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23 January, 2008

Can integrated and fully accessible CCTV that is immediately available to whosoever needs it be more than just a dream? It certainly can, as Dan Worth finds out.

It’s an oft-quoted statistic that in Britain you are caught on CCTV cameras over 300 times a day. While for some this is an alarming statistic that brings up Orwellian debates about a “big brother” state, for the emergency services such data often proves invaluable in solving crimes, detecting criminals, providing support when covering events and watching over large scale public areas. With technology continually evolving in the CCTV camera market it is an area increasingly providing front line support to the services.

In many instances the emergency services – most often the police – are called to situations where they may not know what exactly is happening. With live CCTV footage  however they could watch events unfolding, as Tim Giles, Product Marketing Manager of NiceVision EMEA, NICE Systems UK, remarks. “This enables the police to link in to specific systems to monitor a situation via their control centres. By being able to link in to these networks the emergency services are far better prepared to deal with the situation they are attending as they have a good idea of what to expect.”
The level of information has become far more widespread and Tim underlines the demands the emergency services can make of this technology; “There are higher and higher expectations on this technology and the police want simple, rapid access to the information. The value of this type of information is only there if you can get it when you need it. Therefore, we ensure that the system is able to operate across many platforms and across agencies. The development from rigid analogue system that used to have to be predefined to more adaptable, networked CCTV feeds, means that this flexible network system is now widely used.”

Another key area in the use of CCTV by the emergency services is the collation of evidence from audio and visual sources. NICE offers NICE Inform, a system that captures, manages and analyses information from multimedia sources including video, audio, text and data, placing all the information in one package that can, for example, be sent via email or placed on a disk. “This allows the police to have hard evidence of when information was sent, who it was sent to and by whom, when it was accessed and from where it was sent from. This is an important part of CCTV data and ensures its movement across networks can be tracked.” The technology is widely used in police stations in cells and booking areas where both audio and visual data can be recorded and saved for the future. This gives the police the knowledge that they have a good record of any incidents that occur within their own stations.

However, it is not just police stations that require  detailed coverage. The modern day need to monitor public spaces and commercial areas with CCTV cameras means systems have to be open and accessible across agencies. Robert Wint, of Verint, says it is no good having all this data if it can’t be accessed. “The 7/7 attacks in London highlighted the importance of this. If it had been possible to monitor the movements of the terrorists from the start of the journey across the CCTV networks, identification may have been possible earlier – and then again on the failed attacks of 21/7.”

Verint provides CCTV solutions to a wide range of areas including town centres, buses and trains. The growth in IP-based technology has enabled the company to   provide a far more integrated and accessible system, comments Robert. “Rather than being set up in a fixed manner that can’t be adapted, the new IP systems allow us to transfer data in a far more open way and to provide the information across a far wider range of networks. The resilience and the data capabilities are greatly increased and in cities where sometimes there are several thousands of cameras, you are now able to access each one individually and tell it to record or move. This means the system can provide a massive advantage to the emergency services.”

Verint is also able to offer CCTV systems that can be set up remotely for one-off events such as football matches or high profile events like the Epsom Derby; As Robert notes, the benefits are numerous. “Mobile and wireless recording and transmission offers the chance to monitor, record and track movements where previously it would have been hard to cover. Furthermore the potential for evidence gathering is greatly increased and by being able to offer these systems the emergency services can provide better security at high-profile events.”

Companies now offer software that brings abnormal behaviour or movement patterns to the attention of security personnel. Videalert is one such  company, and Marketing Director Robert Anderson, explains how the system is able to capture and filter out normal events while ‘visual tripwires’ can be set up to sense movement against the flow of normal traffic, or objects standing dormant for an inordinate amount of time. “The result is that even if the person watching misses something, the technology can warn of a potential danger.”

The Videalert technology can monitor multiple views for different activity simultaneously, across many input channels on the IP networks, as well as through analogue camera inputs.

One of the major breakthrough areas in CCTV cameras has been the development of wireless feeds of CCTV data. Just as the advent of wireless internet technology has helped to continue the revolution of the computers and the internet, wireless CCTV will potentially change policing. In the context of Wireless CCTV Ltd’s body worn solution this means that by being able to transmit live footage and GPS coordinates back to base, officers can be assured their colleagues can track their movements and see exactly what they are seeing.  This tracking and monitoring functionality is very useful when several agents are deployed simultaneously and a supervisor needs a real-time overview. Gregory T’Kint, Marketing Manager, explains that each WCCTV system is a completely portable, mobile unit that delivers live – or archived – images directly to a PC, laptop or dedicated monitoring station via 3G mobile phone technology, broadband and wireless LAN networks, free from most geographical restrictions. “The speed and geographical coverage of 3G networks allows mobility at both sides, and just as monitoring devices are getting smaller, so is the mobile surveillance equipment.” Advances in wireless technology also means that the data being captured by the cameras can now be accessed in-vehicle, providing the signal is strong enough.

Wireless technology can also be used on vehicles for the recording of events both covertly and overtly. Several UK police forces are using covert vehicles that have been fitted with WCCTV mobile surveillance solutions. Wireless CCTV Ltd has provided 3G vehicle-mounted systems as part of an arrangement with Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Services, to cover several areas of the National Trunk Road Network.  The benefits of this are massive, says Gregory. “It provides operators of incident support and maintenance vehicles with live video images that can be transmitted back from the vehicles to a remote monitoring station, considerably aiding major incident response.”

A leading security professional (who wishes to remain anonymous) with a major UK bank involved in the use of CCTV underlines the potential with the emergency services. “I believe CCTV will only ever deliver its full promise when most publicly-located or civic cameras are linked to analytical engines that can tirelessly detect precursor activity to criminality – informing patrols directly or an appropriate human-interface – thus supporting a pre-emptive response. This capability may assist the police in their intelligence gathering activities, reduce the rate of low-level crime and offer a higher likelihood of dissuading 'learner-criminals' from continuing along their anti-social path to conviction and re-offending.”

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