Corrections or additions?

These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring were prepared for the

September 5, 2001 edition of U.S. Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New Cameras For Remote Surveillance

Andrew Sheppard needed to be in four places at

once. Sheppard, president of a Canal Pointe start-up called

Surveillance

Technologies, also owns movie theaters. A good two-hour drive

separates

his eastern-most and westernmost locations. His dilemma, back in the

mid-1990s, was how to keep tabs on each without spending all of his

time on the road. He found an imperfect solution by marrying

cutting-edge

software with legacy hardware, that is, by attaching his in-house

cameras to video conferencing software. This allowed him to call up

images of ticket-selling employees from anywhere he could plug his

laptop into a modem.

But limitations in the analog cameras, then the only kind of

surveillance

cameras widely available, hampered Sheppard’s remote management, and

he began hunting for better systems. After extensive research, he

found what he was looking for in Denmark. A manufacturer there was

producing digital surveillance systems. In 1996, he bought one for

$12,000. "The system paid for itself within two or three

weeks,"

Sheppard says.

So delighted was Sheppard with the ability this system gave him to

keep an eye on employees — and on customers too — that he

began to encourage friends to purchase the digital surveillance

equipment,

and helped them install it. "`You should do this as a

business,’"

his friends urged, and Sheppard has done just that. In April, he

opened

Surveillance Technologies, a company that has three employees, and

has just started its marketing campaign.

Sheppard estimates that fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of all

businesses

have digital surveillance systems, but he predicts demand will soon

be there. In his own experience, the surrogate-eye has ferreted out

theft, and quickly settled at least one lawsuit. He has watched ticket

takers hand unripped tickets back to accomplices in the ticket window,

who then resell them and pocket the ticket price. He has seen

employees

drop $5 bills on the floor, kick them out of camera range (so they

thought), and then stuff the bills into their pockets.

On one occasion, his theater was sued by a woman who said she had

slipped, fallen, and hurt her leg. "We were able to show that

the person had been there hours before, and orchestrated with her

husband how it would work," Sheppard says. The surveillance film

had captured the action, and the lawsuit was quickly dismissed. Just

one successful claim of a sore leg can cost a business $50,000,

Sheppard

says. As for the petty theft by employees, without the cameras, he

says, "you would never know."

Surveillance Technologies’ early customers are retailers. Target

customers

include schools, restaurants, video stores, bars, fast food joints,

homeowners, and office locations. Beyond capturing theft and fraud,

Sheppard, a man who takes a dim view of employee behavior overall,

says the systems are a boon wherever there are workers.

"I’ve tried giving employees total control, and I’ve tried

babysitting,"

he says. "Babysitting works best." Given any opportunity at

all, Sheppard says, employees will gravitate toward goofing off. A

really good surveillance system, however, will cut out the

malingering.

Put in enough cameras and there will be no more idle gossip. No more

punching time cards for a pal. No more getting away with coming in

late fearlessly, because it is a safe bet the manager will be in late

too, and unlikely to report an infraction.

Surveillance cameras have been around for a long time, of course,

but the VCR-based, analog systems seen on guard at most banks,

hospitals,

and gift shops are primitive compared with the newer digital systems.

Here are some of the capabilities of 21st century video surveillance,

which has been available for only a few years:

Digital records bigger, brighter pictures. Analog systems

project tiny pictures at a relatively low resolution. The resolution

on a digital system can be up to 640 x 480, whereas that from a

standard

analog camera is 160 x 120.

You get only the picture you want. With the VCR-based

system, images from all cameras are recorded onto one tape. "You

don’t have an ability to separate images by camera," Sheppard

explains. It is not possible to get a big, clear picture of just the

action over cash register number three, for instance. With digital,

it is.

It eliminates the need to look at hours of tape. One of

the biggest annoyances with an analog system is that it is necessary

to look at the entire tape to search for the moment the break-in

occurred

or the employee started handing sweaters out the window to friends

on the street. This could take eight hours, or 10. With digital, it

is possible to call up any combination of date, time, and camera

instantly.

It can record only motion. Analog cameras can only record

all of the action, all of the time that they are turned on. A digital

system, on the other hand, can be told to record only when there is

motion. A camera trained on a door, for instance, might only record

when it opens, thereby capturing only the essential action in the

room, and also saving room on the hard drive. "Instead of watching

12 hours of tape," Sheppard says, "you only have to watch

12 seconds."

Digital can send an alarm. Should there be a break-in,

digital surveillance can be programmed to flash pictures of the event

to a computer right away. Not only does the business owner know there

is a problem, but he instantly has pictures of the perpetrator that

he can take to the police and to his insurance agent. In fact, he

can E-mail the pictures in seconds, and each can show time and date.

Digital surveillance undoubtedly keeps customers,

break-in

artists, and employees from getting away with much of anything, but

doesn’t it make for an excessively Big Brotherish work atmosphere?

"Employees need to get used to the cameras," Sheppard admits.

Most do, he says, and retail workers — and their parents —

often come to appreciate the security the state-of-the-art security

offers. The close surveillance punishes slackers and thieves, but

also provides a way for honest, hard working employees to be

recognized

as such. Most appreciate this, he finds.

Sheppard’s road to entrepreneurship began during his junior

year at Colgate (Class of 1989), where he majored in anthropology

and sociology and minored in religion. That year he started a

wholesale

baseball card business that he says became the third largest business

of its kind in the country. When his parents, both professionals,

found out about the business, "they weren’t too happy," he

says. Grudgingly, they allowed him to continue, but only if he

promised

to graduate on time. He did, and has been self-employed ever since.

He started Shepsters restaurant and bar in Hamilton right after

graduation.

Then, in 1992, he sold the baseball card business, and started buying

theaters.

He found the restaurant business "very difficult," and no

longer owns Shepsters. The movie theater business can be tough too,

but Sheppard says his surveillance system makes it easy for him to

run his theaters. The silent 24/7 watchdogs drastically cut the time

he must spend on that business, allowing him to concentrate on his

start-up. A possible downside to knowing what everyone is up to at

every minute, however, is that this knowledge can lead to reprimands,

or even dismissals. There has been enough of this that at his theaters

that Sheppard, who lives in Princeton with his wife, Maggie, a real

estate agent with Coldwell Banker, does not want the names or

locations

of his movie theaters printed. "We worry about security,"

he says.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Surveillance Technologies, 100 Canal Pointe

Boulevard,

Suite 208, Princeton 08540. 609-520-0999; fax, 609-279-0641.


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