Since US states began legalizing cannabis, the sector has developed rapidly, with a rich ecosystem of businesses involved. But, these new operations face major security challenges.
In addition to complying with strict licensing conditions and satisfying insurance requirements, cannabis operators are working in a highly competitive market, with significant investment required to develop efficient production and processing facilities. They have high costs to manage and, contrary to the assumptions of those who aren’t familiar with the sector, need to be very budget conscious.
For a growing number of these businesses, full-service, remote security monitoring that harnesses a new generation of analytics-enabled video technology is key to overcoming their inherent challenges. San Kim of VMI, based in Arizona, is a leading practitioner in the field and is pioneering advanced monitoring services that include a significant degree of automation by default, that are helping his customers to succeed. And such is the diversity of operations involved, these evolving solutions could also prove to be a useful model for other sectors.
Cannabis businesses span cultivation, processing, warehousing, logistics and retail operations and they face all the usual crime risks other businesses face – as well as some unique ones. Contrary to some expectations, the fact that cannabis has been legalized has not eliminated crime associated with its trade; illegal operations have been boosted as well as legitimate ones.
Criminals, including opportunist thieves and organized crime gangs, continue to be attracted by the prospect of getting their hands on high value stock. They know they have a competitive advantage because the stolen product they sell comes to them tax free and without the cost of investment in cultivation or regulatory compliance that legal operators need to absorb. Consequently, the sector is being targeted at every point in the supply chain, from cultivation to dispensaries.
Ensuring a seamless and consistent user experience
Kim describes an industry that includes operators with multiple brands under their umbrellas, offering both recreational and medicinal cannabis products, including extracts, edibles, oils and other by-products. These businesses are typically hyper-sensitive about the security solutions they use and are aware of the risk of cyber-attacks that might threaten the integrity of their physical systems.
California-based cannabis pioneers, for example, run operations that include growth facilities, extraction facilities and retail outlets. These are governed by location-specific regulations, with each municipality, not just each state, deciding which rules need to be adhered to. Some requirements are common to all of them, including a minimum of 90-day video storage.
One of the reasons for VMI’s strong presence in the sector, Kim notes, is that it has been able to develop tailored monitoring solutions that reflect this complexity, yet that are still based on unified platforms. Cannabis operators see an advantage to video monitoring that allows them significant customization site-by-site, yet that also works seamlessly across their different types of locations.
“We evaluated multiple platforms, ranging from Milestone to Hikvision, and concluded that IDIS is in the sweet spot for us, with a well-rounded, complete solution that we can easily adapt for different site requirements,” he says.
“A retail outlet might need eight cameras and a logistics facility might need 100 – but the user wants them to be connected using federated architectures that allow situational awareness and control from a single-pane-of-glass. For us, being able to provide everything through one vendor makes our offering seamless and user-friendly. It makes us look like superstars!”
Never having to worry about compatibility issues not only gives his customers a more seamless and consistent user experience, it’s reassuring for VMI because, in these applications, the continuity of video monitoring is mission critical. For this reason, reliable and rapid tech support is also essential.
“We need to be alerted to events in real time or as close to real time as possible,” Kim says. “And, events need to relay in a fashion that allows operators to respond appropriately. Event management is dynamic, so data needs to be efficiently routed so that it gets to the appropriate people as quickly as possible. The quality of your camera doesn’t matter if you can’t notify the correct people efficiently.”
This increased efficiency can, for example, be driven via push-notifications on the VMS mobile application, or with live video pop-ups at the security operations center. VMI configures which notifications are sent to which people or groups and has the ability to pick and choose who receives alerts based on their role or area of responsibility right down to individual camera level. Other actions can be customized to this granular level too, such as options to engage PA systems that challenge intruders, or smoke systems that inhibit their activity.
Developing tailored services for customers
With law enforcement response becoming less reliable in some areas and organized crime gangs increasingly aware of the windows of opportunity open to them, these remotely triggered defenses have become all the more important.
Analytics are essential, as well, with increasingly powerful deep learning tools allowing VMI to fine-tune event detections in a way not previously possible.
“AI-powered analytics are much better than the older blob-type analytics and are easier to use as well as more accurate,” Kim points out. “We’re using IDIS Deep Learning Analytics to develop tailored services for each customer and to create a service that’s as autonomous as possible.”
VMI’s operation is helped by highly accurate line-cross detection, loitering detection and object detection, all of which are much less prone to being triggered by harmless environmental factors than traditional analytics. Instead of continual attention and mental stamina being needed to focus on multiple camera streams, operators now only need to view a single customer video feed and decide on the appropriate action to take when a real event or threat occurs.
This ‘automation by default’ now underpins VMI’s growth as cannabis operators look to increase automation and offset the cost and wage inflation of 24/7/365 security officers onsite. As the cannabis sector continues to optimize operations to maximize yields through automation and digitization, they’re also looking for further efficiencies such as relieving the burden on their own security and operational teams and allowing them to work more flexibly.
The level of automation that advanced video tech now offers has made it possible to deliver highly customized monitoring services at an affordable price. It means, for example, that a cannabis store in Beverley Hills can be monitored differently than one in South Los Angeles by fine tuning response thresholds based on risk assessments and experience.
VMI records everything to provide customers with a full audit trail of events – including operator interactions and response times – to help with investigations and compliance. In municipalities that require 24/7/365 security cover, VMI’s solution can demonstrate compliance in granular detail, showing how a customer’s agreed service is being delivered on. It can also bring down insurance premiums by three to five percent.
Demonstrating effective security cover in this way highlights any weak points as soon as they emerge. “We need to know about everything that’s happening, including the system health of cameras, NVRs and servers and VMS,” Kim states. “We can’t wait for a client to contact us if something goes wrong. We need to be aware of it immediately so that we avoid system downtime.” Increasingly more cannabis operators are recognizing the myriad benefits of full-service, remote security monitoring that’s equipped with analytics-enabled video technology. It’s providing them the peace of mind they need to stay competitive and compliant in this fast-growing sector.
For more information, visit: www.idisglobal.com
This article was originally published in the November edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.
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