Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Caught on camera

Pinpointing the proper surveillance equipment to protect a property from theft and vandalism.

April 15, 2013

Cameras that are specifically designed for carwashes today bring the right amount of toughness, durability and technology to each camera location. For example, cameras that are placed in a tunnel or bays must be designed to survive in a constantly wet atmosphere that has a lot of chemicals floating around. This means that the camera must be totally sealed against any moisture incursion. Then, it has to have a coating on the lens or front glass that resists etching by the chemicals and soaps. When you buy a camera for these locations, find out if these preventative measures are present and if the manufacturer offers replacement parts, domes and glass for it.

Other locations around your property bring their own special needs. For example, a camera in the retail area needs to be stylish, low profile and have a lens that will allow you to fine tune the picture zoom and width to see the areas that need to be monitored closely. A camera that is looking at something far away, such as a dumpster or driveway, needs to have a telephoto zoom lens on it that will allow you to zoom in close enough to capture detail at that distance.

Also, equipment room cameras must also be waterproof and provide enough infrared light to illuminate the entire room when the lights are off.  There is no such thing as “one size fits all.”  Finally, the DVR recorder must be able to withstand unconditioned environments as well. A well designed system should not be affected by extreme heat or cold.

Preventing theft and vandalism

A good security camera system will have highly visible cameras and can deliver high resolution video when coupled with an adjustable zoom lens. When you find a system that can deliver these features, it results in less crime against your property. Over the years, career thieves have learned to not only look for cameras, but they know a decent camera when they see one. If what they see is a tiny little camera that looks like it came from Ebay or a warehouse club, they know that the resulting video likely will not have the resolution needed to identify them or their vehicle. Most of the time, they are right.

Tiny consumer grade cameras just don’t seem to scare away a serious thief anymore. The criminals talk about this fact amongst themselves and online. They have learned that a cheap camera is not likely to have a lens that can effectively identify anyone beyond about 20 feet away. If all you can determine from a recording is the general color of a car or clothing, it is not enough. The lesson here is to choose serious looking, large housing cameras for your most visible camera locations and be sure that it is a high resolution camera with an adjustable lens.

Next, get a DVR recorder that will record that camera’s video at a large resolution. The minimum recording resolution for an important camera location should start at 740 x 480. This will give you the resolution and resulting picture size that can provide the level of detail needed for identification and prosecution.  Megapixel resolutions are even better, and the difference in detail will amaze you.

I have found that vandals often differ from some of the thieves in that they seem to care a lot more whether or not they are caught. They look for cameras and blind spots. Proper camera coverage helps deter vandals, but they often notice these blind spots. If you don’t have enough cameras to cover blind spots or areas that are not as important to watch, then consider increasing your perceived coverage in that area. I often do this by mounting a dead, outdated or broken camera in that location. This is a great way to supplement your perceived camera coverage by mounting it in an out of the way place that is not covered or even that important.

For example, I do not have enough camera inputs left in my recorder to watch a wall on the back side of the property that is shielded from the street, but it is a prime place for a tagger to hide and spray paint his way to fame. This is an ideal place for my extra cameras that are not even plugged in or working. I also do this at my change machines as well. If I have a camera on the right side, I will put up an old one on the left so that they cannot turn away from a camera view if they are intent on doing damage or mischief. They don’t know it is not connected to anything. Real cameras are always the preferred solution, and are even a necessity where you have traffic and/or people who believe that you are helping to protect them with cameras, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t act like you are monitoring non-traffic, hidden areas.

New surveillance technology

The last six months has brought a bevy of new technology to security cameras and recorders. For example, analog camera systems have just taken a great leap forward in resolution. For years analog was maxed out at 740 x 480 resolution and not all recorders could even achieve that. Now, SONY has introduced a new technology that combines their newest Effio chipsets in the cameras and recorders that will record at 960 x 480. This technology, named 960H, records 30 percent more resolution than traditional analog. 960H means that the recorder is seeing 960 horizontal lines of resolution. This is just shy of 1,000 lines, which is in the megapixel range. It is the closest you can get to megapixel with an analog system. This is truly a leap ahead for analog, and the resulting footage is really impressive.

Another new technology is called HD-SDI, or HD security cameras. This is the most exciting new technology to come along in quite a while. These new HD cameras give you megapixel video at true HD sizes, such as 1920 x 1080, or as it is more commonly called, 1080p.

The greatest thing about this new HD technology is that there is no need for a network, router, switch or even an IP addresses. These new high definition cameras transmit over coaxial cable. That means that if you already have an analog camera system installed, these cameras can use your existing wiring. This lowers the cost of switching to HD megapixel video because you can do it yourself easily. There is nothing to learn, no networking gurus needed, no service contract and no extra networking components to buy. This is an amazing new technology that allows you to have megapixel video at 1080p without the cost and complexity of IP camera systems.

Important DVR specifications

If your DVR is recording at the highest resolution available and is also recording full time, it will fill up a one terabyte hard drive in two or three days typically.  However, if you set the DVR to motion-based recording, it can increase your archives to as long as a month or more. This is not only acceptable but desirable for a number of reasons. Motion-based recording does not miss any action or movement, so it is preferred over constant recording.

If you notice vandalism or theft has happened in the last few days, it takes a lot of time to fast forward through days of full time recordings to find the event. When the DVR is set to record upon motion, it creates a log of recordings and it only takes a few minutes to locate when something was stolen or vandalized. Also, if the DVR was recording full time, and the event happened a few days ago, you may not even have the recording anymore. The DVR may have already written over that event.

Also, it is not practical to transfer all of the recordings onto other media because you would need a number of DVD’s even for a few days of recordings. This would take a lot of time and effort. It is better to install more than one hard drive so that you end up with a few months of archives instead of a week or two. Hard drives are inexpensive and are cost and time effective at holding recordings way past the point that you would normally need them.

When something happens, simply transfer any single or multi-camera event off onto a thumb drive or DVD. It’s easy and only takes a few minutes. Then you can hand it to the police and you’re done. You can even do this remotely, in most cases from wherever you happen to be at the time.

Equipment selection

Buying a security camera with a wide-angle fixed lens to effectively look at something more than 15 to 20 feet away does not work. If you are just using that camera for an overview to look at how many cars are stacked up, then it is probably okay. However, if you are trying to identify a person 30 or 40 feet in the distance with a wide-angle lens, then it is not going to work for you. Getting the right camera and lens combination for the distances you need to see is probably the most important element in any system. Secondly, buying a DVR recorder that can record at the highest resolutions — at least 740 x 480 for analog and 720p for HD systems — at real time speeds, is also very important.

Those two simple yet important things will serve you well when you are buying or upgrading your security camera system. Ask questions and look at the specs for the equipment. If the specs you are looking for are not listed, then there is probably a reason for that. Owners should be suspicious when companies hide some of the facts … what else are they hiding?