Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Homes need security software

If there is one problem which is bothering many residents in Chennai city and suburbs it is the grille offences reported almost every day in locked homes.
While the custodians of law are squarely blaming the victims for being "careless", the public, on the other hand, are annoyed over the callous attitude of the police.
At a time, when flat promoters are vying with each other in marketing their newly-built homes as the best in the market to potential buyers in the metropolis, they are now facing yet another uphill task: How to overcome the menace of grille offenders.
Civil engineers and architects told that even before a prospective buyer poses few basic questions such as, do you provide security to the apartments and do you offer any alarm system, which would automatically alert the nearest police station in the event of a crime or other problems, the answer is a straight yes.
Even before such modern day crimes used to be reported, no apartment permitted outsiders to park their vehicles inside the premises.
When such is the scene, it is strongly suspected that without the insider passing on information about the whereabouts of inmates, burglars cannot barge into a specific house and escape with the booty. Well, this is for the police to investigate.
The architects' view point is that new homes should have modern electronic gadgets fitted, with inbuilt software, instantly alerting about any crime or incident that occurs in the home in the absence of the inmates. Instead of relying only on the security personnel, it would be wiser to have gadgets, which inform about any trespasser, a police officer says.
Companies which deals with developing security systems based on embedded technology, offers readymade products such as micro home security system with wireless technology and numerous sensors to protect the users' premises.
Any fire or gas leak in the home, the user is intimated through an SMS, an executive of the company says. Small or big, every home is beautiful to its owner and hence it has become essential to invest on security aspects also along with the cost of the property.

Major Fire at Saravana Stores T-Nagar,Chennai

A major fire which broke out in a commercial complex in T Nagar early on Monday morning(Sep 1), raged for more than nine hours, exposing the complete lack of compliance with safety norms and civic guidelines by the building’s owners. Saravana Stores, a multi-storeyed shopping complex, and an adjacent building which housed more than 80 shops on Ranganathan street were gutted in the blaze. Police sources said no one was injured, though two people are missing. The loss of property is estimated at Rs 1.5 crore. At least 15 employees who were staying on the fifth floor of Saravana Stores were rescued. Fire and rescue officials are yet to reveal the cause of the fire. Experts said the accident was waiting to happen as T Nagar has many buildings that flout fire safety norms and development rules. Most of them exceed the floor space index and do not have the mandatory seven-metre space around the building to allow for movement of service and rescue vehicles. Many shops do not upgrade their transformers and wiring to handle the load of extra electrical fittings, which could lead to short circuits. A maze of narrow streets and huge crowds add to the problem. Police and fire service personnel say it could have been a major tragedy if the fire had broken out during working hours. Inspector R Srikanth attached to the West Mambalam police station reached the spot at 6.05 am. “I noticed the blaze on the third floor of Lucky Plaza. The security guard in Saravana Stores said employees stayed on the fifth floor. The power was out. We went in to rescue the sleeping employees. Twelve employees were brought down,” he said. Fire and rescue service personnel said they received a call at 6.10 am on Monday from passers-by who noticed thick black fumes coming from the third floor of the five-storey Lucky Plaza complex located adjacent to Saravana stores. Fire personnel rescued two other employees of Saravana Stores, who were stuck on the third floor. Another employee was rescued after breaking in through the terrace. Police commissioner R Sekar said, “At least 300 police personnel have been deployed to assist the fire and rescue personnel. The police and fire service personnel rescued at least 15 people. No one was injured in the incident.”

How to Migrate from Analog to IP Cameras

Migrating from analog to IP can be tricky, mainly because most everyone has existing infrastructure in place. You rarely can simply throw out that infrastructure and start anew - the economics usually do not support it. Because of that, you need to figure out what to keep, what to replace and what to modify.
The issues involved are too complex to provide a simple boilerplate yes or no. This report examines the most critical elements in making the transition from analog cameras to IP cameras so that you can better appreciate the issues involved for your circumstances. Nonetheless, you will have to spend significant time learning and evaluating as the issues involved are significant.
Here is a summary of those key elements:
Determine if your DVR supports IP cameras
Determine what IP camera manufacturers your DVR support
If needed, assess options for NVRs or IP Video Management Software
Determine if IP cameras can eliminate long distance analog cabling
Determine if higher resolution cameras can help you
Assess the increased bandwidth impact on your networks
Determine if you can afford increased storage for megapixel cameras
DVR Supports IP Cameras
First check whether your DVR supports IP cameras. Most DVRs that cost more than $3,000 USD usually supports some form of IP cameras today. However, most of the more 'budget' type DVRs do not.
You should determine this first because it is the key element in determining how complex adding in IP cameras will be. If your DVR does not support IP cameras, you have a few options, none of which I think are very attractive: (1) you could monitor the IP cameras directly with no recorder, (2) you could set up a separate NVR to record the IP cameras or (3) you could decode the IP camera's video stream to record them on your existing DVRs. Most professional security organizations want a single video management system to record and access all cameras which means that you either work with what you have or replace it.
What IP Cameras Your DVR Supports
If you DVR supports IP cameras, you definitely need to find out what manufacturers and models of IP cameras they support. Many DVR suppliers only support 1 or a small number of IP camera manufacturers.
This can be really confusing and surprising coming from the analog camera world. With analog cameras, no one worried about whether a DVR could support a fixed camera because once you supported 1 analog camera, you supported them all. However, with IP cameras, you have to check every time for not only manufacturer support but for specific model support (i.e., a DVR manufacturer may support the Axis 207 but not the Axis 221).
Determining what IP cameras a DVR supports is very important because different manufacturs specialize in different types of products. If your DVR only supports 1 or 2 camera manufacturers, this could cause significant problems. For instance, there are specialists in high end, standard definition cameras ; budget standard definition cameras ; inexpensive multi-megapixel cameras ; high end multi-megapixel cameras , etc. You need to determine what types of IP cameras you need and whether those are supported by your DVR.
These first two points will help you understand the degree of difficulty of adding in IP cameras.
NVRs or IP Video Management Software
At this stage many will reach a point where you need to consider replacing your DVR system. The emerging alternative are designed to support dozens of IP cameras. If you get to this point, this will be a challenge in and of itself. There are dozens of companies that offer NVRs or IP Video Management software.
Furthermore, if you head in this direction you will need to determine how to support your existing analog cameras. Because IP Video Management Software only supports IP video streams, you will need to purchase encoders to convert the analog video stream from your camera into an IP video stream that the IP Video Management software can handle. Encoders are fairly expensive ($300 - $600 USD per camera) so it may be worthwhile but it is not without its costs.
This covers the fundamental product options and choices. To determine if the migration is worth it, focus on the next two items.
Eliminate Long Distance Analog Cabling
All cameras need to be connected to a video recorder. How they are connected can vary greatly. The most common means for analog cameras is to use a dedicated coaxial cable to connect the camera to the DVR. Indoors and over short distances, this is usually quite simple to do. However, if you need to go long distances, outdoors or through areas where it is hard to run a new dedicated cable, analog cameras can become problematic.
If you have multiple buildings or outdoor areas to protect, you may not be currently using surveillance cameras or if you are you had to resort to expensive proprietary transmission systems. This is the most valuable and powerful use of IP camears. With IP cameras, you have the potential of reusing existing networks in your facilities. You also can use low cost IP wireless equipment to add cameras in distant or outdoor locations.
To the extent that this situation applies to you, your motivation to move to IP cameras should be stronger. It can either reduce costs by thousands of dollars compared to existing implementation or enable you to add new cameras in places that would have been previously cost prohibitive.
Use of Higher Resolution Images
IP cameras offer the potential to capture and record much higher resolution images than analog cameras. While the maximum resolution of most IP cameras is the same as most analog cameras, one type of IP camera, the megapixel camera, can offer far greater resolution.
You should determine how and where you can make most use out of megapixel cameras. Key determinants are (1) the greater the area you want to cover and (2)the higher your need to see details. For example, a parking lot or cashier's station. By contrast, if you are observing a small office room and just need to know when someone was inside, a traditional standard definition analog camera will do fine.
Megapixel cameras come with two huge impacts that you must consider when migrating from analog cameras: bandwidth and storage.
Assess the Bandwidth Impact
When migrating from analog to IP, if you keep the resolution you record at the same, the impact on bandwidth (your computer network) should be minimal. For instance, most commercial users record at 5 frames per second at CIF (320 x 240 pixels). At these levels, bandwidth consumption is quite low (under .5 Mb/s) relative to today's networks (100 Mb/s ++). Even with a few dozen cameras, this should not make a significant impact on even lower end switches.
However, if you want high resolution or framerates, then you need to start carefully assessing the impact. With these conditions, each camera can consume 5Mb/s to 45 Mb/s, which starts adding up. While you can purchases networking equipment that can handle 1000Mb/s or more, you should not assume that this is already in place and that you can just plug this in.
You certainly should test the bandwidth load before deployment. You may need to consider one of the following two options:
Use a separate IP network for the cameras.
Upgrade your existing networking equipment to make sure that it can support the load.
Both are certainly expensive and can have a significant operational and political impact with your IT's organization. Though this can be accomplished, do not take it for granted as the cost and complexity can be significant.
Assess the Storage Impact
In a similar manner, increasing the video quality, certainly impacts storage needs. If you use DVRs, you are likely used to buying storage bundled with the DVR (e.g., a DVR with 250 GB or 500GBs of storage for 16 cameras). With IP cameras and, especially with megapixel, you can easily be looking at 1TB per camera, which is a very significant increase. This could increase the cost of your system by tens of thousands of dollars.
You will need to better determine how significant this will be and your willingness to spend more for storage. Some organizations will find it to be no big deal but others may be shocked.
Hopefully this helps identifies key points so you can better assess your situation.
Please ask questions, add other points and debate the appropriateness of the recommendations made.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fire Alarm Systems: What do the Codes Say?

Fire alarm systems and smoke alarms are life safety systems that save countless lives each year, both civilians and firefighters. The International Residential Code requires interconnected, hardwired smoke alarms in all new construction (Section R313) and the International Building Code and International Fire Code (Section 907.2) call for manual or automatic fire alarm systems in most commercial buildings with high life occupancy or other hazards. In addition to new construction, the International Fire Code also has provisions for fire alarm systems and smoke alarms in existing structures (Section 907.3).

There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning residential smoke alarm technology. Americans have relied on low-cost ionization type detectors for more than 30 years. Some new information, however, indicates that ionization technology may be slower in detecting smoldering fires while they are most effective in alerting residents to fast-flaming fires. Photoelectric detection technology has also been available for decades and recent testing indicates this technology may respond faster to smoldering type fires. Because photoelectric technology is several times more expensive than ionization, most homes have the ionization type devices presently installed.

Since one can never predict what type of fire may occur, there have been recent recommendations by many fire service organizations to advise the public their best protection is to install both types of smoke detectors or a “dual-technology” detector. Some jurisdictions have introduced legislation that would make the requirement for combined ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms or dual technology laws. While this may seem a logical approach, it has not been fully substantiated by thorough and independent scientific testing, nor has it gone through a consensus process utilized for updating codes or standards. Laws are tough to pass, but even tougher to change once enacted and signed into law. Future information or technology may render these laws effectively obsolete, but still on the books. This is an important consideration for any code-related issues that may seem to be right today but may turn out to be wrong tomorrow.

There are many factors that need to be tested and considered by all the technical experts and stakeholders before a change can be made to the International Residential Code to expand its requirements beyond the current requirement for interconnected, hard-wired smoke alarms in each sleeping room, in the hallway outside each sleeping room, and at least one on each floor. The question of how to provide the best possible protection from all types of fires in residential dwellings is an important life safety concern that is best answered through a governmental consensus process, such as those used for changing building codes or installation standards developed by the International Code Council.

As a member of the fire service, this is another area where fire service participation in the code development and installation standard development process will be critical in determining the future requirements for smoke alarm technology in homes across America. The International Code Council uses a governmental consensus process that accepts code change proposals and testimony from any interested party, but limits the final vote to determine what is published as requirements in any of the I-Codes to governmental voting members.

Governmental members are those who administer building and fire safety codes for their jurisdiction and are “First Preventers” – code officials and other public safety servants as opposed to those representing any special or financial interest. They may go under the title of fire chief, fire inspector, fire marshal, or fire code official, but the labels merely obscure their common mission to prevent harm by ensuring code compliance before a disaster occurs. The fire service is welcome to apply for Code Council Governmental membership and fully participate in code development.

Properly installed and maintained manual and automatic fire alarm systems in commercial buildings such as public assembly buildings, high-rises, hospitals, factories, mercantiles, schools, and malls to name a few, are also essential life safety systems. International Building Code and International Fire Code include provisions for the installation, testing and proper maintenance of these systems. These coordinated and companion documents provide the utmost public and firefighter safety when used together. They identify the types of buildings that require a manual and/or automatic fire alarm system based on life risk, building construction features, and/or fire or hazardous material risks. The International Fire Code references the National Fire Protection Association – Standard 72, National Fire Alarm Code for commercial fire alarm system design, installation, and maintenance specifications.

Proper installation, correct location of smoke detection devices, and regular inspection, maintenance, and testing of all devices are essential for proper system operation and the prevention of false or nuisance alarms, a potentially dangerous response for fire service and the public. The International Fire Code is written to ensure the fire alarm systems will detect smoke quickly and alert occupants in sufficient time to safety exit the building. These fire alarm systems must be designed by qualified professionals. The permit application must include detailed plans that are reviewed by trained fire and building code plans examiners prior to installation. Qualified (and in some cases certified) installation technicians must complete the installation for acceptance testing by fire inspection personnel. The International Fire Code requires all fire protection systems must be installed, inspected, tested and approved prior to any public occupancy of the building.

When the fire alarm system is temporally inoperative for maintenance, repair, or testing, the International Fire Code requires a fire alarm system impairment coordinator is used to ensure occupant and firefighter safety. Building owners are required to follow several basic steps to communicate system impairments and provide alternate means of occupant safety for the duration of the impairment.

Finally, the International Fire Code prohibits the use of any device that has the appearance of a life safety device (i.e. smoke detector, heat detector, manual pull station, etc.) for any other purpose. This includes covert security equipment that is disguised to look life part of the fire alarm system.

When commercial fire alarms systems are properly installed and maintained, they perform very well. When they are not, the public and fire service are subject to unnecessary “false alarms” that puts everyone at risk. The public may be slow to respond to the home smoke detector or commercial fire alarm if it is “always going off” with no smoke or fire condition. The fire service may be at risk of injury during response and may also suffer from false alarm syndrome; becoming complacent that the response for the activated fire alarm will turn out to be a false activation and not taking the same safety precautions we would take for a confirmed fire. These human responses defeat the effectiveness of fire alarm systems and smoke detectors as life safety systems.

The fire service will need to pay special attention to fire alarm maintenance requirements and periodic inspections as the national economic recession may lead business owners to cut back on the required maintenance to balance their budgets. Work with your fire inspectors to promptly inspect premises with a sudden increase in fire alarm activity to avoid potential problems.