It's 3:00 a.m. Do you know how your DVR is?

  • The phones at our store seems to have two modes: constant, incessant, line one-two tag-team ringing where both lines compete for the title of “First to make John go insane!” and dead silent. Whenever possible, I let our salesperson grab the phone and handle any calls that don’t require John-level attention. But there are certain keywords that come up in a conversation that trigger me into action and that get immediately routed up the importance tree straight to Priority Level Alpha John. For instance when that select cadre of builders calls and mentions a new project. Or when one of our “whale” clients is on the line. Or if the words “Kaleidescape” or “Runco” are mentioned.
  • But the bullet-train to getting my attention? When someone says they have been robbed and that they need me to meet with police to go over the recording on the DVR we installed.
  • We installed a six-camera and DVR system at an ocean-front condo high-rise back in March. The building’s property management association were interested in seeing the cars driving in and out of the building, people coming into the lobby, and people getting onto the elevator. Accordingly, we installed a DVR with a one-Terabyte hard drive, an LCD TV for local monitoring and a UPS battery backup to ensure that the system would run reliably. The install went smoothly, we went back and demonstrated how the system worked and adjusted the cams for them, collected the check, and rode off into the sunset.
  • But after a car was broken into in the parking lot – and someone living in the unit narrowed it down to around 3:30 AM – the condo management called for us to help out. So I pulled my notes on exporting the video file for the police, grabbed a spare 1GB USB stick and made the 45-minute drive to help McGruff take a bite out of crime. And the whole time I’m thinking that we would be golden in helping them see who came into the building at that time.
  • When I arrive, the building super and police detective are both sitting there in front of the DVR ready for me to get all CSI for them. I log into the Admin screen, and start going back through the recording logs and notice…nothing is there. Like nothing. Appears that the unit has not been recording since JULY! (Reminder: We are now in November. Which is clearly NOT July and, in fact, several months later than July.) My first thought was, “Oh ca-RAP!” but then I’m thinking, “Be cool, John. Don’t let them see you panic.” But, the more I searched, the more clear it became that the data just wasn’t there. Like Keyser Soze, poof, and it was gone. Panic!

Turns out that at some point in July the unit locked up and stopped recording. The monitor still displayed all of the cameras and the red “EVENT” icon dutifully appeared whenever motion was detected. But the recording light wasn’t flashing, and the hard drive activity light wasn’t hard driving activity lighting. And, quick point of fact: The time to find out that your security DVR has locked up and stopped recording is not post-crime when you are sitting there with a building super and police detective staring at you as you keep pressing “Menu” and “Search” like they are going to somehow open a portal into an alternate reality where your DVR worked like a Boss.

Fortunately, in this case the crime was a fairly simple car break-in and no one was hurt. But it could just as easily have been something terrible and heinous where my lack of evidence might have meant that an innocent person wasn’t avenged and that a bad guy was still roaming about freely (no doubt openly mocking both me and my DVR whenever possible).

The immediate solution? I power cycled the unit, rebooted it, and it immediately came on line and started recording. A simple two-minute fix that could have been done by anyone if only someone had known that it needed to be done. The long term “how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again” solution? Obviously a service contract to come and regularly check the system would have allowed us to catch this far sooner, but even a service contract isn’t going to provide daily check-ups, which – when you’re talking about security – is the best. I explained this to the super and then gave him and the condo manager a thorough course in “How to tell if your DVR is working 101.” Step one: Check the recording light. Is it lit? If not, that’s a problem, means it isn’t recording. Step two: Check the hard drive light: Is it blinking? If not, that’s a problem, again, probably means it isn’t recording. Step three: Periodically check the recording history. Are the days greyed out? If so, that’s a problem, means nothing has recorded.

The best course of action is a team effort; get the customer involved and educate them on how to check their own equipment regularly to ensure that when the chips are down, their DVR won’t be.

The AVNetwork staff are storytellers focused on the professional audiovisual and technology industry. Their mission is to keep readers up-to-date on the latest AV/IT industry and product news, emerging trends, and inspiring installations.