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Talking TVs and cameras

October 11, 2010
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First I’ve got a disclaimer: I am not an expert on closed-circuit TV systems. I am, however, an expert on my experiences with closed-circuit TV systems.

In this article I’ll try to pass on what I’ve learned, or think I’ve learned through trial and error. But, please don’t tell anyone that I’ve made mistakes, it’s my reputation on the line.

Live and learn
When a closed-circuit TV system is installed right it is well worth the cost and effort. Just the peace of mind it provides is worth it.

The comfort of knowing that if something happens you’ll be able to search the archives and find out what, when and how is wonderful. Even if, in the end, it doesn’t help you catch the perpetrator, you’ll know how to prevent it from happening again.

Using closed-circuit monitoring removes the helpless feeling and gives you some control over a situation.

We first discovered the value of having a closed-circuit security camera when we didn’t have one.

We had purchased and installed a $2,400 electric vending machine. It had all the latest anti-theft devices: double locks, 3/8” thick lexan window, etc.

The security was so good, that the thief, after trying with crowbars, hammers and a butane torch, got away with only about 100 fragrance trees and a few towels, but no money at all. The problem was that he completely destroyed the machine.

Cameras may not have prevented the break-in or destruction, but maybe we could have caught the culprit. Our insurance company paid for the machine, minus the deductible of course.

It was on that day I made up my mind to install some kind of security camera or system. If something happened to the new vending machine, I wanted pictures.

A simple start
I knew nothing about closed-circuit TVs, so I initially went to a contractor and asked them to design a system for us. They did, but the cost was prohibitive (mistake).

After looking around, we found a four-camera tape system (mistake, even then) for a reasonable price at Sam’s Club. We bought two systems and installed them ourselves.

We had one camera covering the vending machines, one on the change machine, and the other six covered the six carwash bays and drying area.

This tape system (archaic now) worked fine for us for about five years. We had to change the tapes every 24-hours and we backlogged seven days of tapes then erased and taped the seventh day again.

The replays were grainy and not very clear after erasing and re-recording every day so we replaced the tapes every three months or so.

I think having the cameras out there in plain sight served their purpose. The thieves didn’t know about the quality of the recording, they just knew they were being caught on tape.

When we built six new bays in 2001 beside our existing six bays, we decided to go with a more up-to-date digital system.

We got a price from a contractor for a 16-camera system with a 200 gigabyte (GB) hard drive. The contractor seemed to know what he was doing (mistake). And, for the $20,000 we paid, even without the conduit system, he should have.

But alas, he didn’t. He could not get the computer working right, so after about six months he bought it back from us and we found a computer and software from another manufacturer. This one is 240 GB and will store up to six months worth of recording.

Proper placement
We now have 16 cameras covering our 12 bays and the covered drying area. There is a camera on:

  • Each change machine;
  • One on the vending area;
  • One on the stand-alone dryer,
  • One in the office;
  • One on the entrance area; and
  • The other 10 cover the 12 bays and the covered drying area.

I should mention the two things I would do differently in retrospect and considering the multiple entrances I have at my location.

1. I would put a miniature camera in the face of each change machine to get a close up of a person’s face.

Our camera is currently high and to the side, so a person has to look up at the camera in order to get a picture of the face.

2. I would train one close-up camera specifically on the license plates as they come in or out of the carwash.

We have three entrances/exits from three different directions and all are 50’ wide, so we would have a tough time covering it all.

Our signage leads the customers into one lane where our camera is aimed. It would take approximately six cameras to get proper coverage of a license plate.

A few tips

Here are a few suggestions for a closed-circuit TV system.

  • Connect it to a battery back up. Although they won’t last very long, the software should start up automatically after a power failure;
  • Make sure the system makes it easy to search the archives;
  • The software should be capable of slow motion replay, even a frame at a time;
  • It should be able to record “on motion” only. This saves disk space and search time;
  • Software should support home monitoring;
  • It should have alarm capability;
  • Software should be able to capture to diskette or CD; and
  • It should have at least one level of security so unwanted people can’t enter the program.

After you install the system, and advertise it. Let people know it’s there, place the cameras so they can be seen. Install signs to let people know that they are being recorded.

In Casper, WY we don’t have too much crime and vandalism, at least not as much as we hear there is in some places.

We didn’t have too many incidents before the cameras were installed, but now we have less. I believe that having the cameras in plain view, and advertised does keep honest people honest.

Dennis Ryan has been in the carwash business since 1988 and the construction business for 40 years. At one time he owned and operated five self-service carwashes. Currently he owns and operates American Pride Carwash in Casper/Evansville, WY. He can be contacted at

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