THE MAGAZINE

Vaulting into Digital Video

By Marta Roberts

It’s clear just by the name of the company that Dunbar Cash Vault and Dunbar Armored has to be concerned about security. The company provides computerized cash handling and money room services, as well as funds pickup and delivery services, for banks and major retailers.

To help secure its 90 facilities nationwide, it has long used CCTV cameras. The cameras in Dunbar facilities continually record and are not triggered by motion or alarms. The problem was that the surveillance footage—which is kept for 90 days from vault facilities and 60 days from armored truck activity—added up to thousands of videotapes. For example, at the largest cash vault facility—White Marsh in Baltimore, Maryland—90 days of analog footage from 140 cameras and 36 VCRs filled more than 5,000 videotapes.

Staff, who were bogged down with the task of cataloging, analyzing, and replacing those tapes, felt more like clerks at Blockbuster than the security personnel they were. To change the negative situation, company executives began looking for a digital solution that would allow quicker customer response and better productivity.

“We looked at a lot of products when we first decided to move into the digital world,” says Douglas Bear, general manager for Dunbar Alarm Systems. Bear says the company evaluated products where the controlling device was embedded in the DVR. The disadvantage of this type of system is that individual cameras cannot be controlled. If the parameters of a camera are changed, the other cameras operated by the same embedded device will also change.

On a PC-based system, each camera can be altered, allowing Dunbar the freedom to change recording rates and other parameters to accommodate various situations. In high-liability areas such as counting rooms, for example, a high recording rate would be necessary. 

Dunbar eventually chose the PC-based Intellex Digital Video Management System from American Dynamics, consisting of the main unit and software. The unit has multiplexing, alarm and event detection, and video, audio, and text recording capabilities. The software, which controls those functions, is installed on a computer. The functions of the unit sold him, says Bear.

The most important characteristic of the system, Bear says, is its ability to search through thousands of hours of images quickly and efficiently. The product has several search tools that enable the user to search based on type of motion, time, and date.

Also impressive was the system’s ability to display live and recorded video and host multiple remote users. Managers can access the cameras over the Internet, allowing viewing of live and recorded images from remote locations.

All Dunbar images are stored by American Dynamics, and the video can be accessed by authorized users over the Internet on a password-protected Web site. Live and stored video images are available on the site, and Dunbar has access to 60 to 90 days of footage, depending on the requirement.

Every Dunbar site has a designated security director who is the person primarily tasked with accessing the video, although others are frequently given rights to enter the Web site and view the images. The director is also the person tasked with giving viewing rights to employees and customers.

Different levels of access can be granted, which can restrict viewing access, and Bear says this has been critical from a security perspective. Often guards may need access to the footage to ensure that the cameras are operating properly or to perform routine maintenance tasks, for example. The password protections ensure that guards do not change camera parameters or manipulate the camera configuration either by accident or for malicious reasons.

Gathering information for an investigation is far easier with the new systems. “In the past, when we were using VCRs in these facilities and there was an investigation or question from a bank, [security directors] would have to go to the location and review the tapes, which is pretty laborious,” says Bear.

Now the security directors can “look right from their computer and go to a specific time and date, a specific camera,” to retrieve a record of the event, Bear says. That allows for a quicker response to customer requests.

Banks have 90 days to request video. If a request is made, Dunbar employees will locate the event and burn it onto a CD, which also automatically loads a media player, making it easy for police or bank investigators to simply plug the CD into any CD-ROM and view the images immediately. After 90 days, the stored images are recorded over.

Startup support was also important to Bear. American Dynamics helped install the first system and has been available to answer all of Dunbar’s questions.

The company began the enterprisewide conversion in November 2003 and has converted 12 sites to date. Critical sites, such as the White Marsh facility, were converted first. Less critical sites will be converted next.

There are plans to migrate the other 80 facilities in the near future. Bear says the entire project is estimated to take three to five years and cost the company more than $1 million, which includes installing digital equipment in new sites being built around the country.

The White Marsh facility was by far the most labor intensive and difficult installation, according to Bear. White Marsh is an around-the-clock operation. Migration of the cameras from analog to digital had to be done in phases to allow the critical facility to continue operations.

During the installation, it was necessary to power down the cameras. Because there was no recording in the section being converted, employees were not allowed into the area and were relocated to another area of the facility where the cameras were operating.

The installers had to work closely with the site’s management to determine what areas would be migrated first and in what order. Although the installation caused some disruption to the normal workflow, Bear says the transition went smoothly.

After a section was cleared of personnel, the installers could begin converting the site’s 140 original cameras from analog to digital. During the installation at White Marsh, Dunbar also added more cameras to newly constructed areas of the facility and replaced older black-and-white cameras with color cameras.

The original cameras were connected to four-channel multiplexers with approximately 36 VCRs recording the sum of their images. Switching those cameras required replacing the old multiplexers and VCRs with the American Dynamics system. Once the switch was made, installers checked the cameras for focus and recording ability, and the employees were allowed to reenter the section. 

The installation, though labor intensive, was fairly straightforward. “This facility was already set up for VCR recording,” Bear says, “so the cameras and all the other equipment were already there. It was simply a matter of switching it over from the VCR to the digital recorder.” The entire process took three to four weeks. 

Training employees to operate the system was easy, Bear says. American Dynamics was actively involved with the training of Dunbar technicians and other key personnel, says Bear, who lauded the company’s service quality.

At the first conversion site in Hackensack, New Jersey, Bear says an American Dynamics representative presented a detailed training session to Dunbar technicians. The technicians then trained other employees on an as-needed basis.

According to Bear, the system also has a detailed PC-based help manual that employees can reference if they have a problem with the product.

“The operation of the unit itself is pretty simple, and there are security measures that you can use to limit where employees can go,” says Bear.

There have been a few glitches but none too serious. For example, in the first few units installed at the Hackensack office, Bear says, a few of the units were not recording images properly. Since the Hackensack installation, American Dynamics has implemented a testing and review process that tests each unit before installation. This process, says Bear, has stopped the problem.

Although, according to Bear, the digital TV hardware is “more expensive than a videotape,” the product has benefitted Dunbar significantly in terms of customer satisfaction and in reduced demands on staff time, and he considers the money well spent.

(For more information: American Dynamic’s Sales Department, phone: 800/507-6268.)


—Marta Roberts is staff editor for Security Management.

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