By Michael Bailey
Security cameras seem to be everywhere. If your church already has a system in place, chances are you already have a list of improvements you’d like to see: additional views of vulnerable points, better picture quality you’re seeing vs. the images now available, or disappointment in the ease of use of your current system.
Unfortunately, the more forward-thinking and early-adopting your facilities folk have been, the sooner it seems the technology you own grows out of date. The lowest resolution camera now commonly available is easily provides more than four times the detail of what once were the very best cameras you could buy.
With this article, I hope to describe how you can make significant improvements in the physical security system to better protect your institution’s staff, congregation and facilities.
1. Assess what’s in place.
If you already have a video security system, knowing whether it’s a traditional analog system or a modern “IP” system will set the stage for next steps. Older cameras use coax cables, which have round, silver twist-on connectors on both ends. The DVR (recorder) will typically have 8 or 16 cables attached on the back. These cables must be ‘home runs’ coming from each camera and connecting directly to the back of the DVR.
Technically, an existing analog camera system can be improved significantly by replacing an existing ‘standard’ DVR with a new ‘HD/Analog’-type DVR and upgrading some or all your current cameras to the HD type. This can immediately improve the images to fully HDTV (1080p) high-resolution just like new flat screen televisions (any cameras not upgraded will still be useful at their original quality). But, adding new standard analog cameras, or relocating existing coax cables to new locations, is rarely practical or cost effective.
An IP camera uses a network cable with a distinctive square, clear end that looks like an oversized telephone cord. Unlike analog’s home run requirement, IP cameras can be connected anywhere on your campus’ local area network (LAN). Their signals travel across the network to wherever the network video recorder is located. This modern approach brings flexibility, easy expandability, significantly higher resolution and more sophisticated features. IP-based camera systems have a distinct long-term advantage over HD/Analog.
Just to add a little confusion to the subject, upgrading of existing system to HD/Analog is not a dead end. The HD/Analog recorders can be used to connect and ‘encode’ these cameras so they can be included in a more fully-featured IP system in a hybrid manner. This mixed system is often the only way to include an historic structure in a larger, campus-wide system.
2. Develop a long-term vision of what you want.
This is the time to take an inventory of exactly where your cameras are and what is, and is not, currently covered. Driven by growth and changing needs, most church facilities change over time as buildings are re-purposed and re-configured. There are inevitably some cameras that used to cover key areas that are now not so important, and other cameras with once-useful views now blocked by new construction.
Just what do you want to secure? Threats to a church plant, staff and congregation can come from the outside, of course. Exterior opportunities for theft, vandalism, and other trouble-making (like the maintenance shed with all its pawnable tools) are obvious. Unfortunately, there are many threats from inside the congregation, as well. Often overlooked needs for video security include:
- Entry doors to the nursery and daycare, the collection counting room, even the bridal changing room or coat check closet.
- The youth area is particularly vulnerable, with its musical instruments, audio/video equipment and collection of video game consoles.
- The Boy Scout Troop’s trailer full of camping gear is vulnerable and often forgotten in a security assessment.
From an operational perspective, video surveillance can add insight to running your facilities. These examples will get your planning started:
- Operations managers at many churches now manually ‘head count’ their various services in order to track attendance trends and better anticipate their needs from usher assignments to ordering printed programs. A well-placed camera can be used to automatically save periodic snapshots to later analyze the pew-filling patterns – all to better manage the turn-over traffic jams between a Sunday morning’s services and improve the congregation’s overall experience.
- In-kitchen and delivery dock cameras can often resolve (or prevent) questions about just which volunteer group might need to do a better job putting things back where they found them.
- A record of the comings and goings of an after-hours cleaning crew or other service providers can also provide peace-of-mind and insight when contracts are renewed.
3. Get started moving toward your goal.
No matter the type of system now in place and whatever path for pragmatic improvements you take, your long-term solution will inevitably move toward IP. A network-based Video Management System (VMS) can provide almost limitless flexibility, scalability and security while supporting any number of users, any duration of archiving, and overall ease of use.
Moving forward with an upgrade is not an ‘all or nothing’ proposition, and doesn’t have to be an expensive undertaking once you have assessed your current system and identified your step-wise priorities. Once you have a handle on the “how many cameras might we eventually have?” question, setting up a computer to serve as the NVR and support the VMS is a relatively easy first step. Converting any or all your existing analog cameras and/or connecting to existing IP cameras (or both!) is the obvious next step. Once your existing system is converted and running, the step-wise addition of new cameras can proceed as your needs and budget allow.
To make the future easier, any planned construction or major remodeling should include network cabling for cameras as well as provision to easily to add more cables at a later time through drop-tile ceilings and open pathways or conduit between floors. Backbone connections between buildings are critical to tie all the networked cameras and other devices together. Fiber is best, copper cable works with limited distances, and point-to-point wireless is now a secure option.
Michael Bailey is founder and general manager of All Campus Security, a designer/dealer of security systems to the DIY market, www.allcampussecurity.com.