Use of Network Time Protocol for IP Cameras, NVRs, and Devices

Marco Cardazzi

On November 7th In IP Solutions, Video Surveillance1 Comment

The investigation of the bombings in Boston was an important moment for our industry. Because of the surveillance cameras installed near the marathon finish line, authorities were able to quickly get quality images of the alleged perpetrators out to the public. The suspects were rapidly identified and the apprehension process was able to proceed.

What was critical to limiting the damage and injuries that the bombers could have inflicted on the public was the quickness of the identification process. The suspects were rapidly cornered because clear images of their faces were available within a couple of hours of the first bombing.

The Boston bombings demonstrated the importance of video surveillance cameras, and have lead to an increase in the level of security at sporting events across the country. For the NYC marathon held last weekend, the New York Police Department developed an enhanced security plan which included hundreds of additional security cameras to monitor the race in real time.    

There are two primary take-aways from the events in Boston for physical security professionals. First, surveillance images must be of high quality to be usable by law enforcement. If the pictures of the alleged perpetrators were fuzzy or have low quality the identification of them may have taken longer, or there may have been no identification at all, and the “bad guys” might still be on the run.

The second issue is that the method used for setting the “time” in a surveillance camera and/or recording device such as a DVR must be exact. Think about the Boston bombing situation. The time of the explosions was known to the second. Investigators then wanted to look at the recorded video from perhaps one or two hours before the explosions, and particularly focus on the few minutes before the bombs went off. To zero-in on the images that might show the perpetrators it is critical that the time-stamp on the recorded video must be accurate.

IP-enabled cameras and DVRs/NVRs usually have a function for the device to periodically check its time setting using a protocol called “Network Time Protocol,” which is available when devices are connected to the Internet. There are hundreds of servers on the Internet that will provide free time updating of devices that are programmed to get their time from those sites.

Below you see the time/date setting page for an Axis M1014 camera:


As you see, this camera has been programmed to get its exact time from the server. In the event of a power failure or other system outage, this camera will regain the proper time from the programmed NTP server. This simple step is critical for IP-enabled video devices. Knowing the exact time of an event can help authorities target the precise sections of the recorded video that are of interest.

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