Technological peace of mind
CIS Alaska team members.
Small businesses are using video security and surveillance systems as an integral part of their efforts to protect their physical assets from theft, vandalism, and other threats. Video security cameras also help maintain a safe environment for employees, customers, and other visitors.
The longevity of many businesses relies heavily on the use of video security and surveillance equipment, according to Christopher Meador, the owner of Northern Security and Surveillance. Any assets that are not bolted down are subject to being stolen, he says, but video cameras can be a deterrent. “Cameras, basically, keep honest people honest and criminal people wondering if they will be caught,” he explains.
Steve Olson, ADT’s sales manager for Alaska, also sees video security and surveillance as a crucial part of operating a business. Alaska, like the rest of the country, is dealing with an opioid crisis, and police are no longer detaining people for minor crimes, says Olson, who is based in Tacoma, Washington. People respect law enforcement, but they realize they are often on their own when it comes to protecting their businesses and homes. And they are depending on video security and surveillance to fill the void. He says, “They know they have to prove someone has done something versus making a complaint and waiting for the police to respond.”
Thomas Craig, director of sales and marketing at Cardoso Integrated Security (CIS) Alaska, has seen an increase in small businesses requesting surveillance for liability purposes. This can be for worker’s compensation claims, mitigating customer claims that a business damaged their property while in the business’ care, and even to prove to regulatory agencies that regulations are being followed. “It is now common for small businesses to have security surveillance systems as the technology has become affordable and the ability to access your system anywhere Internet service is available provides many benefits,” Craig says. “This allows small business owners the peace of mind to enjoy life while knowing they are a click away from seeing what is going on.”
This was certainly the case with John Saffert of JPS Cars. The Eagle River auto dealer has had his share of security problems, from gas being siphoned from cars to vehicles being stolen. His location has been broken into several times, and six cars have been stolen in the past four years. But security became less of a problem once CIS Alaska installed a surveillance system with multiple cameras, motion detectors, and glass break alarms. “The cameras are nice for peace of mind because I can use the app on my phone to see what’s happening on the lot,” he says.
Video cameras are also a critical part of security at Michael’s Jewelers. The Anchorage jewelry store is constantly enhancing its security system and recently upgraded its cameras. “This allows me to be able to monitor my store from basically anywhere that I have a mobile device,” says Dave Robuck, who has owned and operated the store for thirty years.
Michael’s Jewelers uses multi-layered security to protect its assets and a camera system is an important (and visible) component of that. “When the bad guy comes along, he will see if there is a security system,” Robuck explains. “And if there is, he will move onto another store. I would recommend to anybody who’s trying to have a business that you better have a really good security system.”
Guardian Security Systems
A Hikvision security system.
Security System Providers
Companies such as CIS Alaska, ADT, Guardian Security Systems, and Northern Security and Surveillance provide a variety of video security and surveillance equipment that can be customized to fit the unique needs of small businesses. For example, CIS Alaska sells hardwired, networked security surveillance systems that record locally and can be accessed remotely via web-enabled devices. It also offers wireless security surveillance systems that record to cloud-based storage and even stand-alone cameras with internal storage, as well as battery and solar power for remote locations. “There are a lot of options with these security surveillance systems, and what we do is tailor a solution based on what you want to achieve with your security surveillance system and budget,” Craig says. “A lot of the time, the need for security surveillance system is not planned. We understand these unexpected costs to a small business are difficult to account for, so we offer a monthly payment plan.”
CIS Alaska sells and installs the equipment as well as provides ongoing service plans including optional monitoring services. “That means instead of you being alerted when a camera triggers an event or having to employ staff to manage this, we will set up a protocol with the client on who we need to notify,” Craig says.
The typical video security and surveillance system used by small businesses includes cameras, a networked video recorder, hard drive, and Cat5e cable for computer networks. Most businesses have Internet service, and CIS Alaska will connect the security surveillance system to the network for remote access via a router. In addition, many clients want the cameras openly and visibly displayed at their business, and CIS Alaska can use an HDMI or VGA cable to display all the cameras or one camera for live viewing.
Since all small businesses can benefit from security systems, CIS Alaska works with a variety of customers throughout Alaska. Coffee shops, car dealerships, marijuana retail shops, restaurants, courier services, banks, professional offices, repair shops, and hair salons each need different types of cameras and security equipment specifically tailored for their business. For example, car dealerships utilize pan-tilt-zoom cameras that can auto track the entire lot. When any person or vehicle enters the lot, the camera automatically zooms in to get the best detail to identify a person or license plate. “We are able to program rules for business hours and alert via text or email when activity is detected,” Craig says. “This way break-ins can be stopped before they damage property.”
ADT sells business security alarms as well as different camera systems, including Wi-Fi cameras. These wireless cameras offer limited recording capability but are useful for certain situations. They are mostly used for 24/7, live observation by owners or managers who want to see what’s going on in their business. Wi-Fi cameras have to be tied into a burglary alarm, so ADT does not install them without a security system. However, using wireless cameras is a fairly inexpensive option for small businesses. It costs around $399 to install two cameras plus $57.99 per month for the monitoring service for the alarm.
ADT also provides businesses with commercial closed-circuit television, generally encompassing a network video recorder (NVR) and 2-megapixel Internet Protocol (IP) cameras. “They can store three to four weeks of 24/7 live recording,” Olson says. “We sell systems with anywhere from one camera up to sixteen to thirty-two cameras.”
Olson says today’s digital cameras are 400 percent to 500 percent more clear than the older digital video recorder and analog options. However, bandwidth determines the number of cameras a business can use. For the best viewing experience, ADT generally recommends that customers err on the side of operating fewer cameras than too many. “The more cameras you have, it can slow your viewing experience down quite a bit—which can make a difference when you are viewing remote,” Olson explains.
He adds: “The most important factor with video is that you have to find a balance between the cost, resolution of the cameras, and the bandwidth of your Internet connection to be successful. Spending a lot of money on cameras doesn’t always guarantee you’re going to have the best results.”
ADT installs all of the products it sells, Olson says. If there is a technical issue with the cameras or if one of the components breaks down, everything is guaranteed. “If a camera goes out on the NVR, we replace it at no cost to the customer, generally,” he says.
Guardian Security Systems has been selling video security and surveillance equipment since 1974. It offers a wide variety of analog and IP solutions designed for the Alaska environment and the specific needs of its customers, according to Danielle Bowman, who handles alarm operations. “We currently sell Hikvision,” Bowman says. “They are the number one camera manufacturer in the world and their product line is well suited for our clients.”
Customers of Guardian Security Systems range from home offices to small wholesale facilities, retail outlets, and professional offices. It also installs security and camera systems for residential customers. The vast majority of the systems the company sells are designed to monitor for burglary and theft activity. “Each of our camera systems is custom designed to meet the needs of each customer,” Bowman says. “Our 4-megapixel IP systems are an excellent cost-effective and robust system that many of our customers choose.”
While Guardian Security Systems sells and installs security systems, it does not provide video monitoring. However, it does have an Alaska-based central station that monitors residential and commercial intrusion and fire systems as well as environmental alarm monitoring.
Although Guardian installs the majority of the security systems it sells, customers can opt to handle the installation themselves. But they should consult with an expert to ensure they choose the best equipment for their business. “There are many things that should be considered prior to purchasing equipment, and a professional can help with the equipment selection,” Bowman says.
Northern Security and Surveillance also sells video security and surveillance systems that use a NVR, IP cameras, data cabling, and a host of other options. The company works with an assortment of businesses, including hotels, liquors stores, restaurants, and assisted living facilities. Regardless of the client’s industry, the company provides a full and complete solution to meet their security needs.
When working with clients, Meador walks through the building being secured and determines precisely where their cameras should be. Then he custom designs the layout and connects the video network to a data network or a high-speed cable modem. He also provides service after the sale. “We’re not only selling and installing; we’re there in support of the customer,” he says. “I offer a one-year service warranty with all installations and a three- to ten-year warranty for the equipment itself.”
Customers can use the IP video network to place intrusion control lines to protect a particular area for a certain time period. Or they can leave notification alerts turned on 24/7 for ongoing surveillance. “If someone crosses the intrusion line within the scheduled period, the system will notify the user through an app on their phone,” Meador says. “Then they can take the appropriate action from there, whether it’s calling the police or calling a friend.”
Northern Security and Surveillance sells multiple high-resolution, high-quality equipment lines designed to produce remarkable results. For example, some camera options allow customers to “see” in the dark up to 1,500 feet, the length of about five football fields. Daytime viewing is equally impressive. “During the daytime, you can zoom in on something forty times, and it’s still crystal clear,” Meador says. “You could see about a mile away. You could zoom into it, like you’re standing right there.”
Customers can also select different analytical software to use with their camera system. Options include vehicle tracking, facial recognition, people counting, and license plate recognition. Facial recognition, for instance, works like an electronic watch dog. Meador explains: “If someone comes into the building and does something, you can take a snapshot of his face and create a profile of him. If he comes back to the building, the video network will automatically notify the application that the guy is back on the premises.”
The cost for a standard video security and surveillance system starts at $2,000 for two cameras with the required cabling and monitor and recording equipment. Analytical software options, of course, add to the cost.
Challenges of DIY Systems
Customers on a tight budget may be tempted to do a DIY project with equipment purchased from a store. But security experts warn that this may not be the best route to take. The cabling sold with these off-the-shelf security systems may not be long enough for the customer’s business environment, Meador says. And the cameras from big-box retailers generally come with a lower resolution, narrower viewing angles, less memory, and a shorter life span than professionally sold and installed systems. “They may burn up in one or two years,” he says. “You don’t want to go through all the effort of installing the camera and everything else and have the system stop working.”
ADT’s Olson says do-it-yourself systems can be frustrating for small business owners. As an alternative, they need someone who is tech-savvy to install and maintain their equipment, he says. “That’s where ADT comes in… Doing business with ADT, you can call us 24/7 and we will get you back on line.”
Craig of CIS Alaska is also familiar with the problems some businesses have using an out-of-the box security camera system. “The common theme is that a business has installed residential-grade camera systems from Costco or Amazon and [experience problems],” he says. “And when they try to pull an image, they find that it is useless or that it didn't even record.”
It’s usually at this point that the company calls on CIS Alaska to provide a suitable system that they can depend on to work well in Alaska. “We have unique environmental challenges to address, including below-freezing weather, white-out conditions, and low-light conditions for months,” Craig says. “We understand all these conditions and install cameras that will adjust to changing conditions throughout the seasons.”
Video security and surveillance are becoming more feasible for small businesses in Alaska and elsewhere. Advancements in hardware, technology, and integration have brought high-end camera systems to a place that they make sense for not only the small business owner but also the residential consumer, says Bowman of Guardian Security Systems. “As the technology continues to improve, ease of use of the systems and the costs of the high-end systems continue to come down,” she says. “Customers that were unable to make an investment in video security now find it affordable and cost-effective. Pair that with continued enhanced technologies, real-time push notifications, and overall quality of the systems…This is an exciting time for video security.”
Tracy Barbour has been an Alaska Business contributor since 1999. As a former Alaskan, she is uniquely positioned to offer in-depth insight and enjoys writing about a variety of topics.