One of the UK's largest IT equipment distributors Micro Peripherals, better known simply as Micro-P, recently completed a major upgrade from an analogue-only external Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system to create a comprehensive Internet Protocol (IP)-based surveillance system covering both the inside and external perimeter of its 120,000 square foot distribution centre in Altham, near Accrington, Lancashire. The result has seen the creation of a security system in and around its warehouse that does far more than just secure it.
Micro-P in brief
Micro-P uses its Altham warehouse to store some £35 million (m) worth of technology-related computer equipment: everything from laptop computers to plasma screens. Some £1.5m worth of goods, in 4,000 separate boxes in an average of 2,500 delivery consignments, leave the warehouse in up to 12 vehicles per day, all going to customers the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and Europe. Micro-P employs over 80 people in the warehouse and 230 in the offices at Altham. It employs a further 125 people in its offices in Basingstoke, Hampshire. It holds 11,000 pallet spaces on six levels of shelving, with the highest shelf standing nine metres high. The distributor serves major high street retailers as well as smaller businesses on a same day or next day delivery service as required by the customer.
A total of 14 CCTV cameras were installed on the outside of the building 11 years ago when it was built to ensure against break-ins. Micro-P also employs Group 4 Securicor which provides around-the-clock security. The guards have permanent access to all external and internal cameras. A number of senior managers including Mr Steven Aldred, the facilities manager at Micro-P, have access to images from all the surveillance cameras via their own desktop PCs or the dedicated monitoring office.
Legacy CCTV proved inadequate
The external CCTV cameras ran back to a VHS tape-based system, supported by a duplexer for post event analysis. This equipment was housed in a dedicated monitoring office within the building. But as the business expanded it became clear that the existing analogue-based system was not satisfactory.
Mr Aldred explains: "Searching for a sequence of events after an incident was very difficult. Basically you had to get the VHS tape relevant to the time period you were searching on - a challenge in itself as they relied on VHS tapes being manually switched by the security guard at a precise time early in the morning, every morning. Secondly, you had to pass the video into the duplexer which collated the information and enabled you to analyse it on-screen. You could not select and pull up a certain time but instead had to work through the relevant images until to you got to the section that you were looking for. It often took hours to get to the right images... I dreaded the requests coming in to find out where a missing box had gone."
Mr Aldred explained another key shortcoming of the old CCTV system in post analysis: "Quality of image was also an issue - you could only view what the recording had picked up. It was not possible to zoom in on a particular area of the image that were of most interest, or enhance the image to assist any post-event analysis."
Mr Aldred drew up requirements for a new system:
- It needed to be a more user-friendly system to gather, manage and view recorded images.
- The manufacturer needed to provide equipment enabling integration of existing legacy CCTV system as well as providing new, high-quality modern cameras for use inside the warehouse itself.
- The system needed to be networked to enable easier, yet secure, access to images.
- Ideally the manufacturer should be one that Micro-P was already a partner with.
Based upon the requirements, Micro-P's own networks division in Basingstoke recommended Axis Communications blade servers for conversion of the existing analogue CCTV camera outputs into digital images so that they could be viewed from the corporate network. Micro-P's group IT manager, Mr Cliff Warrington, then got to work to specify the number and type of Axis network cameras that were needed to cover the inside of the warehouse. Mr Warrington also looked at storage and video management software needs in discussion with Mr Aldred.
Surveillance system in more detail
Micro-P retained 14 existing external analogue-based CCTV cameras, converting output from these cameras from analogue to digital and onto the network via six AXIS 241Q (Quad) Blade Servers, leaving scope for expansion in the number of CCTV cameras if required. A total of 10 new Axis network cameras were deployed to monitor the flow of goods around the warehouse. One AXIS 216 FD (Fixed Dome) Network Camera, one AXIS 211 PTZ Network Camera, three AXIS 207 Network Cameras and five AXIS 207W (Wireless) Network Cameras were installed, primarily covering the high value goods sections, the loading bays and the main warehouse areas.
A dedicated Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) has been set up exclusively for carrying video data from a total of 24 cameras deployed in the new system. Some Axis network cameras have power supplied to them via Power over Ethernet (PoE), notably the AXIS 211, using the warehouse's existing PoE infrastructure.
Micro-P has deployed two, one Tera Byte (TB) Core 2 Duo Workstations as the dedicated network servers in the secure monitoring office. These provides storage capacity for continuous recording of M-JPEG images from all 24 cameras for over forty days at one frame per second (fps), at 640x480 or 4CIF (704x756) resolution. Live viewing is now available at 15 fps whilst others operate as low as one fps.
Micro-P is now operating some cameras on motion detection. This reduces the amount of data being collected daily and thereby extends the recording capacity of the servers themselves. The company is ultimately aiming to retain images for up to 50 days.
Management and post event analysis benefits
Mr Aldred explains: "I used to dread being asked to piece together the sequence of an incident that had taken place within the warehouse. I would need to find CCTV images covering the start point of the event and then try to track its movements around the warehouse. I couldn't view images from different cameras at the same time, and all this made it difficult and time consuming to collate information and report back.
"Now that all cameras are visible via the network it means that, through the use of AXIS Camera Station, it is possible to set up a split screen of recorded images from up to four different cameras at the same time. This means that you can run recordings from a specific timeframe in which you know the box in question is on the move around the warehouse. Within minutes you can show someone what has happened and use the images almost instantly."
The AXIS Camera Station offers the facility to create a unified platform for control, display and management of images, regardless of whether the images are coming from CCTV or network cameras which also proved a key benefit over older technologies.
Mr Warrington explains further: "Many other camera manufacturers insist on the use of their own interface system for interrogation of images from their cameras but the real power comes from an ability to access and manipulate images simultaneously from any cameras, all through the same keyboard or joystick."
Another key advantage of modernising the system is that Micro-P has now gained the ability to give the local police monitoring station, a unique user name and password so they can gain access to selected external surveillance cameras. This has definitely improved external security over a larger area around the warehouse 24-hours a day.
Mr Aldred added: "With this remote access and control of external cameras, the police are able to take a closer look around the entire building, across the car parks and the steep banks close to the building, to look for anything suspicious, only going on-site if it's really necessary."
The increase in the number of cameras inside the warehouse has already had a positive effect on security, productivity and observation of health and safety procedures. The fact that the cameras are there has helped improve adherence with heath and safety practices throughout the warehouse.
Ease of use, quality of support
For Micro-P the selection of Axis has proved a good one from the point of view of ease of use.
Mr Warrington explained: "The fact that I was able to make all cameras, analogue and IP, live on the new system within a day without any additional technical support says it all. Axis has great online network design tools for assigning IP addresses to its network cameras. It also offers up-to-date software for download from the website. We also found the manuals and other information extremely clear and helpful."
Micro-P is considering the deployment of wireless network cameras on its six Very Narrow Lane "Combi" (Combination truck) fork lift trucks. These trucks already have 240 volt power supplies on board so no additional wiring is required, because the warehouse has already seen the installation of Radio Frequency (RF) receivers for its own system. This has allowed wireless cameras to be introduced easily. The only deployment challenge we now have is fixing a wireless Axis Pan/Tilt/Zoom network camera onto the truck and assigning an IP address to it.
Mr Aldred explains the potential value of this: "This move would definitely offer us the advantage of being able to cover parts of the warehouse that our existing fixed cameras would not be able to cover. This is also useful from a health and safety perspective. It would help eliminate any poor stacking and lifting practices and could act as an aid to improving forklift truck driver training."
The key for Micro-P was that it was able to upgrade, extend, improve and even future-proof its surveillance systems at Altham by using Axis encoders, network cameras and software, all at about half the cost the company would have incurred by simply extending the existing analogue system through the purchase and configuration of a new 16-port Digital Video Recorder.
Mr Aldred sums up: "We now have a system which is highly expandable - offering space for up to 10 more CCTV cameras and as many network cameras as we want. Many of the network cameras we use in the warehouse are only costing us one or two hundred pounds each so it's very easy and inexpensive to extend the system. In our view the pure analogue CCTV world cannot compete on price, ease of use or even quality today."