Magazine

Video Surveillance Technology Makes Parking Facilities More Secure

Frank Abram

Parking facilities have long been a significant source of stress and concern for security management personnel whether outside, underground or multi-level. Parking facilities are often in remote areas and they can be dark, cover lots of real estate and isolated after hours -- all the trappings for potential trouble in the eyes of security professionals. With the primary concern on employees and patron safety, liability and theft issues also rank high as common concerns.
Security professionals are continually looking for new and improved ways to deploy camera systems that deliver greater coverage and better images under often trying conditions with varying success. Recent developments in camera technology solve many of the problems that have long plagued video surveillance in parking facilities. New CCD and digital processing technologies vastly improve image quality under varying light conditions including operation at night. Camera configurations have also dramatically evolved into self-contained camera systems designed specifically for outdoor applications in potentially unfriendly environments.

Getting started
One of the first tasks in planning a video surveillance system for a parking facility is to conduct a site evaluation. A thorough assessment of your facility will provide you and/or your video systems integrator with the details they need to plan an effective system. Traffic patterns, operation hours, delivery schedules and any related site activity should all be considered in your evaluation. Physical information regarding the number and location of entry/egress points for vehicular and pedestrian traffic are critical. Particular attention needs to be given to infrastructure such as stairwells, elevators, traffic ramps and any recesses dedicated to support systems such as HVAC, electrical or plumbing utilities that are often housed in adjacent areas or reside within the parking structure itself. Pinpointing areas of specific concern will help dictate the concentration of cameras needed to provide sufficient surveillance.
Once the site survey and needs analysis is complete, a professional systems integrator can provide you with a comprehensive system plan that includes specific camera placement sites along with switching, monitoring and recording capabilities. Camera specification and site selections will have perhaps the most bearing on the overall performance of your system.

Indoor facilities
Indoor parking facilities with controlled artificial light have fewer camera specification issues than outdoor facilities where artificial and natural light combine. Facilities with controlled light can generally employ conventional CCD cameras with low-light capability. A series of cameras with fixed lenses in overlapping coverage patterns -- often referred to as cross firing -- can provide good interior coverage. Entry and egress points leading to exterior streets may require more advanced cameras that offer the ability to adjust to changing lighting conditions.
A highly efficient solution for interior camera placement is to employ dome camera systems, which are fully integrated self-contained camera systems, comprised of a CCD camera, zoom lens, domes, pan/tilt device and transmission circuitry. These devices can help reduce the number of cameras deployed throughout the facility because of their extended coverage ranges. Dome camera systems also provide security personnel with the ability to closely track activity, and offer programmable features that are vital for effective surveillance operations when the system is left unattended.

Outdoor facilities
For outdoor facilities and those entry/egress points where lighting conditions vary during the course of every day, there are two specific camera technologies available that provide exceptional results and viewing clarity. The first is the result of advanced CCD and digital signal processing technologies that allows cameras to adjust to changing light the same way the human eye does. The technology, called Super Dynamic II, was developed by Panasonic a few years ago and has become the benchmark for camera performance. In essence, it allows cameras to see varying light conditions within the same scene -- like a brightly lit garage door entrance -- while also displaying a good image of the dark areas within. Cameras with Super Dynamic II technology also have the ability to automatically make adjustments for changing light conditions, so a system operator does not need to constantly adjust the cameras to see a complete scene. With the advent of this technology, one camera can now often provide the same coverage as two cameras separately positioned and adjusted for the interior and exterior light differences.
Another camera feature that has become very popular over the past year is called Day/Night. Cameras with Day/Night circuitry automatically switch from color operation to black and white when light levels drop below a predetermined level. This assures that the cameras are capturing the highest quality images at any time of the day. Cameras are available that offer both Super Dynamic II and Day/Night operation in either conventional or dome camera systems to provide the highest levels of performance.

Special features
Manufacturers have also responded to the demand for high-performance cameras designed for potentially abusive conditions. Vandal Proof Cameras feature highly durable dome enclosures for placement in remote locations where the threat exists that they may be intentionally disabled. High-performance Vandal Proof Cameras are available with Super Dynamic II technology and Day/Night operation making them ideal for the demanding applications and conditions that parking facilities present for security professionals.
How you plan to monitor your camera system will dictate your switching system and recording capabilities. Switching systems are available that allow you to simultaneously view and record individual cameras, groups of cameras, or select cameras in predetermined sequences. If security guards will be monitoring your video surveillance system, they should be able to easily scan all system cameras and call up any specific camera on demand for viewing on a large screen. If manpower is an issue, more advanced matrix switching systems offer programmable camera operations that allow you to schedule camera "tours" through a series of programmed camera sequences. Many advanced dome cameras can also be individually programmed to perform random or predetermined pan/tilt/zoom operations to enhance camera coverage while the system is unattended, or if triggered by an alarm system.
Another feature that may be of interest to you -- especially if you're considering unattended system operation -- is motion detection. Motion detection can automatically queue cameras or trigger dedicated recording. This feature can be of great value during off-peak hours when manpower is limited or the system is programmed for unattended operation. In either case, motion detection activated recording can help assure you'll have a recorded account of activity on the premises.

Recorders
There are several different types of video recorders available today specifically for security applications. Analog time-lapse recorders are still sufficient for many low-level operations, but provide limited resolution and systems capabilities for recording large volumes of cameras. Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) are available in tape, hard-drive and PC-driven configurations, with hard-drive recorders being the industry's current device of choice.
As with any digital device, hard-drive DVR capacity is determined by available memory. The more memory available, the more resolution and motion can be captured. As a result, you may wish to employ some form of sequential camera recording to capture routine activity with the ability to switch to a dedicated camera recording source on demand or when an alarm or motion sensor is triggered. Recording is the final link in the systems chain and provides you with the only tangible record of activity captured by your system. In addition to providing evidence for criminal, civil or liability testimony, your system's recordings can also provide important information for management regarding operations and traffic flows.
With today's advanced video surveillance technology and good planning, you can greatly enhance security in your parking facility to help protect your employees and patrons.

Frank Abram is Vice President of Panasonic Security Systems. He can be reached at cctvsupport@panasonic.com


Side Bar 1

Steps to Installing a Video System
1. Site evaluation.
2. Equipment selection.
- Indoor vs. outdoor facilities
3. How do you plan to monitor?
4. Type of recording?
- Tape vs. digital

Article Abstract from June, 2003




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