Case Studies

Private Eyes

Small businesses embrace IP cameras to safeguard buildings 24x7.
This story appears in the September 2008 issue of BizTech Magazine.
Small businesses embrace IP cameras to safeguard buildings 24x7.
Credit: Andy Terzes

When Rockford Construction installed Internet-based surveillance cameras at its construction sites, it did so to let clients view the progress of their buildings. Today, the company also uses the technology to curb theft.

The 200-employee construction company in Grand Rapids, Mich., has clients in 22 states, including churches, schools, medical facilities, retail stores and national hotel chains. To keep tabs on construction, remote clients had to travel frequently for onsite visits. When clients were not in town, Rockford’s project managers e-mailed them photos.

Last year, Shawn Partridge, the company’s vice president of IT, found a more efficient and cost-effective way for clients to track the status of their new facilities: IP-based cameras that provide live video feeds on the web. Now clients don’t need to travel as often, and Rockford will reap the added benefit of deterring the common problem of theft at construction sites.

“As the price of copper and metal goes up, theft from our sites has become more and more of an issue,” Partridge says.

Businesses like Rockford Construction are taking advantage of IP security cameras to safeguard their offices and parking lots and protect their employees. The very presence of cameras can deter people from committing burglary, assault or vandalism in the first place, analysts say. And if a crime does occur, the archived video footage stored on servers or network video recorders (NVRs) can aid police in capturing the culprits.

Sales of IP surveillance cameras are skyrocketing because the technology is more affordable and security is a top priority for business owners. Traditional analog cameras still claim the biggest share, but the IP surveillance camera market grew 48 percent in 2007, reaching about $500 million worldwide, according to MultiMedia Intelligence, a market researcher in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“For small businesses, IP is the most affordable and fastest way to go,” says Adam Thermos, founder of Strategic Technology Group, a security consulting firm in Milford, Mass. “They’re ideal because they don’t require a lot of effort to manage and maintain.”

Traditional closed-circuit TV systems (CCTV) use analog cameras and require companies to wire buildings with coaxial cables at a significant cost. IP-based surveillance systems connect through a local area network or wireless network and offer many more features, such as the ability to view the cameras live from a web browser. Some IP cameras have built-in motion detectors and connect to alarms and access-control systems. If someone breaks in, business owners are alerted via e-mail or telephone, and they can immediately check the cameras from their computers.

“The value you get far exceeds the amount you pay,” Thermos says. “It puts potential perpetrators on notice that they’re under surveillance, and it creates ... a feeling of safety for employees.”

Stop That Thief

IP surveillance cameras recently proved their worth when they captured images of an individual attempting to break into Vlasic Investments, an investment firm with more than 30 employees in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Local police used the imagery to aid in the investigation, and while no arrest was made, the incident proved the technology’s potential.

One evening this summer, a tenant who rents office space on the second floor of Vlasic’s two-story building saw a suspicious man roaming the hallway. When the tenant approached him, the man said that he was there to clean the building and left. Afterward, the tenant called Vlasic’s executives to report the suspicious activity.

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Paul Carethers, the company’s chief technology officer, logged on from home and, using the video management software, checked the video footage. Sure enough, he saw the man drive up, unlock an underground garage door with a key and park his car. From other camera angles, he saw the man enter the building, where he was accosted by the building tenant. Carethers saved the footage, burned it onto a CD, and turned it over to police. The police investigated, but discovered the car the man drove had a stolen license plate, which made it impossible to identify the intruder.

However, “that incident proves that it was a good decision to buy the cameras,” Carethers says.

Vlasic purchased 13 Axis 216MFD network cameras, which are dome cameras with a shatterproof cover, 1.3 megapixel resolution and are powered through Power over Ethernet. Carethers installed 10 cameras in the company’s main office (five interior cameras pointed at the building’s entrances, two cameras in the hallways and three cameras inside Vlasic’s first-floor suite) and three additional cameras in a satellite office building. He uses the Axis Camera Station software to manage and monitor the cameras and stores video footage on individual servers at both sites.

Carethers considered an NVR but chose servers instead because he could use them to store other data as well. The main office’s server holds 4.5 terabytes of data. Carethers has set aside about 1.7TB for video, which is more than enough to archive 22 days’ worth of footage recorded at 10 frames per second at 1280x1084 resolution.

The cameras, which can be viewed live around the clock, only record when they sense motion. Overall, Vlasic employees feel safer having cameras watch over them.

“When I was installing them, people had an adverse reaction and were concerned that Big Brother was watching,” Carethers said. “But when I made it clear that this was for their own security, that feeling went away. And of course, when employees heard about the recent intruder being caught on video, they felt more comfortable with it. They feel it’s used to protect them.”

At Rockford Construction, Partridge has purchased Axis 233D network dome cameras that can pan, tilt and zoom in enough to let users view a license plate from 525 feet away. The company typically installs one IP camera per construction site by stringing it on top of an elevator shaft or 30-foot pole or on the roof of an adjacent building, then hooks the camera up to a DSL or cable-modem Internet connection.

Rockford is testing four new cameras to bolster security at job sites. Partridge is also testing different video management software and trying various recording rates and resolutions, looking for a happy medium that gives the company the video quality it needs while using the least amount of storage. He recently purchased a storage area network, which will be used to store a week’s worth of footage.
Partridge plans to start using the cameras for security surveillance in the next few months. For now, clients take advantage of the live web video feed, which Rockford provides as a value-added service.

“Overall, the customers have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a great resource for them,” Partridge concludes.

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About the Author

Wylie Wong

Wylie Wong is a freelance journalist who specializes in business, technology and sports and is a frequent contributor to the CDW family of technology magazines. In 2005, Wong co-wrote San Francisco Giants: Where Have You Gone? and remains an avid fan of our national pastime. Follow him on Twitter @WylieWong.

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