During my time in the security industry and my previous role as security manager at Chester Zoo in the UK, I’ve seen huge advances in technology that have changed the way surveillance cameras are used by organisations of all sizes. One interesting area of development is the increasing use of network audio, allowing speakers to be connected via the local network.
This article looks at how network video and audio systems are not only helping protect staff and visitors at attractions but how the technology can also help with operational efficiency gains and the capture of valuable business intelligence.
Why network video?
Network technology is deployed over an IT network and the use of network video for surveillance camera systems has been steadily growing over the last couple of decades. This growth has been driven as organisations discover the benefits of network-based video surveillance systems over their old analogue CCTV systems, particularly their versatility and scalability.
When the first network camera was created in 1996, it began an era of innovation that’s seen video surveillance transcend low-resolution images recorded on VHS to the detailed, high-resolution images of the digital age that can be quickly processed and searched to support real-time decision making. The term “CCTV” may have stuck, but the technology has evolved.
Network audio complements video
Video surveillance allows you to monitor and review. Audio allows you to communicate and interact. When you combine audio with video, your operational toolkit becomes far more effective.
For example, in a large site, using an outdoor horn speaker in conjunction with surveillance cameras can enhance perimeter protection. A common technique is to play a warning message when surveillance cameras detect someone loitering near a fence or entering a restricted area of the site outside of normal opening hours – the message can even be automated.
Often, potential criminal activity can be deterred as soon as the suspect realises their presence has been detected. If you have patrolling guards on site they may still be some distance away, so the use of an audible warning can put someone off the idea of scaling a fence while security personnel make their way to the location.
Another technique is to equip the CCTV control room with a microphone that security staff can use to issue advice or instructions via speakers. With a network audio system, the speakers on the network can be selected individually or in zones, even the whole site. Combining audio and video this way allows staff to manage scenarios where announcements need to be made to select groups of visitors in particular areas, supporting effective communications between personnel at the scene and a central security office or CCTV control room.
As business hours approach closing time, network audio can be used to announce a reminderof the site’s closure, for example. Visitor movement can be monitored via video, allowing staff to quickly attend to visitors that may need some form of assistance. This can be a huge time-saver for sites with large indoor areas as well as outdoor estate.
Beyond safety and security
Network audio systems are of course able to play background music or other sound tracks that enhance ambience. The use of network audio is proving popular with retailers who no longer need to run separate systems for announcements and background music – each speaker only requires one cable for connectivity, power and communication, meaning the systems are simple to install and connect.
The scope to curate soundtracks for gift shops, exhibition floors and galleries is huge. For example, Axis Communications network speakers feature a built-in MP3 player, streaming support and scheduling functionality, allowing an optimal communication mix to with planned announcements played at the right time.
Another area where retail is driving advancements in network-based technology is the use of video analytics to capture business intelligence. Visitor attractions are already seeing the potential benefits of people counting, queue monitoring, occupancy estimation, demographic identification and heat maps. A better understanding of customers helps the owners and managers of attractions make informed decisions to improve customer service, staffing levels and site layout.
A final example of a non-security application for network video relates to animal welfare at zoos. Chester Zoo is leading the way in the UK with unobtrusive round-the-clock monitoring, Dublin Zoo in Ireland has been using network video to help study the behaviour and ensure the welfare of their animals, and Prague Zoo in the Czech Republic has been using network cameras to monitor animal births whilst minimising the presence of keepers.
Upgrading for the future
Network video surveillance solutions, integrated with analytics software and complemented by network audio systems help attractions keep staff and visitors safe, protect assets, improve customer experience and service quality, and provide operational insight. But, with many visitor attractions still using analogue CCTV and separate audio, what is the most practical and affordable approach to upgrading systems to a network-based solution?
A phased upgrade is often the most viable approach, allowing a return on investment to be quickly realised. Video encoders and audio bridges can be used to convert analogue CCTV and audio feeds during the migration, which means organisations can continue normal operations whilst making the transition to systems that are fit for purpose in the digital age.