Home > Industry Solutions > Museums / Cultural Properties:

The Security Manager’s FAQ Sheet
Reading Time: 5 minutes; Technical Knowledge Required: None;
Emphasis: Security Advantages of this product and Competitive comparison with other similar systems.

What is the Acuity-VCT CCTV System?

The Acuity-vct is an advanced CCTV system with features specific to cultural properties that are not found in any other system. While some competing systems do have similar features, none are as robust or fine tuned for false alarm resistance as the Acuity-vct and no other system is scaled to the cultural property budget like the Acuity-vct.

You have many product choices. If you have an access control system, the manufacturer of that product almost certainly has a CCTV system product they would like to sell you. And there are dozens of CCTV systems on the market each sold by one or several dealers in your area.

Seasoned security managers have all learned that proprietary systems, systems made by a specific manufacturer, can be a problem. Once you buy a proprietary product you are locked in to that product and a small group of dealers for the life of the system. And they’ve learned that while the initial cost of the system might be reasonable, once locked in, ongoing costs can be excessive.

The primary advantage of the Acuity-vct system is that it is 100% “open source”. What this means is that all of the components of the system are available on the open market from a long list of dealers. And it also means that you are not locked in to any specific component. How is this possible?

The Acuity-vct system is simply software. Your Acuity-vct dealer will provide and install all of the hardware needed to make a complete system from the cameras to computer components, but these can be components from any product line. This is possible because the computer industry has standards that require that a router from one manufacturer do the very same thing in the very same way as a router from another manufacturer, etc. This allows computers, smart phones, printers, copiers, card readers, cameras, etc. from many manufacturers to work properly on the same network as long as they meet the standard. All of the Acuity-vct hardware is simply standard off the shelf computer equipment from manufacturers like Dell, Axis, Cisco, etc.

Most systems today use DVRs. Each DVR runs its own copy of Windows and thus has its own problems any Windows product has with viruses, software bugs requiring updates, etc. DVRs are not a good value. They cost about $8000 each for a good full featured one and all they are is an industrial rack mounted PC with a card that allows you to connect cameras and another card that outputs to a monitor. They tend to overheat when rack mounted and since they contain the hard drive upon which recording occurs 24/7, they wear out in about 3 to 5 years requiring costly service. You can network them together with a PC interface.

After several years experience with DVRs many users have learned that as a DVR breaks down, that model may have been replaced by a different model. If you have a rack of six DVRs and one fails, many users have had to replace all six in order to network them together with the PC interface again.

Another problem is that if a decision is made to retain recordings longer than originally planned, you may not be able to add hard drive capacity to every system, and most have limitations as to the amount of drive capacity that can be added.

And finally, DVRs are “old technology”. Do you remember when people told you not to buy VHS recorders for security because they would soon be replaced by DVRs? Well, DVRs won’t be around that much longer because the industry has seen the advantages of server-based systems.

The Acuity-vct system is a server-based system. It is what we call a hybrid system in that it can use any camera, any camera type (analog or digital), and any type of cabling (coaxial cable, network cable, or fiber optic cable). This means that you don’t have to replace existing coaxial cables or upgrade existing cameras to upgrade to the Acuity-vct system. In fact, the Acuity-vct isn’t a traditional security product at all. It is actually a computer network product that accepts inputs from cameras.

Cameras are connected to the system front end using different components depending upon the type of camera and cabling you require. Let’s keep this non-technical by just agreeing that a standard, widely used component gives various types of devices their IP address back in the security closet. Once they have an IP address their signals are transmitted over the network by using another widely used standard component. And once on the network, the software can distinguish signals from any specific camera. The emphasis here is that all of the components are widely used and available from dozens of manufacturers.

The system front end is a server. You can use any server as long as it meets the minimum requirements. If you like Dell, Acuity-vct can supply Dell which incidentally is the product you will get if you don’t specify. Only high quality name brand products are supplied. If you like HP or IBM, that’s no problem either. Does it matter? Yes, it matters. By asking for the product line your institution normally uses you can have your CCTV system included in your building-wide service agreement saving thousands of dollars per year in service agreement costs and often shifting that cost out of your security budget into the IT budget. It’s like getting a budget increase!

Everything from the server to the RAID array of hard drives on which camera images are stored to the routers, switches, cables, power supplies, etc. are open source. Use the camera model you like or let Acuity recommend a camera. It’s your choice.

With DVRs each sixteen cameras record on one DVRs hard drive or on an extended storage unit attached to it. When that drive fills up, older data is erased by newer data. If you add a new camera you have to add a new DVR just to accommodate that one new camera. But with the Acuity-vct server-based system with a RAID array of hard drives, data is stored anywhere on the drive. You are not limited by individual drive capacity. You could, for example, store data on one camera for one day and data on another camera for the statute of limitations--years. You have total versatility. Not every system, even server-based systems, can do this.

The bottom line of all of this is that the Acuity-vct system is simply an extension of your building’s computer network and every component in the system is completely open source. The advantage of this is that it can be provided and installed to you by any security system dealer or integrator or even by companies that provide and install computer networks since it is entirely a network product except for the cameras which you simply plug in.

Acuity-vct does not have to maintain a costly dealer network and therefore they can sell their system for much less than competing systems. You can competitively bid the system to many instead of few dealers and prices are almost always far lower than competing systems. And after-installation service is also far less costly and spare or replacement parts can be purchased off the shelf, via the internet or from a dealer--any dealer.

So what does the Acuity-vct do that other systems can’t do? The Acuity-vct has all of the same features of other robust systems but it also has other features. First, it is a highly robust system. Its power is obvious in its feature set. Where some DVR systems have motion detection, they lack the ability to filter out conditions that cause false alarms. They lack the ability to learn the difference between an event that should not initiate an alarm and one that should. While most systems use Windows, the Acuity-vct gives you the option of using Linux which is more stable and reliable and less prone to viruses. Many IT managers prefer Linux.

CCTV systems have given us the ability for decades to draw motion boxes around paintings so that an alarm is generated as motion in those boxes is detected. But the Acuity-vct takes this much farther. First, experience has shown that traditional systems are subject to false alarms from dozens of stimulus from reflections on the hardwood floors to shadows from moving visitors. The Acuity-vct can learn to filter out such stimulus. With the Acuity-VCT, the system alerts the guard who can be doing something else and it even trips an output that can be connected to a pager carried by gallery guards alerting them to an alarm in a specific gallery.

A guard in the museum’s control room can monitor all activity on cameras in galleries simultaneously on multiple monitors and call up images on the PC operator terminal for enlargement, enhancement, or other purposes. But there’s more. Your facility manager can call up images that you permit him to view to check on his work crews. Your curator can check the progress of work by the installation crew and your events manager can check to see if the evening event is being properly set up all from their existing PC.

Every camera image is recorded, but video tapes, DVDs and similar media are a thing of the past. Recording occurs on standard hard drives and images stored for as long as you care to store them. Users can instantly find activity of interest and recall it from storage. Searching through video tapes is no longer necessary. The system has many other advanced features. For example, each camera in the building can be set to a different recording rate, resolution, etc. Everything is programmable.

In addition to general CCTV surveillance, the Acuity-vct has advanced features that allow it to be used for museum object protection. It is not only an anti-theft system for paintings and three dimensional objects but also an anti-touch system that alerts you when a visitor gets too close to the work of art or object on display that is protected. Programming is simple and intuitive. The user uses familiar computer tools to draw boxes with their mouse around items they want to protect. Now, any motion near the protection box is detected and the system alerts the guard. Many systems have features like this but none does what the Acuity-vct does. None is as reliable and false alarm free and no other system is as robust.

Other features have been developed for resolving rare book and archive reading room and museum study room security problems. And other features enable the system to adapt easily and quickly to the changing cultural property environments. It is with object protection that the power of the Acuity-vct system is so apparent. The system is intelligent. It can be taught the difference between good motion and bad motion. It knows that the reflection of a car headlight on a window is different from a touch or theft. It can learn that a camera flash is different from a touch.

To a security person, a museum’s day is divided into three distinct periods. During the day the guards protect works of art and other objects, but as we all know, our quality of protection is only as good as our guards. If we can afford a CCTV system, it is only as good as the guard watching it. At night the building is empty and the alarm system protects the collection from intruders. During what we often call “gray hours” we are quite vulnerable. Gray hours are those hours of the day that alarms are off but guards have not reported to duty in galleries. Staff is present and often contractor activity occurs. Many museum incidents occur during gray hours in the morning or at the end of each day. A CCTV system can improve security during gray hours but only an alarm on each object on display can really make the collection safe. With the Acuity-vct the guard in the control room doesn’t have to pay attention to the monitors. If something happens, the system notifies the guard and even tells him what action to take. You can even have the computer alert a patrolling guard on his pager.

Several museums protect every work of art on display using this feature. Ceiling mounted cameras look down on paintings and sculptures. One camera can view many objects. Visitors can get very close to labels and objects but if they come within inches, the system alerts the guard. This protection is far better than guards because it never sleeps, never goes on strike, and never goofs off. It works 24/7, even during those hours that guards have not yet reported to work. And if a guard calls in sick, your collection remains protected. By not having to call in a substitute from a contract service, one major university museum saved $30,000 in the first six months of operation.

Until recently we only had wireless alarms hidden behind paintings or in exhibit cases to protect the collection. But Acuity-vct enables a camera to view a gallery, allow visitors to move freely within the space, but alerts the guard in the control room and in a nearby gallery when someone attempts to touch or remove the protected object. An attempted touch causes and alarm but it also calls up the recorded video of the infraction on a monitor showing a video clip of the violation beginning few seconds before the infraction actually occurred. A “beep” occurs and the guard’s attention is drawn to the screen. The guard sees the infraction occur without even intervening. In the gallery, the touch causes a pre-recorded human voice to sound. You program the message such as “Please step back from the exhibit”. The event can also trigger a pager carried by the gallery guard, and displays the video of the infraction causing him to respond. If you have set the system to record only when motion is detected, the computer activates the recording to full resolution so no action is missed.

While it is not possible to eliminate every guard by installing the Acuity-vct system, it is possible to reduce the number of guards and their associated salaries, benefits, insurance, pensions, uniform costs, training costs, etc. The payback on a system in a medium sized museum can be from 3 to 5 years and in many cases just a year or two.

One final thought. With many major systems you are required to pay an annual recurring licensing fee for each IP address on the system. This would be $150 per year for each camera! You also are required to pay for each operator terminal and for each device called a driver PC that you use. With the Acuity-vct system you pay one time as part of the purchase price and never pay a license fee again.

Security contractors will resist your suggestion that they give you a price for the Acuity-vct system. They will find dozens of reasons why you are better off with their system. But the decision is yours. Many major museums have made the upgrade to the Acuity-vct system and have never looked back. In one decision, they have purchased the most advanced technology available and improved their security considerably. They have provided gray hour protection and alarmed every work of art in the galleries. And they have saved money at the same time. It sounds hard to believe but it’s true!

Want more?

Read how you use the Acuity-vct to protect a period room or historic house.

Read about the Library and Archive Reading Room Surveillance System.

Pros and cons of Digital Video Recorders vs. Server Based Systems

Read how the Acuity-vct system can be a back up to your alarm system.

Beware of Hidden Fees Charged by Many Manufacturers