How does audio enhance security system performance?
25 Mar 2020
Video is widely embraced as an essential element of physical security systems. However, surveillance footage is often recorded without sound, even though many cameras are capable of capturing audio as well as video. Beyond the capabilities of cameras, there is a range of other audio products on the market that can improve system performance and/or expand capabilities (e.g., gunshot detection.) We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: How does audio enhance the performance of security and/or video systems?
Audio is an essential security technology as it gives customers a more complete surveillance solution. Adding audio devices to a surveillance system is like adding “ears” to your “eyes,” both providing essential information for event detection and after-the-fact analysis. Live audio, or clips from an incident, can be sent to monitoring facilities to provide real-time alarm verification. Verified alarms receive priority response from local law enforcement, and audio captured from the scene can be sent to first responders, thus allowing them to gain a better understanding of the scenario prior to their arrival. Similarly, two-way audio devices with talk-down features aid in crime deterrence by enabling security personnel to speak directly with a suspect, helping to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation before it unfolds. Security microphones also expand situational awareness by capturing names, languages spoken and directives¬–all of which aid security staff in their investigations.
Audio enhancements can provide heightened benefits to a layered physical security system. The most obvious benefit is notification of a security breach or threat. When a physical system is compromised, sounders/alarms typically generate to notify security personnel. In terms of security entrances, this might be a piezo alarm of a security revolving door or mantrap portal. For other entrance types such as optical turnstiles, the alarm might be more subtle or even transferred to a remote-control panel for procedural follow-up by security staff. The audible sounds need to be considered carefully and be unique to the application and not confused with other emergency and life-safety devices in the facility. Other forms of audio enhancement assist users in the practical use of products, creating efficiency, enhanced throughput, and minimal hands-on personal instruction. A voice message might alert the user where/how to present credentials and whether they are approved/denied.
Audio serves a number of purposes that can enhance the user experience, as well as provide other information that may be useful. For instance, in a retail environment audio can help to evaluate the quality of the customer experience. Having a pleasant experience as a customer is paramount in creating repeat customers. Using this data is key when teaching new associates the proper way to service a customer so as to give them the best experience possible. We can also use this data watch and listen to any potential incident and as a training tool to defuse situations. Audio also gives us more data outside of the cameras’ viewing area. Sometimes we have incidents happen that are out of the view, but we can still hear what’s going on. Hearing someone scream from a distance conveys a very different message than silent video.
Audio enhances the performance of security and video systems through increasing the level of accuracy in detecting events. Applications, such as a glass break detector, can notify security to a possible intruder when it senses an incident. Overall, audio enhances the performance of security systems and is becoming more common, especially with the rise of gunshot detection technology. Audio provides an additional layer of information we can integrate with other sensor data to aid in comprehensive video analytics.
Do you ever watch TV or a film without the sound? It’s only half the experience. That’s why in 1927 “The Jazz Singer” became so popular. It was the first full feature “talkie” movie with synchronised audio. Why are people upgrading to sound bars and surround-sound systems? It enhances the experience. The booming bass, the sound effects in the rear speakers all add to the user feeling like they are a part of it and not just watching it. The same can be said for security. If you have video footage of a robbery with audio, it will give much more context of the situation. Maybe there was an argument that led to the robbery. Maybe the vehicle used in the getaway was a diesel truck that was identified by the sound it made pulling away. All of these scenarios are real events; without audio you wouldn’t know the full story.
Whilst the visual presence of security systems is vital, the use of audio systems is also very important. It gives a clear indication to potential intruders that the system is live, and ensures innocent people are aware they are infringing a restricted area. For example, if you enforce a virtual trigger line using a CCTV system, a verbal warning can be used to warn people they are getting too close to a secure perimeter fence. It can also be used to combat anti-social behaviour (such as graffiti or vandals) by warning perpetrators that they are being monitored and that action will be taken. There are more friendly applications as well. For example, people with sight issues may struggle to use an access control system so audio instructions can be incorporated instead of written words for clarity. Using audio as well as visual indications ensures better inclusion for all.
In today’s world of “video is king,” audio is often overlooked but is an equally important part of a well-rounded situational awareness program. Whether it is audio emanating from field devices such as cameras or intercom systems or the two-way communication between a security operations center (SOC) and first responders, audio needs to be considered in all system designs and concepts of operations. For most of these systems, it’s not just the audio alone, but also clear, high-quality audio that allows listeners to discern what is being heard, make sense of the information, and respond to it. A well-designed command center takes audio into consideration so that all the content is intelligible and actionable. From room acoustics to console layout to minimising crosstalk among operators, a world-class command center of any size leverages audio to improve situational awareness and effect a better, more informed security response.
Audio enhances the performance of systems by adding dimension to the performance. The capabilities that come with combining audio and video include a higher accuracy and features that enhance the system. Without audio, it’s like watching a film with no sound. As a viewer, you would miss out on the complexities, nuances and cues that are introduced with sound. The same goes for security systems. Implementing audio offers the ability to verify incidents, while reducing false alarms. Operators will be able to better determine what is an actionable event, and what is not.
Video surveillance and other technologies such as gunshot detection are key components of any security strategy but integrating audio capabilities into these solutions can provide more comprehensive security insights and improved response. Mass Notification Systems (MNS) are one example of how audio capabilities can be practically applied to improve outcomes during a security event. MNS can use video surveillance audio to accurately instruct building occupants during lockdowns, providing guidance on where to evacuate, whether to shelter in place, and when it’s safe to resume normal activity. Additionally, gunshot detection technology uses acoustic microphone sensors integrated with video cameras to instantly recognise audio waveform and energy levels caused by firearm discharge, alerting authorities to its location quickly and efficiently – potentially saving lives in the process. Audio capabilities are crucial to a well-rounded security strategy that maximises safety and allows organisations to focus resources where they can be most beneficial.
When glass is smashed, and a business is in the process of being burglarised, it’s important to be notified immediately. If a camera with a microphone can detect and correctly identify the sound of glass breaking, then it’s a perfect complement to any security system and can help reduce overall costs of installing purpose-built glass break sensors at every point of ingress. Gunshots, screams, or even just noise going beyond a normal threshold can all be detected by modern on-edge camera analytics, yet few of the myriad IP-based surveillance systems deployed make use of this powerful technology. Audio analytics that come standard with most Hanwha cameras can quickly pinpoint zones that security staff should focus on, which can dramatically shorten response times to incidents. Audio-derived data also provides a secondary layer of verification that an event is taking place, which can help prioritise responses from police and emergency personnel.
Listening is a critical skill in life – and for physical security systems. Audio adds useful capabilities to video and security systems but is sometimes overlooked as an element in system design and deployment. Given the expanding capabilities in the market, it is more important than ever to embrace audio as a system element. We should all watch and listen.
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