Home and Retreat Video Security

Video Security

Part of establishing security for your home or retreat is the creation of a system of early warning. Early warning systems may include any method of raising an alarm when predefined boundaries have been reached by those looking to gain access to restricted areas. The early warning system is part of a larger security methodology. From a hidden or blended location, to a measured response, your methods must be part of an integrated whole.

Basic security setups might look like this.

  • Hidden location, or location designed to blend in to its urban, suburban, rural or wilderness environment
  • Man made or natural barriers to ingress, including physical and /or psychological barriers
  • Equipment or animals suited to raising an alarm
  • Guard posts, hidden, designed to allow an over watch, equipped with communications of some sort (wireless or wired phones, computer chat comms, radio, hand or other signals, etc.)
  • Surveillance to include hand-held scopes and binoculars, IR and thermal night vision, rifle scopes, cameras, etc.)
  • Response measures possibly including comms with the intruders via PA or wired comm sets, warnings, dogs, challenges, armed response, calls for help from neighbors or authorities, etc…

What I want to focus on for purposes of this article is the video surveillance portion of the above. Video coverage of a location will assist in discovering intruders on their way in, locating them if an alarm is raised, monitoring negotiations, coordinating a response, providing video evidence of what happened if authorities raise questions and identifying intruders who gain access when none of your group is around. As you can see, a good video setup contributes to the value of your security system significantly.

Types of Video Systems

  • Home and Retreat video systems can be of several differing types. The cameras used largely determine the system’s overall capabilities.
  • Standard daylight cameras
  • Day /night IR-assist (used with built in infrared illuminating “torches”, or stand-alone torches mounted in your vulnerable areas)
  • Thermal imaging cameras (commonly called “FLIR”, though this is a trademarked name)

Standard cameras work well in daylight only, and are suited for day time outside viewing, or for building interiors where reliable lighting is a given. They can be used for seeing in the dark with supplemental IR illuminators. If not designed for IR torch use, the image quality will suffer when compared to purpose-built units.

Day /night cameras are designed to see well in the daylight, and okay in the dark, within reason. Night time viewing range is limited, and in most cases, the ability to recognize an individual at night is hard to accomplish unless he is very close to the camera. The more IR sources there are, the better. Retreats using day/night units make good use of torches mounted on poles, trees, outbuildings and such. The goal is to bathe the subject area in the kind of light that these cameras like. It helps to imagine the location in question, as you might see it at night. Picture someone turning on spotlights one by one, and how you can see some areas, while others remain in the shadows. This is the human equivalent of day/night camera vision. Wherever the IR torch illuminates, the cameras can see. Placement of IR torches, therefore, is important. The day/night camera should not be in the path of the torch’s output. Think of it as your eye, and how you would position spotlights to illuminate an area without blinding yourself.

Something to remember about torches is that anyone with night vision devices (NVDs) can see their output and location, just as the human eye would see a spotlight. Anything the torches illuminate can be seen by the other guy equipped with NVDs. Don’t allow the torches to light up your home /retreat or location, or the location of any LP /OPs (listening post /observation post). You might allow for a torch to act as a blinder by illuminating away from a hidden position and into the “eyes” of the intruders, from a position offset from the hide or building – similar to holding a flashlight away from your body when searching a room or other location. If the torch becomes a target, at least it will draw fire offset from the concealed position. Use their properties to your advantage.

One last thing about using torches… those using NVDs in conjunction with torches can be affected by looking directly at a torch, or even a regular bright light. The NVD can flash the operator’s eyes, shut down, or become damaged. This is also important to keep in mind when designing a torch layout. See their utility as weapons against NVDs, as well as liabilities against you when improperly positioned.

Thermal cameras work differently than those previously described. Their job is to register only wavelengths created by heat. They see hot and cold, and shades in between. They work in the thermal spectrum only, and are unaffected by visible light. NVDs don’t work in daylight, and IR cameras are limited much the same as we are. Seeing into shadows from a daylight position reveals little or nothing. If someone with decent camo is motionless in a brushy area across the street or over the fence, you won’t see him without powerful standard optics – and then only if you know where to look, or have the skills and time to properly section and search the area. Thermal cameras, though, will see the person in question. Since his body radiates more heat than the comparatively cooler foliage and brush, he will stand out clearly in a thermal image.

FLIR style cameras, therefore, have it all over the competitors. FLIR will allow for viewing any latent heat images, such as a hand print recently left on a brick wall as an intruder works his way toward you. His vehicle will be visible far off as the heat from the engine makes the passing pavement glow, and the hood shine brightly. An individual hiding behind a structure will become visible the instant one small part of his body peeks out around the corner. If your camera pans over to an area in which his was laying just moments before, the warm ground on which he was positioned will stand out against the surrounding cooler ground. You might even be able to determine his size and orientation from the pattern.

The biggest negative of FLIR systems is their cost. While prices have come down significantly, they are still high. The Pathfinder system BMW installs on some of its vehicles has come down from around $6,000 to under $3,000. Nice drop. Still a heavy price tag. Considering its small size and big capability, its still a serious candidate for installation.

I favor a mix of IR cameras and FLIR. The thermal imagers need to be mounted in a PT (pan /tilt) base so that they can pan left to right, and tilt up and down. The better cameras will have zoom capability. With a PTZ setup, good positioning and active monitoring, threats can be spotted before they get near the “zone of decision” (fence, gate, property line, warning signs, etc.). A pair of these should be able to cover quite a bit of territory.

Camera Communications

All of these cameras need to communicate back to a monitoring and /or recording station. There are 3 basic types of communications methods.

  • Coaxial cable
  • Ethernet cable
  • Wireless

A great majority of professional cameras installations make use of coaxial cable to connect the cameras to the controlling computer, recorder or video monitor station. Some cameras have the ability to recognize movement, and raise an alert signal. One type of coax cable includes a lead for power and possibly alarm signal if configured properly.

Ethernet cable is what your home and office network use to communicate. Ethernet cameras (wired, not wireless) come in a couple configurations. The first is powered Ethernet. These cameras communicate over the LAN, but have a local power supply, such as an A/C adapter. Some cameras can also be powered over the Ethernet cable itself. They require an ethernet communications switch or router that is capable of sending power out over the data cable. This is called POE, or power-over-ethernet. A switch setup like this simplifies the installation, in that there is no need to run power out to a camera’s location. Simply run the data line, the CAT-5 ethernet cable, and you’re good to go.

An aside to POE configurations is that they are power-fail tolerant. If the switch or router is fed power via a UPS (uninterruptable power supply), a complete power loss to the site will not take down the camera system. If you install locally powered cameras, they will shut down when the power fails, unless the entire house /retreat /site is supplied with UPS power, or at least each and every circuit involved with the cameras. It is easier to maintain power security over a POE installation.

Wireless cameras operate just the same as your wireless laptop, iPad, iPod, etc. They transmit and receive over the wireless ethernet at your facility. While ranges for both wired and wireless installations have limits, wireless setups are subject to signal degradation and reflection from all of the various materials used in construction, or even trees and metallic objects outside. I consider wireless cameras to be of greatest utility in cases where it is simply too expensive or difficult to install a wired unit. Wireless cameras must have a power source wired to them, so they are not really wireless. It is true that they can operate from solar charged batteries, and thus have no connection to the monitoring station, but they still require power. The other item to note is that wireless communications are subject to eavesdropping, and might wind up being hacked. Imagine the thrill of an intruder that can see what you can see. I would feel better knowing that the perimeter that is being monitored is significantly beyond the range of the wireless signal’s reach. In this case, worries about signal hacking take a distant back seat to the reality of an intruder having successfully penetrated your compound. Wireless installation in a home is problematic. If the existence of the cameras are known, the intruders can sit out of sight somewhere nearby in the neighborhood, and try to gain access. If you go wireless, you must practice tight wireless security. If you don’t know how to set that up, get help from someone that is clearly knowledgeable and up-to-date with the latest protocols.

One very nice advantage IP cameras have over CCTV (coax) cameras is that almost all of them can be viewed over a LAN or the Internet. That means you can see the images on your smartphone, iPad or laptop anywhere. You can use your iPad as a viewing screen upstairs in your bedroom, even. Coax setups require a dedicated viewing monitor at one location.

Some Suggestions and Items for Review

The following are some suggested “types” of cameras that can fit many bills. They are not necessarily top of the line. I present them to show the beginner what is available, and how much it might cost. Amazon offers competitive prices, great customer service, and decent user reviews of products. All of these links will generate a small kickback to this web site. I want that to be known up front. Each, though, appears here because I either own it, personally know of parties using it, or it has good enough specifications and reviews that I feel comfortable suggesting them. Feel free to use this info to shop where you please.

FLIR First Mate – Maritime

FLIR Scout PS32 Hand Held

PathFindIR Minature Remote Camera

PathFindIR Multi Fuction Module

FLIR M-324XP Marine PT Camera and Mount

FLIR M-625L High Resolution, Multi Sensor Maritime Camera and Mount

As an example. No experience with this system. No reviews.
16 camera, PTZ system with DVR, Motion Detection, remote control

An example of how inexpensive entry-level cameras can be.

This one requires BNC/RCA cables.
VideoSecu 1/3″ CCD

Two Panasonic cameras with decent reviews
Panasonic BB-HCM531A, Outdoor PT with Electronic Zoom (no mechanical zoom)

Panasonic BB-HCM527A PT, POE Ethernet camera, Dome Mount

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