Video surveillance has long been a key component of security systems in long-term care facilities. Typically, security cameras are placed in:
- Entryways and reception areas, to provide images of visitors and residents as they enter and exit.
- Parking lots, as defense against theft and vandalism.
- Public areas such as dining halls, TV rooms and hallways where residents and staff congregate.
- Stockrooms and supply closets, to monitor against theft.
Increasingly, where permitted, video cameras are also being installed in residents’ living quarters—often by residents’ families as a way to monitor their loved one’s condition 24/7 and keep an eye on the quality of their care. Two-way video systems with audio are also often used to facilitate interactions between residents and their families, more often than visiting schedules would permit.
As useful as they have proven to be, closed-circuit TV systems (CCTV) have some drawbacks. For one thing, they require hard wiring and installation by licensed professionals. That can be hard on budgets and can limit the number of cameras to be installed. Another drawback of conventional CCTV is that the analog signals — images — must be stored on tape, which is expensive in terms of management and monitoring time, as well as space. A third drawback is that CCTV systems can be monitored in real-time only from locations (usually only one) that are wired to the cameras.
IP surveillance cameras offer a newer and better alternative to CCTV. IP stands for Internet Protocol and with it, as the term suggests, video images can be sent and received over the Internet and/or similar networks. Wireless IP cameras greatly simplify installation, even when a system consists of many cameras. Wireless IP systems will work wherever there’s access to Wi-Fi or a network router. Video data can be stored on a hard disk or in the cloud and can be accessed from virtually any location on a PC, tablet or smartphone.
Centralized vs. decentralized systems
When considering an upgrade to an IP surveillance camera system, the first step is to determine whether a centralized or decentralized system of IP cameras will better meet your needs.
To build a centralized IP surveillance system, you need:
- Recording software
- A dedicated PC/Server
- Attached storage
- Housings (for outdoor cameras)
- A network
In centralized IP systems, cameras perform functions such as video encoding, basic analytics and event triggering. Alarm management, storage management and video processing are handled by a central PC that runs on licensed software. Recorded video is processed and sent to the attached storage device. Although centralized systems may seem to make sense for video security in an institutional setting, they have some real disadvantages, including:
- All video is processed through the central PC or server; if it goes down, the whole system goes down.
- Licensing fees for software are usually charged on a per-camera basis, in addition to charges for the server management software license (usually along with an annual maintenance fee).
- Even though cameras for centralized systems cost less than decentralized systems, the additional costs for software licensing, a central server and maintenance bring the costs higher than those for decentralized systems.
Decentralized IP surveillance video camera systems require only:
- Attached Storage
- A network
The cameras themselves have recording software installed and in-camera DVR storage, which can be sent to a dedicated storage device as needed. Many have VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) functionality that enables the camera to send and receive calls from any kind of phone. Although IP cameras for decentralized systems are a bit more expensive than those used in centralized systems, they offer all the functionality needed without as many peripherals and licensing fees, so they can prove more economical in the long run.
The advantages of decentralized IP surveillance systems include:
- Each camera operates independently, so there is no central point of failure.
- Each camera can record to its own integral storage device at the camera — SD card or external hard disk — or to a central storage unit.
- If a camera loses connectivity or there is a storage device failure, it will continue to buffer data until the issue is corrected.
- Other cameras in the system can be alerted to a failure and programmed to notify you via email, text or phone call with a prerecorded message.
- No video management software licensing costs; the software is in the camera, and upgrades are usually free.
What to Look for in IP Surveillance Cameras
IP surveillance cameras come in a number of sizes and shapes, and different models offer varied resolution and functionality. As you look at the field, try to determine which type best fits the needs of your facility and its residents.
- Some cameras offer pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) functionality, which can enable greater coverage in indoor and outdoor areas.
- Megapixel IP cameras (H.264 compression) offer much better image resolution than VGA cameras.
- Wireless IP cameras are much easier and economical to install than hardwired systems, but the installation site must be within Wi-Fi range of a router or hub.
- For hard-wired installations, consider PoE (Power over Ethernet) IP cameras — to which power can be supplied via Ethernet cables — to reduce the number of power sources.
- Consider cameras with built-in microphones and speakers for two-way communication, where needed.
- Motion detection/event-triggering functionality can reduce the bandwidth and storage requirements for recorded video.
- Alarm functionality can alert security when a camera records unusual activity.
If your facility uses a hard-wired CCTV surveillance system, consider the many benefits of transitioning to a wireless IP model before investing in costly repairs or upgrades to an aging technology.
Michael Chotiner, a former contractor, shares his knowledge about security systems for The Home Depot. Click here to see avariety of wireless security options.