Video Surveillance: More is Good but Smarter is Better

by American City & County Contributor
Aug 07, 2013

By Diamond Chaflawee

It has been reported that New Yorkers support the increased use of security cameras throughout the city, which raises a question — is having more cameras better? In the wake of the recent terrorist incident in Boston, many cities are re-examining this question. I believe that while having more cameras is certainly a good start, smarter video surveillance is even better.

So how can cities achieve smarter video surveillance?

1. First, by adding intelligence to video with analytics – By themselves, video cameras don’t see anything — but they do provide a window into what’s going on — for human eyes. The problem is, human beings aren’t wired to sit and stare at video screens for hours on end. Fatigue, boredom, distraction and sensory overload quickly set in, impairing an operator’s ability to detect something awry. So one way to make a video surveillance system smarter is to add analytics. Video analytics can process thousands of live video feeds simultaneously and pick out meaningful information that might otherwise go undetected: a license plate of a suspicious vehicle, a gathering crowd, a security breach, an unattended bag.

2. Next, expand surveillance reach – Large cities have video surveillance networks with thousands of cameras. But there are many more thousands of cameras outside retail businesses and critical infrastructure, on campuses and roadways, in subways, etc., that are not part of the city video surveillance network. What’s typically missing is the ability to link these surveillance assets. Why does it matter? Because when something bad happens, the essential video might be exactly the video that the operator in the command center cannot see. In the Boston bombing, for example, it was video from a department store camera that helped identify the suspects. Many cities are now forming video sharing arrangements with private entities so they can enhance their situational awareness and response capabilities when incidents do occur, and conduct quicker investigations after-the-fact. Through the aid of technology these different camera systems can be viewed on one map-based interface and immediately accessed in the city command center.

3. Understanding that smart video is not just about video - There are many other sensors that cities use that can be integrated with video for richer situational awareness. Take gunshot detection for example. A gunshot detection sensor can automatically trigger video from near-by cameras to pop up on an operator’s display, so the operator not only knows where the gunshot went off, but gets a live view of the scene too.

By feeding other sensors into the command center, a city can create a tight security net around the city. I’m not just talking video feeds although that’s a big part of it. Think radiological sensors on the transit system, the access control system at a nuclear power plant, a perimeter protection system for a city water supply, a university’s campus emergency notification system. Now, if there’s a terrorist incident, a campus shooting, a breach at a critical facility, the city control center has the immediate real-time situational awareness they need to respond.  

4. Get video to the right people at the right time – Video is only useful if you can put it in the hands of the right people at the right time. Public Safety broadband holds the promise of putting new information sources such as surveillance video within the reach of PSAPs and other public safety agencies. So in the future, for instance, multiple agencies might be able to share the same real-time video views while collaborating on an incident. Similarly, through the power of broadband, and PSIM integration, a call to 9-1-1 couldbring up a video from the 9-1-1 caller’s location. This means the 9-1-1 dispatcher will not only hear what’s happening, but see what’s happening too, and be able to relay this information to first responders. Or better yet, push the video directly to first responders.

5. Leveraging video for smarter investigations– Another big challenge cities have is piecing together forensic evidence in the aftermath of an incident. Here I’m not just talking about surveillance video, although in the recent Boston Marathon bombing that was an important part of it. I’m referring to police in-car video and cell phone video too. Today, again, through the aid of specialized technology, it’s possible to take all of these different types of video and combine them into one seamless incident timeline, along with first responder and 9-1-1 voice recordings and other multimedia. When assembled together as part of a complete picture, this information can provide extraordinary insight for investigators.

So now, back to the original question, is more video good? If the results of a recent study by IMS Research (now part of HIS Inc.) are any indication, the trend is certainly pointing in that direction. The research predicts that the city surveillance market will more than double by 2017. But given that, is smarter video even better? For all of the reasons above, my opinion is most definitely ‘yes.’

Diamond Chaflawee is Director of Marketing and Business Development for Public Safety sector for NICE Systems, Inc. Diamond has more than 10 years of experience working for organizations in the public safety and government sectors. Diamond developed the NICE Inform technology which provides an automated way for 9-1-1 centers to manage and reproduce multimedia information. NICE Inform has been adopted by thousands of Public Safety sites worldwide. Diamond served in the Israeli military intelligence corps and earned a Bachelor's degree from Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and an MBA degree with honors from Tel-Aviv University, Israel. Diamond Chaflawee can be reached at

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