Seeing in the Dark…Let’s Shed Some Light on the Subject



Night vision

If you want to see and record activity after dark, you can choose from three common technology options which don’t involve adding more visible light to the scene. People commonly confuse and mistake one for another. These options are night vision, infra-red lighting and thermal imaging. Each has their advantages. Perhaps this post can help with that confusion.

The U.S military uses night vision very often. It has been available to our military members for about 50 years. The image from a night vision device is typically a grainy-green glowing image that you would recognize from watching movies and the news.

Night vision uses the light that is already available on the scene. Night vision amplifies the light electronically inside the device to show light contrast where before there may have been very little. There is no need to add light to the scene but, there are real limits to the available image detail.

The next technology we mention here is near infra-red, or IR. This light lies just outside the range of our white-light spectrum (the light we use to see with our eyes). There are two ranges of infra-red that are used widely in security: semi-covert (about 850nm) and fully covert (about 940nm). Semi-covert illuminators can usually be seen by humans because of the faint, dull red glow produced by the light emitting diodes (LEDs). However, the fully covert LEDs produce a practically non-visible light to all humans.


IR off                                                                       IR on

Most modern security cameras are sensitive to IR light. IR light comes from stars and from IR illuminators (light producing panels). IR is very good at giving detailed images with good contrast. It is generally inexpensive when compared to the other two technologies mentioned here, which probably contributes to its popularity.

According to the new ‘Global Infrared Light-emitting Diode Market 2017-2021’ report by Technavio, the infrared LED market is projected to reach $475.3 million by 2021, at a CAGR of close to 13 percent during the forecast period.  
The top three revenue-generating application segments are surveillance, consumer electronics, and automotive The surveillance segment generates over 40 percent of the overall revenue. These light sources are used for low light levels and night vision applications in CCTV cameras. “The healthy growth of the CCTV camera market will result in constant demand for infrared LEDs,” says Navin Rajendra, one of the lead analysts at Technavio for lighting research.

The third technology is thermal imaging. No light is needed with thermal imaging. All things emit heat, (some things more than others).  A warm body viewed in a cooler environment will produce high contrast. This contrast is what makes thermal imaging so useful for detection. The image details are not refined but the high contrast allows for excellent detection.


Thermal can be used in both day and night operations. It requires no additional lighting, can detect heat through fog or smoke, and is excellent for defending perimeters. Critical infrastructure security benefits from thermal detection.

Night vision is not very popular in security surveillance applications. Infra-red is very popular and is very effective when optimized. Thermal imaging is superb for detection, but it has been traditionally price prohibitive. Lately, pricing for thermal products has become more attractive. In addition, there are several new thermal options available to the commercial end-user which provide the same advantages in detection enjoyed by government entities.

There are hybrid systems available which use both IR and thermal. These are becoming more popular in the hunting and military arenas, but have yet to make a big splash in surveillance.

Have you got experiences to share?

What subject matter would you like to have illuminated?


The Three Easiest Ways to Waste Your Surveillance System Dollars


More than 80% of CCTV pictures are of such poor quality they are no good for police purposes, and most cameras are in the wrong places to help in fighting serious crime or terrorism, according to a joint Home Office and police report…” from theguardian website.

It is so common. Surveillance systems are under-planned, under utilized and people become disappointed with their recorded results. Avoid the following pitfalls to have beneficial results.

Number One. Plan it all yourself.

To understand the difference between consumer level equipment and professional level equipment, I offer this comparison: a person can buy the fastest production sports car made from a dealer, however, it cannot compare to the chassis and engine combination researched by an experienced builder, assembled by a team of experts and managed for peak performance each week. Similarly, one can go to the big box stores to get cameras and a recorder, but the features they will be missing are what makes a professionally designed system worth it’s investment. Too many people find out too late, after the installation, they should have consulted with an expert instead. Every camera model is different; every recorder model is different. There are thousands of feature combinations, and they don’t all work with each other. No general manager, owner, or security manager should or can know all the information needed to design a surveillance system that can meet their specific and evolving needs. Find a company or person who stays current with the market and works in this field every day. The smart decision maker will martial their resources and seek an expert to guide the process. That is money well invested and time saved.

Number Two. Don’t Update it.

Surveillance systems are quite valuable to the customers they serve. These systems are even more valuable than when they are up to date with the latest technology. Many systems improve over time due to updates in software and hardware. It is those enhanced capabilities that increase their worth and usability. If a system isn’t updated on a regular basis, it is never as strong as it was on day one. Surveillance systems become more easily defeated over time due to ever-evolving exploits, published weaknesses and smarter criminals. It is helpful to think of your video surveillance as a capability instead of just some hardware and software.


Number Three. Don’t use it.

There are many ways to get value from your surveillance system. The cameras may provide some deterrent, but that is just one of their benefits. There might be funding or discounts available for surveillance systems owners. Having excellent, crisp and clear video after an event is critical in order to recover equipment and catch thieves. Good surveillance systems serve as a deterrent to thieves and catching them can make your location an undesirable target. If a location is easy for thieves, they hit it repeatedly. If a location is difficult, they go elsewhere. Another great value from a surveillance system is it can help drive down costs by finding waste and fraud. Eliminating time-sheet theft, saleable goods loss, and fleet damage are three big ways to save money. Safety is another way a difference can be made. In one example where I was involved, a major snack retailer cut annual warehouse forklift damages and injuries by 75% simply by observing, reviewing, and modifying the daily habits of the forklift operators and indoor travel paths they used. This involved adding and moving some cameras for optimum viewing. Video surveillance systems should not be “fire and forget” installations.

Bottom line is this:

  • Connect with some experienced security consultants who are up to date on the latest and greatest technology. Pick their brains, ask questions, and share your surveillance and project budget goals with them.
  • Update the system accordingly so that it works optimally and can continue to meet your evolving needs.
  • Use the system every day. Make it a favorite “go to” tool. You will understand your system’s capabilities much better and reap the rewards of your investment.


Five Things You Need to Know for a Successful Video Surveillance Site Evaluation

“It sounds like you want to record the elevator landings and parking garage to catch intruders but you do not want to cover the building exits, do I understand you correctly?”

There are so many pieces of information that go into a great video surveillance system deployment. Understanding it all is the responsibility of the integrator. What’s most important? Surprisingly, it isn’t all about the technology.


Here are the top five tips which consistently yield improved results.

1) Be curious. Customers can be wary if they are expecting a sales pitch.

Learn about your prospective customers and the industry they work in. Ask them to share their challenges so you can partner with them on creating solutions that are tailor made to meet their needs today and in the future.

 2) Communicate correctly and regularly.

Building effective partnerships take time. Ask if they have had other providers and what worked and didn’t work in that relationship. Keep an open mind and always remain objective. Listen carefully and provide a recap to ensure you both are on the same page. Here’s an example of a good way to confirm what you heard:  “It sounds like you want to record the elevator landings and parking garage to catch intruders but you do not want to cover the building exits, do I understand you correctly?” Customers, like most people want to be heard and understood. The most effective communication mode is face-to-face and should be the default choice for conceptual work. Send a follow-up email to provide for modifications and verifications and check in regularly.

3) Build trust.

The key to building effective and long-lasting partnerships with customers is to be trustworthy and transparent in every interaction.  Always do what you have promised to do. This shows the customer that you are reliable and worthy of their trust. If you can’t meet your promise, communicate early by explaining the situation and providing options for the customer to consider moving forward.

4) Engage all stakeholders early.

Early in the process, learn who the stakeholders are and how each of them could be impacted by this project. Will this involve the parking staff, kitchen supervisors, 3rd party security guards, corporate security policy makers, etc.? Suggest to your contact that it may be useful to gather feedback and concerns from those stakeholders to ensure all voices are heard and ideas incorporated as appropriate. After all, your contact may not be a subject matter expert in buying security systems. Give them the support they may need by sharing your expertise to help cover all the bases.

5) Create a partnership and ask for feedback.

The best way to determine if you have met and/or exceeded the needs of your customer is to ask them. Regular feedback helps to reinforce expectations and ensure that improvements or changes are implemented in a timely manner. It can positively impact customer retention and loyalty.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in a site evaluation? Please share any best practices that work for you.

If you enjoyed this article, please let me know and send some feedback my way.


Security Veteran

The Challenges with Hotel Video Surveillance… and The Solution

I have had the good fortune to have worked with a wide range of hotels, from the small mom and pop 20 room proprietorships, to five-star premier properties all across the country. They all face two major challenges when it comes to video surveillance:



As a security engineer with over 15 years in the surveillance industry, this one service call experience at a hotel is one of my most memorable. As I opened the closet door behind the front desk where the DVR was located, it was as if the Lost and Found box had crashed out towards me. I was stunned. Umbrellas, coats, hats, toys, boxes full of records and papers and more boxes full of office supplies were literally stuffed in there. It smelled like hot plastic and burnt electronics, a very memorable smell. Needless to say, the DVR had failed and its normally short life was cut even shorter.

The next time I went to a hotel service call, it was because the manager needed a refresher on how to operate the system and assistance on how to pull video evidence from a theft. The time after that was when a hotel chain’s IT manager wanted the system’s traffic reduced because it was eating up so much bandwidth. I’ve replaced several DVRs and NVRs due to their hardware/software failures or because a new model is rolled out which allows the same client software to be used by the entire organization. I would estimate, other than camera replacements or installations, the above represents the majority of problems encountered in hotel CCTV systems with on-site DVRs and DVRs. Those and the ever present monitor/keyboard/mouse failures or disconnects.

I have had the good fortune to have worked with a wide range of hotels, from the small mom and pop 20 room proprietorships, to five-star premier properties all across the country. They all face two major challenges when it comes to video surveillance: watching what they should be watching and using equipment they should be using. Many hotel properties have lists of areas they require their properties to cover with cameras. The lists are similar from chain to chain with a few exceptions. Some properties might have managers who have discretion on where they would like additional coverage. Over time, they learn of new places they want covered on the hotel grounds and have new cameras installed (until the DVR/NVR capacity is reached either physically or they have no more licenses to use).

Some scenarios where thefts have occurred were captured on video, but the alleged perpetrators were not identified. If the systems could have notified someone of the suspicious activity, those alleged perpetrators would have been thwarted and caught in the act. Most systems which have that possible capability suffer from inferior motion detection and alert abilities. The ones that do a reasonable job can be expensive. But, these comprehensive systems require system licenses, camera licenses, upgrade licenses, update licenses, local storage and local hardware, complex training, and someone on site who will understand all the system operations. And, don’t forget the service calls.

I was skeptical for years about the use of “cloud” video surveillance. Initially, the data security wasn’t there. The desired features weren’t there. The product selection in the market wasn’t there. Sometimes, it was a bit challenging to sort the useful capabilities from the hype. I’m happy to say that cloud video surveillance has greatly improved to meet the evolving needs of our customers.

Based on my extensive experience as a trusted customer partner and subject matter expert, here are my Top Ten Solutions you need to design a state of the art surveillance system for the hotel industry. It should:

  1. Have excellent detection of people and vehicles, but be able to learn how to ignore the random motion caused by wind, etc.
  2. Be super secure and protect the video data it stores and transmits.
  3. Be simple to operate but have intuitive controls so people who don’t interact with it every day can still operate it after long periods of leaving it alone.
  4. Not have a central DVR/NVR with all their failure points (air-flow, keyboard/mouse/monitor, space, extra storage, licenses etc.
  5. Be easy for all properties in the organization to use the same software.
  6. Be an excellent data network member and a pleasure to interact with from an IT perspective.
  7. Scale easily and without restrictions by levels, time, licenses or location.
  8. Manage its own software updates and not be constrained by Operating System versions.
  9. Be able to have compatibility with other systems to handle simple input/output functions.
  10. Be budget friendly and cheaper than the traditional equipment.

The best, state-of-the-art surveillance systems are designed and maintained with the customers’ needs and feedback prioritized. Cloud video security solutions have gotten much better and I have experience with several great performing brands. Want to learn more?  Share your comments below or contact me.


Five Solutions to Overcome Challenges Encountered When Teaching Technicians



Being able to train technicians has been one of the most fulfilling and fun aspects of my career. Over the years, I’ve learned that there are plenty of opportunities for improvement when it comes to training and enhancing the skill sets of technicians. In the past, on-the-job training was considered sufficient for most employers. Now, with increased technology along with an evolving and increasingly competitive landscape, we have lots of other options which can both streamline and improve the whole experience for everyone involved.

Below are five challenges along with the solutions I’ve identified to enhance the technician training experience:

  • Keeping content fresh and readily accessible

The challenge: Ohm’s law and other physics principles never change but they form the foundation of critical teachings for technicians and it’s important that they are grounded in these materials. On the other side of the spectrum, in the digital age, technologies are always shifting and changing. How do I continually share information about the basics that keep technicians engaged and balance that with keeping them up to date as technologies are changing in real time?

The solution: There are several ways to accomplish this. Creating posters for your lab and tech areas can really help. Pin up subject matter that never changes e.g., Ohm’s Law, “How Diodes Work,” “The Components of a Commercial Structure,” etc.  Leverage social media, text messages, and/or email to update the team about the latest technologies such as a wireless lock or a solar powered transmitter.


  • Training your technicians at opportune times

The challenge: When many technicians are off the clock, like anyone else, they probably have family and personal obligations to tend to and may not have a lot of free time. While they are working, most of their time is spent installing or servicing.

The solution: This requires committed buy-in and support from the management level. As trainers, part of your role is to provide the return on investment (ROI) of having well trained technicians (increased retention, opportunities for growth and development, empowered employees, etc.). Collaborate and partner with  management and human resources to allot dedicated time for training. Invite managers to attend and observe some of the training classes so they can see the value first hand.

  • Finding alternative training venues.

The challenge: Training your technicians when they aren’t in the office.

The solution: Leveraging electronic technologies to access educational curriculum outside of a traditional classroom is the best way to go. There are several eLearning platforms trainers can use to share information with technicians. This method is typically defined as courses that are specifically delivered via the internet to somewhere other than the classroom where the trainer is teaching. eLearning involves the use of a computer or electronic device (e.g. a mobile phone) in some way to provide training, educational or learning material. It’s also a great way to track student process and make modifications in real time. elearningz Moodle is a great example of a platform which I have used successfully and it’s free. Students can log in when they have a few minutes  between jobs or when they are at home. Lots of useful and current information can be absorbed with this method.

  •  Accessing the latest technology and product information.

The challenge: How can I know I am distributing the latest information?

The solution: Partner with your vendors. Vendors are usually pretty happy to share this information. They have access to samples, examples, demo kits, demo sessions, certification classes, online video training, etc., and they tend to welcome the chance to come to you and deliver the classes themselves.

  •  Verifying that my training efforts are effective.

The challenge: How do I know if I am being an effective trainer?

The solution: Feedback is a gift. Ask for it regularly and incorporate it when appropriate. Doing this can illuminate training opportunities as well as enhance your relationships with technicians.  You can also perform spot checks with your technicians. For instance, hallway quizzes are great and allow for a reward system to be added. Quality checks on the job sites also work well. Perhaps you can ask a technician who has quickly mastered the material to teach a module. The old adage is largely true:”If you really want to learn something, try teaching it to someone else.” Additionally, check your quiz results and see if too many people get the same questions wrong. Have you crafted a problematic question? Do you need to review that course material again?

Teaching is a great opportunity to learn. Removing the barriers to learning for your technicians is a worthy cause. Adding value to them adds value to your organization and your customers. That’s what I like to call a win-win situation.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in a training environment? Please share any best practices that work for you.

If you enjoyed this  article, please let me know by hitting the “Like” button below.


Security Veteran

Challenges for Drone Use in Commercial Surveillance Applications


They are here. The drones have arrived and they are likely to stay. According to the Business Insider website, (, “The market for commercial/civilian drones will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19% between 2015 and 2020…” That is a significant growth curve. The website went on to state this, ” The global commercial drone market will take shape around applications in a handful of industries: agriculture, energy, utilities, mining, construction, real estate, news media, and film production”.

What does that mean for the security industry? Are we going to be left out in the cold while drone implementation increases around us?

Security has not traditionally been considered a profit center in anyone’s business except for the security providers. Spending for commercial security often times is viewed as a necessary evil and additional security costs are often met with plenty of resistance. Can we supplement or replace traditional security personnel with video and sensor-enabled drones? Absolutely. Will it cost money? Absolutely.

What are the challenges facing this effort besides just cost? Well, how about security of the drone, its collected data, its transmitted data, its physical impact in an uncontrolled flight or crash. How are various drone systems evaluated for a commercial security effort? How do you train personnel for drone interaction? How do you navigate the legal aspects of drone coverage (not to mention insurance). How do you operationalize and automate drone functions like patrol routes, on-demand/emergency response launch to specific coordinates. How do you streamline and collect all that drone video and sensor data? How do you maintain and recharge/refuel these machines in an accurate, timely and automated fashion?

drone image

Proposing a robust drone operation for commercial security raises a lot of questions. The additional labor required to begin and support these operations will need to be addressed. Can these be turn-key systems and service sales? Will they need to be handled with drone consultants who advise businesses on the myriad of concerns to address?

I have searched the internet. There are a few businesses offering commercial drone security services, however I haven’t seen any which tout themselves as comprehensive and then back that claim up with real data. I’ve found individuals who own drones priced in the $1000.00-and-less category trying to sell their drone time to other businesses by flying drone coverage at their event or site.


While the market scrambles for answers to these questions, I think we will soon see integrators who are able to deliver safe, cost-effective systems at multiple service and price levels very soon. When the developers have created products which wont need government or military support systems, we are gong to see a great new portion of our industry rise up.

If you have information or an opinion, please share it.

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The New Uses for Security Video


Over the years, security video has undergone many changes. The ability to see in darkness, trigger by motion are but a couple. The advancements in resolution and compression are fantastic.

The video hardware and software aren’t the only things which have changed. Now we can use those same video systems for better site and personnel management and not just for physical security.

In the last few years I have seen more customers who have expressed their needs to use video in new ways. Better analytics have accounted for some of this increase. Now we can determine real data from customer sites and act on that data with greater efficacy.

Cross-line detection, loitering, abandoned objects, direction of travel and heat-mapping all are examples of analytics which have made a big difference in the new uses for security video.

A while ago, I was talking with a warehouse manager for a national snack-food company. He told me that there has been a large amount of damage to the forklifts and racks occurring but no employees have mentioned it. We already had cameras placed in strategic theft areas which cut down on the shrink significantly, however this other issue needed to be addressed. We reviewed a video of a safety incident that occurred months before and saw how two forklifts had collided but because there was no injury, lost time or inventory write-off, there was no report.

We decided to place four more cameras at key warehouse traffic intersections and then review the video in 90 days time. What we learned was very enlightening. Day after day there were near misses, dents, scrapes, and just plain careless driving.

We sat down and planned new traffic routes in the building and re-oriented the cameras for the new views. The results were dramatic. 90% reduction in damage and near misses!

There are other ways the new camera abilities can help too. From the network agile cameras and systems which can report dead or poorly performing video feeds to tracking where customers tend to spend their time is stores and malls. Why have a camera remain dead and un-noticed for weeks when the system can notify a person about that status right away? (Hello hotels… talking to you)! We now can also track items throughout their journey on a site to either increase safety or simply to find that lost widget.

There are great new changes which give tremendous value to video surveillance systems, even ones which already exist in place. The ROI on a CCTV system is on the rise. Are you using this information to your advantage?