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Why first responders need to know about physical security information management

Developments in technology continue to profoundly impact the public safety industry, pushing quicker, more efficient and effective responses to emergencies.

However, this proliferation of new solutions, while beneficial for obvious reasons, complicates the physical security and IT security landscape. All public safety organizations have deployed potentially thousands of traditional analog cameras and are now being required to integrate newer technologies. Along with the inherent technology integration challenges, situation management becomes harder as it requires security personnel to be able to quickly collect and analyze the overwhelming amount of resulting data from these technologies in order to dictate the right response to a given security event. Each new technology that emerges, along with the existing security infrastructure including security cameras, NVRs, access control devices, alarms and sensors, etc., adds to the data fire hose, compounding the data management challenge of today’s public safety professionals.

To further complicate efforts, managing the full gamut of public safety issues requires a multi-agency effort involving fire, police, transit authority, parks, housing, streets and sanitation, city hall and others. These agencies utilize thousands of cameras, sensors and alarms, not to mention newer technologies such as digital cameras and recorders, sensors such as gunshot detection systems, and mapping and geographic information systems. Not surprisingly, inter-agency communication and collaboration is not an easy technological feat. With the goal to provide good public safety and to protect the first responders when emergency situations occur, dispatch and command center personnel need solutions that allow them to manage the situation, not the individual pieces of technology. When lives are at stake and seconds matter most, public safety organizations need to be able to pool and view all the data from all of the physical security and surveillance assets across all the organizations in real time in order to make faster, more informed decisions.

The Emergence of PSIM

Rising to meet this challenge is physical security information management (PSIM), the computer-aided coordination of security and surveillance applications by a situation management system, providing a single point of aggregation, assessment and recommended response for all security-related information. A PSIM solution correlates security and surveillance data from across multiple devices to isolate and identify significant events; delivers intuitive access to live and recorded video to support immediate investigation of security alerts; recommends actions that should be taken; and provides controlled sharing of important information across users and devices. In short, it enables security personnel to manage situations or events instead of the underlying systems and technology.

For example, if a gunshot is detected through a gunshot detection system, the police department would immediately be notified. Officers in the area are dispatched to respond to the scene. In a PSIM system, the emergency personnel would not only be alerted to the gunshot and the location of where it was detected, but they could also have the relevant video or other related information automatically patched into their patrol cars or onto handheld devices. In a matter of seconds, they could determine if there are victims in need of medical attention and if the gunman is still at the location in question or if he is on the run. First responders are empowered by having a clearer understanding of the situation they are rapidly approaching and are therefore prepared to make better decisions when they arrive. After the event is resolved, a PSIM system, which can record all the actions taken, ties each step to video clips and other security data to create a history of how the emergency was handled.

PSIM systems should be composed of the following:

• An open software platform—Independent of a specific video system or physical security device, the architecture should allow any security device to be easily integrated with the system so that the information can be combined with data from any other security device or system—independent of the hardware chosen.

• A rules engine—By establishing pre-set rules, the engine will recognize combinations of alarms and determine how to address the situation. For example, a suspicious car in the parking lot late at night may not set off an alarm, but in combination with a motion detection alarm near a rear door, the “situation” could automatically trigger a display of live video of the suspect and recorded video of the car’s driver to see if they are in fact related.

• A geo-engine—It is crucial to have the ability to map devices and alarms to determine where activities are happening and to automate displaying the appropriate cameras.

• Routing—The solution needs the ability to route any video to any display device, independent of hardware and without regard for whether it is live or recorded, and being sent to a wall, display, laptop or PDA / phone.

• Common Operating Picture—It should give a comprehensive display of the current activity across the entire physical security system (video, alarms, situations), provide assistance in coordinating and resolving emergency situations, and record the resulting activities for later review.

In summary, this software can collect data from multiple physical security devices, analyze the situation, put appropriate cameras on evolving events, and help manage the situation. The real-time nature of PSIM systems can move situation management from reactive changes and policies to proactive responses.

PSIM and Mission Critical Communications

PSIM solutions and processes enable public safety professionals to effectively manage the influx of data from multiple physical security systems as well as those from IT security systems, enabling them to identify threats, trends and security incidents more quickly and easily in order to better protect the public. In addition, these solutions enable organizations to plan security purchases better and install systems for improved integration and information sharing, allowing personnel to monitor and manage security systems better and deploy resources more efficiently while measuring success with more accurate, timely and relevant reports. The result can save time, money and in some situations, lives.

In large urban centers, coordination of these resources to expedite response to abnormal situations can be particularly challenging as the security infrastructure is exponentially larger and more complicated. Operating effectiveness increasingly requires the automation and reasoning capabilities afforded by PSIM technology. Lacking the means to distill important intelligence from the data overload often results in delayed response, highlighting the need for a PSIM platform that integrates all data into a single, seamless management interface and helps manage the situation, not just collect alarms. PSIM gives first responders and decision makers the ability to respond safely and appropriately to situations and security events.

For example, let’s say a police department receives a 9-1-1 call about a traffic backup on a major highway and dispatches a car to investigate. At the same time, the Department of Transportation receives a road sensor alarm that there is a slowdown. PSIM software can automatically integrate 9-1-1 and traffic sensor details; determine that there is, in fact, one situation; automatically display area cameras and an aerial map of the area; and help determine quickly whether the slowdown is caused by an object on the highway (dispatch public works), a car accident or fire (dispatch fire and police), or a HazMat spill (call everyone). In addition, the DOT can direct first responders to the site via the fastest route and push video of the situation directly to police and fire vehicles.

Improved Situation Management

The real-time nature of PSIM systems can move situation management from a forensic review to preventive health care. In other words, rather than depending on a CSI-type analysis after an event has taken place with personnel searching through countless hours of video and other recorded data to assess what happened, PSIM technologies provide better information sharing and situation management as an event is unfolding.

Why is improved situation management so important? The most important factor to public safety professionals and specifically first responders as an event unfolds is obviously their safety and the safety of the people involved. Being able to locate and view an armed robber in a mall, an accident on a highway, or the layout of a building in a fire are all examples of where PSIM technology and the resulting improvements in situation management can save first responder lives.

Additionally, by having as much actionable intelligence as possible, personnel can rapidly obtain critical security insight required to make informed security decisions as the event is unfolding. The ability to analyze a situation in real time can significantly impact the effects of an unfolding situation and, in many cases, limit the number of victims.

Public safety professionals are always looking to establish best practices that can continue to improve their response to events. Having a dynamic view of the event location, combined with the relevant video streams, sensors and other data flooding into a PSIM platform provides responders with an even more accurate picture of what is going on, facilitating a faster response.

The Future with PSIM

For public safety professionals, PSIM solutions are crucial for better situation management. They can reach across organization and company boundaries to tap into real-time information from other agencies or private companies without regard for the differences between different physical security systems in place.

By providing the right information, policies and communication options to the responders, public safety organizations enable personnel to make concurrently faster and more accurate assessments of live situations before the response team becomes a forensic team. Protecting the public will never be an easy task, but taking advantage of the technologies that help make situation management more effective and efficient, such as a PSIM solution, is a no-brainer.

David B. Fowler is a senior vice president for VidSys Corp. (

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2008

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