.

Two Major Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Camera System – Part 1

Many times when looking at installation by other companies, I find two major issues with the camera system: the wrong camera is being used for the viewing application and the software chosen under-performs and is difficult to use. Both mistakes can easily be avoided simply by following some helpful tips when it comes to selecting your camera system. Today’s post will focus on mistake number one, using the wrong camera for the viewing application.

There are literally thousands of cameras on the market and prices can go from under a hundred to thousands of dollars. Does this mean the company selling a camera that costs thousands of dollars is a rip-off or simply that the camera performs differently? A good example I like to use is comparing cars. There are hundreds of different types of cars you can buy, some starting at under $10,000 dollars. Yet there are other cars that can sell for over one million dollars. Is the car for $10,000 the same as the car sold for one million dollars? They both have an engine, a transmission, steering wheel, and four wheels, yet the less expensive car many times will seat more people. So what makes one car worth far more than another? The answer is there are many things that make them different. Even though they both have an engine, they are different engines. The cars’ performance, ride, technology all go into the price of a car. You need to drive the car, sit behind the wheel and experience the car for yourself to truly know the difference.

The same holds true for cameras. Cameras all have different features such as wide dynamic, images per second, lines of resolution, and many more. The problem is how do you the consumer know what all these mean? Better yet, how do you know that one manufacturer’s wide dynamic feature is better than another, or any feature that they claim to have? In order to really know the difference between one camera and another you need to see the video. Having a live demonstration with the camera at your facility viewing the area that you want is a true test. Forget about all of the jargon and techno babble that salespeople throw around and simply say “show me”. Ask to see a live demonstration at your facility with the camera you are looking to buy. Take the camera for a “test drive” so that before you invest in a surveillance system you know exactly what you are going to get. Many camera systems cost as much as and many times more than a car, don’t you think it would be a wise choice to test drive the system before signing on the dotted line?

Two Major Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Camera System – Part 2

In part 1 of this series I talked about how choosing the wrong type of camera for the viewing application can adversely affect the performance of your camera system. In part 2, I will discuss the importance of choosing the right Video Management Software, often times referred to as VMS for short.

Consider the VMS as the brains of the entire camera system. The software is responsible for archiving the video from the cameras and storing it on a hard drive system as well as allowing users to see both live and playback of the cameras. It is the central hub of the surveillance system so it only makes sense that this is an extremely important piece to the puzzle. So then the question is, what makes one VMS better than another?

There are two defining characteristics of a VMS system that distinguish the good VMS platform from the bad. The first characteristic is how easy the software is for you and company personnel (administrators, guards, etc…) to view live and retrieve recorded video. A good VMS platform will not only give you robust features, but will allow you to easily use them. A good rule of thumb is to remember that it may be months between instances that you want to retrieve and export those video clips. If this is a difficult process to remember or involves a lot of steps, the software is most likely one you should stay away from. A good VMS should be intuitive and have easy to remember steps to view live video, playback recorded video, and export video clips. Make sure to talk with other companies that use the software and find out what they like about it, how often they use it, and how easy it is for everyone to use.

The second important characteristic is the scalability of the VMS platform. This includes both the number of cameras that the system can accommodate as well as the frequency of software updates and feature enhancements. A good VMS system is not stagnant. It continues to evolve and add new and improved features. It also allows you to grow the system as your company grows and expands.  Scalability of the software is vital. I have seen numerous systems that started with only a few cameras and then doubled, tripled and even quadrupled in size. The companies that selected the right VMS platform, from the beginning, were easily able to grow the system. This allowed them to avoid retraining of personnel and having to repurchase sometimes costly new software that fits their new system size.

Mistakes in purchasing a camera system can be costly, so taking a close look at the cameras and the VMS software in the beginning can save you not only money but time as well. Also, taking the time to talk with other companies that have similar systems is a good way to find out if your newly proposed cameras and software will perform the way you expect.

Schools Need a Trusted Security Provider…So How Do You Find One?

Schools, especially public schools, are under tremendous pressure today to have the highest level of security. Often times the staff in charge of security are provided with very limited budgets while being told to do more with less. This is a stressful position to be in if you’re in charge of the safety of a school or an entire district and have hundreds or even thousands of children to protect including staff and administration personnel.

 So how does a school safety and security director manage to keep everyone secure?

 One way is for the school to attempt to design a system themselves. This would mean reading about products on the internet and trying to determine which products and system are right for the school. Then put together a bid package with some basic part numbers and put the system out to bid. This process is a recipe for disaster (I have seen this time and time again with many costly mistakes made). Not only does the school waste potentially tens of thousands of dollars, but the end result is a poorly designed system.

A slightly better choice would be to hire a consulting or engineering firm to help with the design and due diligence of selecting the proper security products and a security company that can properly install a system. If you are planning on putting a system out to public bid this is the best choice. Hiring a professional to write a bid specification that accurately defines the scope of work can potentially save you thousands of dollars and it ultimately results in a faster, more complete implementation. However, there are two problems with this path. First, hiring a consultant or engineer can be costly, especially for a school or district already under budget constraints. Second, even the best bid specification cannot take everything into account, particularly the qualifications of a security system integrator. Consider how fast a security company will be able to provide their service. This can be requested in a bid spec, but how do you know the company will actually be able to come through? For example, say you want a four-hour response time on service calls. How do you know they will respond within four hours and what would happen if they didn’t respond in four hours or even at all? These qualifications are hard to ensure when bidding a project through a public bid specification.

The best possible choice is to find a few security companies that have been referred by other schools.  A good referral is an excellent first step to ensuring you will have a reputable company supporting you and your security system.  Second, ask the handful of companies that have been referred from other schools if they have a state or GSA contract.  You should be able to find 2 to 4 companies that meet these prerequisites.  Have these companies put together a solution and provide a proposal for the security system.  Make sure these are solutions that have been successfully used and tested in other school environments (you don’t want to be the guinea pig in someone else’s experiment).  Have each company make a presentation, including a demonstration of the system.  If possible, (especially in camera projects) ask for an on-site test (for more information on the importance of this step, see our previous post about it here).  This helps provide accurate knowledge of how the security system will perform in your specific school environment.  After going through these steps you should have an accurate conclusion as to the security company and security system that will best meet the needs of the school at the best price.

Securing a school or an entire school district is a difficult task at best.  Finding the right security company that can partner with the school and deliver a quality solution with years of support can be hard. Make sure the proper due diligence is invested during this selection process or large sums of money and time will have been wasted.

Transitioning from Analog to IP Cameras? Don’t Pull Your Hair Out, Here are 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Upgrading

Taking your legacy analog camera system to the next generation of IP video can have its pitfalls.  There are 5 mistakes to avoid when migrating your existing camera system to an IP solution.

The belief that you have to replace the entire system
Often I talk with people who believe in order to have an IP network video solution they have to start from scratch.  Most of the time this is simply not the case.  The existing cables and cameras can be re-purposed and used in the new IP network solution.

 Here’s how:

 1. By using specialized media converters the existing coaxial cable can be reused.  These media converters turn standard RG-59u coaxial cable into 100Mbps Ethernet connectivity.  These media converters also allow for increased distance limitation.  A standard CAT5e network cable is rated for only 328 feet where as a coaxial cable using media converters can go up to 5000 feet.  Using media converters saves you both time and labor of installing new cable (CAT5e and fiber) and easily allows you to replace the analog camera at the end with a new IP network camera.

 2. Analog cameras don’t always have to be replaced.  These cameras can be encoded using a network camera encoder.  Encoders are available anywhere from 1 to 16 cameras.  The encoder takes the analog input from the camera and transmits the video back out on the network.  That video transmission can then be recorded by a network video recorder.

 Not ensuring compatibility with existing cameras

Although most analog cameras are pretty straight forward and can easily be encoded there are a few exceptions.  Cameras that have Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) or movable cameras can be tricky.  You need to make sure that the cameras will be controllable from the camera to the encoder and from the encoder to the network video recorder.  There are many types of communication protocols that are used to control Analog PTZ cameras.  So you need to verify that all of the components will work together in order to reuse the existing analog PTZ cameras.

 Loss of command center functionality when replacing a matrix switch

 For large systems that include a matrix switch, you want to make sure that guards and staff who directly interface with the system do not lose functionality.  Upgrading to a new IP network system and losing existing capabilities can be a major setback to any upgrade.  Make sure that you fully understand how the system is used on a daily basis and how video is viewed both live and in playback.  When designed properly, the new IP network system should be easier to use and add functionality for the users.

Sacrificing new camera resolution and images per second when you don’t have to

a common problem with older Digital Video Recorder (DVR) systems is the maximum resolution and the images per second the camera could record at.  Typically one or the other had to be sacrificed due to lack of processing power of the DVR.  Using quality IP video encoders can resolve that issue and provide full D1 (640 x 480) resolution and live video of 30 images per second.  Before selecting an encoder, make sure you do not have to choose one or the other.  With a good quality encoder you won’t have to make that sacrifice.

 Not properly compensating for additional storage

 With better resolution and more images per second comes the need for additional storage.  Make sure you calculate the additional amount of storage you will need when using full resolution and 30 images per second i.e. – if your old DVR was set at 2CIF (720 x 240) resolution and 7.5 images per second and you needed 1 Terabyte of storage for 30 days then at D1 (640 x 480) resolution and 30 images per second you will need 8 Terabytes of storage on the new system.

 There are many benefits for re-purposing the existing camera system when upgrading.  So there is no need to completely start from scratch.  See what can be reused and make the best of it.  Reducing the overall cost or being able to add additional coverage will help improve budgets and the overall quality of your security system.

Top 3 Factors to Look at During a Security Camera Demonstration

When evaluating a camera system you should always ask to see a demonstration of the system and products being quoted for the installation. Product specifications can be confusing and even misleading; luckily video is a visual medium so make sure you see a live demonstration. Below are 3 key areas to pay close attention to during the demonstration of the security camera system.

 1. Overall ease of use and intuitive software layout.

Take a look at the overall software layout. Ask if you and other people within the company can try out the software.  In other words can you and the other system users “drive the car”? Many sales presentations make software look easy because they have repeated the same demo over and over again. The real question is how intuitive is it for you and your staff? A lot of that will depend on your computer literacy and competence. If you are not going to be the only one using the software make sure you have the person with the least amount of computer knowledge try out the system. Are they able to easily layout the live camera views that they want to see, can they find recorded video and export it if needed? These are valuable insights into how well the surveillance software will perform for you and your company.

2. Ability to quickly retrieve video and easily export to CD, DVD or Flash Drive.

The ability to find stored video quickly and export it to an external device is essential. Finding stored video needs to be quick and easy. Say you are looking for video of an incident that took place between 7am and 8am on Monday morning. You need to know how easy is it to begin reviewing that specific time frame and how quickly you can find what you’re looking for. Ask about the number of steps necessary to perform this common and simple task. The more steps, the more complicated the software. A quality system will allow you to export video in 3 to 5 clicks of a mouse. If it takes more than that, the system most likely is too complex for standard users.

3. How fast can you find video?

The problem with most demonstrations is that they are canned sales presentation. They don’t represent real life situations in which you the user have to actually use the software. So how long does it take to find an incident? Obviously there are some variables. First, what is the time frame in which the incident occurred? If you are looking for something that happened in the last hour or two most systems are going to be able to find the video fairly quickly. But what if you had something happen over the weekend and now it’s Wednesday. Better yet, what if a valuable piece of equipment goes missing, let’s say sometime in the last three weeks? Find out what features during the demonstration the software does to enhance your searching efforts in this type of search. These are the searches that really matter and the ones that can really produce a return on your security system investment.

A camera surveillance system can be expensive so make sure you know what you’re getting before it’s installed. Paying careful attention to the above 3 key areas during a demonstration can save you a lot of money and frustration.

Why You Need to Use RAID When Recording Video

Many people either don’t know what RAID is or have only a basic understanding of the technology.  RAID stands for “Redundant Array of Independent Disks”.  It describes the Hard Drive configuration of a PC, Server or Storage Device. Currently there are 7 RAID levels and 6 nested RAID levels. For the purposes of this article we are only going to deal with 2 of the RAID levels and how they pertain to video storage.

Redundancy is the most important aspect of a RAID system. Hard drives are spinning disks that over the course of time are going to fail. It is simply a matter of time before it happens. Hard drives used in video solutions are more prone to failure because they are constantly spinning. A standard hard drive that is in a PC or server only accesses the hard drive when there is a request for information from a user or new information needs to be written to the drive. Over the course of a 24 hour day the actual hard disk usage is a very small portion of the entire day. In comparison a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) or Network Video Recorder (NVR) is always spinning the hard drives, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. The constant spinning of the hard drive will cause the unit to fail much faster than a hard drive in a PC or a server.

So how does a Video Server overcome the constant usage? The first step to overcome the constant spinning of the hard drive is a quality DVR or NVR. Higher quality devices use “Enterprise Class” or “Server Class” hard drives. These drives are built to withstand higher usage. This is a good step, but the hard drives will still eventually fail.

 The redundancy element in a RAID allows for a hard drive in the system to fail and the video that was stored on the drive to be recovered. So why is this important to a Surveillance Camera system? If you have a hard drive failure, all of the video archived on the drive is lost.  As hard drive capacities have increased, this means more and more stored video will be lost. A week, 2 weeks or even a month of recorded video can be lost instantly with a single hard drive failure. This is why RAID is so important. The two most common RAID levels found in video storage are RAID5 and RAID6. These two levels are very similar. But what they have in common is that if a hard drive fails the video is NOT lost. That potentially months’ worth of video can be reclaimed by replacing the failed drive and the data is rebuilt. A RAID6 level will actually allow for 2 of the hard drives to fail and still all of the data can be recovered.

 If the video recorded is important to you and/or your organization then using RAID storage is a smart choice. By installing a system that does not provide RAID storage, means that it is only a matter of time before you lose your stored video.

Video Storage and Archiving

1. Concern: Is the cloud secure or can anyone access my information?

The truth is, the cloud is not one giant all-encompassing computer. The cloud is a word that is used to help describe a concept and is not an actual device that you can point to. The better security question to ask is: how secure is the particular cloud that I am looking at? The cloud does present some security risks but so does opening a company intranet to the outside world. The proper policies must be put into place to ensure the security of the information that will be put into the cloud. Most IT fears stem from the lack of control over these security policies. If you use a cloud system that has quality security in place and the best practice internal policies are followed, the cloud can be an excellent choice for your security system.

 2. Concern: Is information over the internet or cloud less secure than if the information was on premise?

The answer all depends on the specific cloud and your internal network security. Many cloud systems, for example Banks, have very high security systems in place to protect their information. Because information is so sensitive and important banks take exceptional care to protect their information. In these situations, they do not avoid the cloud, they only ensure that when it’s used it provides the proper security.

3. Concern: Is the cloud something that only large companies should use?

The cloud is the perfect solution for many small and medium businesses. The cloud is highly scalable and you are able to use and pay for only the portions that your company may need. The benefits of this solution are that you get all of the features and functionality of a much larger system no matter how small your business may be.  A company can use the cloud for the security software even on a four door access control system. This system immediately gives you remote access to add and delete users and run reports from anywhere with the proper login credentials. The data stored on a cloud server will be redundant so that data recovery is covered and data backups are always preformed automatically. Upfront costs for security servers with these functionalities can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars with continued costs for maintenance and support. Using the cloud provides all of this for a small monthly cost and can be expanded or contracted as needed.

 As long as the right cloud is used and you preform your due diligence on proper security, the cloud is an excellent solution for many security applications. Protection of your data is always important so whether you use the cloud or on premise solutions you need to ensure proper measures. Using the cloud does not exclude having good security.

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Do you have concerns about Cloud Security Solutions?

1. Concern: Is the cloud secure or can anyone access my information?

The truth is, the cloud is not one giant all-encompassing computer. The cloud is a word that is used to help describe a concept and is not an actual device that you can point to. The better security question to ask is: how secure is the particular cloud that I am looking at? The cloud does present some security risks but so does opening a company intranet to the outside world. The proper policies must be put into place to ensure the security of the information that will be put into the cloud. Most IT fears stem from the lack of control over these security policies. If you use a cloud system that has quality security in place and the best practice internal policies are followed, the cloud can be an excellent choice for your security system.

 2. Concern: Is information over the internet or cloud less secure than if the information was on premise?

The answer all depends on the specific cloud and your internal network security. Many cloud systems, for example Banks, have very high security systems in place to protect their information. Because information is so sensitive and important banks take exceptional care to protect their information. In these situations, they do not avoid the cloud, they only ensure that when it’s used it provides the proper security.

 3. Concern: Is the cloud something that only large companies should use?

The cloud is the perfect solution for many small and medium businesses. The cloud is highly scalable and you are able to use and pay for only the portions that your company may need. The benefits of this solution are that you get all of the features and functionality of a much larger system no matter how small your business may be.  A company can use the cloud for the security software even on a four door access control system. This system immediately gives you remote access to add and delete users and run reports from anywhere with the proper login credentials. The data stored on a cloud server will be redundant so that data recovery is covered and data backups are always preformed automatically. Upfront costs for security servers with these functionalities can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars with continued costs for maintenance and support. Using the cloud provides all of this for a small monthly cost and can be expanded or contracted as needed.

As long as the right cloud is used and you preform your due diligence on proper security, the cloud is an excellent solution for many security applications. Protection of your data is always important so whether you use the cloud or on premise solutions you need to ensure proper measures. Using the cloud does not exclude having good security.

Stop Being Reactive to Security Issues

It’s funny to think that a good day for security is when nothing happens.  Unfortunately that is rarely the case.  Most days are filled with putting out one fire after the next.  The difficult part is trying to stay proactive when so much or your day is filled with reactive events.  So how do you keep your organization safe and continue to ensure the safety and security of employees, visitors, assets and property?  Well it’s not easy but below are three key elements that can help.

 Manage by exception.

Security can be about establishing baselines. As most people involved with security are aware, there are always issues that need to be addressed but separating what is normal from abnormal is the key.  So what do I mean by abnormal?  Well here’s an example.

On an average day you may have 50 alarm and/or trouble events that occur, depending greatly on the size and scope of the security systems in place.  These can be doors that are propped open by various people that need to be secured, access denied events of people trying to access areas they are not allowed, panic alarms (false or actual), and fire alarm and fire trouble signals.  So if a particular day has 70 events, or a higher percentage than expected you need to establish why.

This becomes the exception.  First, look at your history and try to establish a baseline.  Then, look at how best you will be notified when exceptions to the established baseline occurs.

 Time required to identify and resolve an issue.

 The amount of time it takes for you to determine you have a problem is key.  Establishing the above described baseline and exception rules can greatly reduce the amount of time that lapses between when an incident occurs and when you are aware of the problem.  Your goal is to decrease this time by as much as possible.  Once you have determined there is a problem you need to have a system that addresses a problem as quickly as possible.  Implementing standard operating procedures or SOPs is key to resolving a problem quickly and reducing the resources needed to resolve a problem.

 Resources required to resolve an issue.

 First, what are resources?  These are a combination of your in-house staff (i.e. Security guards, human resources, IT personnel, etc…) and vendors (i.e. Security guards, Security Integration Company, outsourced IT Company, etc…).  The object is to reduce the amount of time that your resources have to spend on addressing a problem.  To reduce the time required you need to have systems in place and utilize automation processes.  Having systems in place will standardize the response and people will know what to do when a problem occurs.  This can be as simple as a pre-formatted message that appears on the guard’s security computer providing detailed instructions on how to call and what to do when a panic button is pushed.  In this example we have created a system for handling the panic alarm and helped automate the event of alerting the guard with specific instructions.

By implementing some or all of these key elements for your safety and security you will allow yourself more time to manage proactively.  In security being proactive is key.  Always waiting until the next emergency is a recipe for disaster.