So tell me about your monitoring control room

CCTV Handbook 2020 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

There is a natural assumption held by most that a security company’s monitoring control room is protected, secluded, guarded, well secured, and kind-of Fort Knoxish. And it really shouldn’t matter whether the business is a mom-and-pop store, a residents association, a mid-to-large-sized security service provider or a corporate key point installation. These are the watchers or guardians that we all rely somewhat heavily upon, so there is a very serious responsibility that they take on and carry.

So is this assumption true or false and should it make a difference whether they are or aren’t? Well, sadly, the assumption is not always true and yes, it does make a massive difference.

To further complicate the matter, thanks to the ease of availability of information, addresses, videos, etc. across many search engines and publically available applications, our present day criminal/saboteur/mastermind/hacker, or whatever you wish to call them, is no longer an opportunist, but rather a planner of some significant level of disaster for someone.

Rob Gillespie.

Over the last 24 months, I am personally aware of five alarm monitoring control rooms that have been deliberately targeted and compromised with the sole intent of deterring and negating crime prevention operatives from performing their functions and ultimately allowing the criminals to raid and plunder at will. These were not random events and it does appear that the frequency of these events are increasing.

What is concerning is that many of the newer, smaller start-up operations seem to be paying lip service to advice given to them regarding the securitisation of their control room environments. This is most likely to be more a function of financial inability to put the correct measures in place when they commence operations, with every intention of doing the right thing as their cash flow improves. Of course, this generally doesn’t happen for a long time, if ever.

Standards are available

There are published guidelines available for the construction, management and operation of a control room, but these are, quite correctly, pretty onerous for a smaller operation to comply with from day one. The reasons for each condition’s compliance are very rational, but unfortunately human nature will generally favour the shortcut for as long as possible.

So where are the ideal control room locations? Generally, you’ll find them in the most inaccessible part of a building, behind many layers of securitised access control. Many operations capitalise on this, but of course, it comes with a high capital and infrastructure cost.

The client, of course, rarely sees or cares about this – they just want a service at an affordable price. Until something goes wrong, the control room goes down and service isn’t provided or even worse, the ‘security company staff’ use this situation to enrich themselves through devious means. Yes, this still happens, again, because of shortcuts being taken by either financially stressed businesses or corrupt employees in conjunction with criminal perpetrators.

Regular control room staff vetting should occur at least every three months and this usually involves polygraphing, voice stress analysis and regular home environment checking. This last point is very important, as that is usually where intimidation begins, with the inevitable bad result.

Self-contained environments

Ideal control rooms are usually completely self-contained environments. They have an independent power supply, air conditioning, toilet and kitchen facilities, usually three different staff shifts and completely separate communication channels. They will also have multiple hardware system back-up methodologies, multiple transmitter and base station methodologies, database fail-over functionality and rapid software restoral systems. External camera or video capabilities are now also of major importance. Naturally, this all comes with a heavy financial and management premium.

Having a decent control room doesn’t automatically mean that a decent service is provided. This is a function of good control room management with the right staff and of course, control room software that watches the watchers. Very few systems have this functionality in place, especially to the point where it’s almost invisible and isn’t a hassle factor for the control room operator.

Having a built-in ‘watch manager’ is one of the key reasons that our system is so popular. Precise audit trails, event history recording, operator reaction and response time monitoring, intuitive action sets amongst other functions, are what actually ensures that a decent service is delivered to the clients.

Quite often one hears that we have to stay up-to-date with the latest technology. This is absolutely true, but again it comes at a price that most cannot afford to do at the rapid and continuous rate that technology is advancing. There is no doubt that technology can assist greatly, but, and I’m sure that most of my colleagues and peers will agree with me, that there is no substitute for good, old-fashioned competence, training, intuition and simplicity.

Rob Gillespie is a partner in WatchManager – a company providing control room software on the African continent. Rob has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry. For more information go to

Not if, but when

By Rob Gillespie.

In the control room, the real questions are not what happens if, but rather, what happens when.

• What happens if your server/main PC/front end processor crashes?

• What happens if your client database gets corrupted?

• What happens if your system is damaged by viruses or ransomware?

• What happens if your control room is compromised by sabotage?

The disaster scenario (whatever the level of severity) is a time aged pariah for most.

• Well, we’ve sort of got a plan but it’s not in place yet….

• Nah, not worried, we’ll deal with it if and when….

• Can’t afford it now but we’ll put it in place later….

• Ja, we’ll get to it sometime….

• Everything’s easily available – we’ll be back up quickly….

Of course, these things never get done, and come that time, everything that can go wrong usually does. A massive responsibility is typically ignored here – that of the safety of the clients being monitored by your control room. Break-ins, life threatening emergencies, or worse, can occur whilst your control room is out of action or off the air and non-responsive. And to make matters worse, these situations can place your business, and you, in extremely precarious legal positions.


• Have suitable back-up equipment readily available on and off-site.

• Take regular and consistent data back-ups – on- and off-site.

• Ensure that your system back-up mechanism (RMS) is installed and enabled.

• Ensure that your Internet connection for this off-site back-up is working.

The WatchManager RMS service is a very important, powerful and benefit-rich module that you should not be without. It’s the difference between being off-line for minutes or days.


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