As technology advances, the jobs traditionally handled by humans are affected. Some change, some vanish altogether and some new jobs appear. The security control room, both offsite and onsite, is made up of a collection of technology and people, all focused (we hope) on the function of monitoring and protecting customers.
Today we already see technology doing more work in control rooms, with black screen monitoring being one example. Instead of having people watching screens all the time, software monitors video feeds and only brings humans into the game when something happens, after which the operators process events as per their standard operating procedures (SOP).
However, with artificial intelligence (AI) and its related fields like deep learning expanding rapidly, the things technology can do are increasing and will dramatically improve over the next few years. It will be a long time before AI can take over the human operator’s job completely, but the operator’s job is changing. Is it still reasonable to have a security officer working as an operator? Or are we reaching a stage where operators need to have specialised skills in order to work with technology and make optimal use of it?
Hi-Tech Security Solutions put some questions on The New Operator to a few industry experts to find out how control rooms and the humans that make them work are changing. We approached the following people:
• Dr Craig Donald, director, Leaderware.
• Charnel Hattingh, national marketing and communications manager, Fidelity Services Group.
• Gary Swart and Erick Coombs from Rhyco Risk Projects.
• MJ Oosthuizen, HOD technology and national sales operations manager, G4S Secure Solutions (SA).
• Sharon Naude, national business development manager, Technical Solutions, Bidvest Protea Coin.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What are some of the important functions that operators need to be able to handle in modern control rooms? Does this require a new type of operator that has more skills? Who is the new operator and what should he/she be able to do?
Donald: Operators are typically involved in monitoring CCTV and other signal or request-based events (alarms, fire, access, perimeter violations, safety and infrastructure integrity), detection of suspect personnel or vehicles, suspect situations such as theft, events, arranging a response, emergency handling and information dissemination. The new operator’s job may have grown and become more complex, but the core functions largely remain the same.
Hattingh: Traditional alarm monitoring has begun to evolve into a more sophisticated, remote risk management space. Although there is still demand for the burglar alarm that people are familiar with, the risk at high-risk sites can now be authenticated in real-time.
As the intruder detection systems evolve, so does the need to monitor them. Most systems are designed to perform detection functions electronically. The displays are then presented to the control room operator who is then required to act.
Historically, the standard operating procedures limited any form of discretion by the operator, this to limit the possibility of liability when an incorrect decision is made. The need for this discretion and decision ability is still necessary; however, these are now being limited to a choice of action. It stands to reason that the person making the decision must have the knowledge, experience and confidence to make the correct decision or to refer it for decision, despite the automated system functions.
The need for experienced, competent operators is ever present.
Coombs: Control room operators have to deal with several important functions within the control room environment.
• Control room operators have to be sound communicators as they deal with security officers and clients. Remember, at the end of the day they are in constant communications with your client and represent the company’s image.
• Monitoring of clients by interpreting several alarm signals and assessing which procedure needs to be followed as per the set out SOP. Not following the correct procedure can be detrimental to the client, security officer and even a company’s reputation.
• Reporting and logging of correct factual information on systems implemented by management. Wrong information could hamper investigations after incidents and could even lead to possible loss of life.
Due to the role operators play in the modern day control room, several new valuable skills have emerged in the market.
• Computer literacy: something taken for granted these days as everyone believes that everyone is computer literate, when the reality is just the opposite.
• An operator needs to be intelligent, diligent, attentive, responsible and have personal pride in the work that needs to be done on a daily basis.
Naude: Due to the ever-increasing shift to integrated, intelligent platforms for security management within operation centres or control rooms, sound computer literacy is required, knowledge of PSIM or VMS software is increasingly necessary for control room operators to be effective in their role. While intelligent platforms required little intervention from the controller, the human element remains essential and calls for a higher skill level. Agile thinking and pressure management are key skills, together with strong situational awareness and effective communication ability.
Oosthuizen: The modern control room is a smarter, unified area with video walls displaying relevant information and events while integrated into facility systems, lighting, climate and noise control, audio systems and ancillary rooms. With the right design strategy and full consideration of upskilled human intervention and management, the entire facility contributes to faster, better decisions. The result is operator productivity and satisfaction, fewer human errors, faster resolution of incidents and prevention of future asset downtime.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Are we seeing technology able to do so much that operators can be low-level employees that only have to push a button and click a mouse here and there?
Donald: New technology is bringing a need for higher level rather than lower level skills. There is a greater need for verification, situational integration and judgement with new technology. Where routine tasks can be automated, this makes life easier, but often the workload increases as a result of having to deal with the demands or notifications from more systems. This can make decision making more complex as well. The biggest danger for contracting companies and internal personnel is assuming that they can just place a security guard into a control room. The skills of operators directly determine the effectiveness of most new systems.
Hattingh: We are seeing an increase in the sophistication of the intruder detection systems with the ability to link up with a variety of applications that perform analytics, including object recognition, number plate recognition and facial recognition, to name a few. Despite the deployment of these applications with automatic alert displays, operators are required to verify and validate results. I don’t see the operator function falling away soon.
Swart: An action plan must be immediately available in the event of an alarm. This action plan will vary from client to client and situation to situation. To operate the action plan, the operator must be able to use a mouse and drop-down menus. This will enable the operator to strictly follow the action plan, which means that the owner of the control room should use skilled personnel. The operator still must have the computer skills and communication skills as stipulated.
Coombs: Technology is currently not at the point where a push of the button solves all problems, even in a perfect computerised world there are variables that require different reactions that cannot be programmed in advance. Low-level operators will still be part of the future; however, I would always prefer a valuable employee above a low-level employee.
Naude: On the contrary, we believe that a higher skill level is required now more than ever before. The benefit of intelligent platforms is the reduction in the number of operators that may be required in the control room. This is enabled through black screen event monitoring and the efficient use of AI and automation. These advanced analytics and deep learning algorithms are highly useful and lead to the reduction in active engagement with the systems being monitored. This, however, does not absolve the operator from his duties, but rather augments his ability to respond to any incidents. The human eye and trained intuition of a senior skilled operator is still an indispensable function.
Oosthuizen: No. The operator just has more information at hand to make better-informed decisions. However, the operator needs to have the relevant training to assess and act accordingly in as short a time possible.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Should operators today be trained in general security principles and protocols, or is it more important for them to have site-specific knowledge? Or, once again, is this all programmed into the control room software with the operators only required to press a button on cue?
Donald: Both general security principles and an understanding of the issues, as well as how the role relates to site-specific knowledge are important. Systems are programmed by people and often the people doing the programming don’t have the required knowledge and background. Training in the types of systems being used is becoming increasingly important. For example, if you don’t understand how an electric fence works, how are you going to diagnose what may have triggered an alarm or false alarm? At the same time, as control rooms are becoming more multi-functional, there may be a separation of positions so personnel who are most suited to particular roles can take these on more effectively.
Hattingh: Staffing remains an expensive commodity. Generally, control rooms may remain with a single monitoring platform to have consistency throughout the operation. The integration of the more sophisticated intruder detection systems will require software integration; alternatively, a separate workstation will operate in isolation. This model presents challenges, as training must include a level of redundancy with the abilities of the staff to be able to work on different applications.
Besides the challenges with the ability to work on an application, the system should ideally display the standard operating procedure to guide the actions of the operator through the life cycle of the alarm event, to conclusion. Site-specific training can be done where clients require a more bespoke service.
Swart: At Rhyco Risk Projects, we believe that the operator should still be trained in all facets of security principles. In certain scenarios, the operator will be required to only follow a certain action plan, but there will always be exceptions to the rules. Should the control room be site-specific, the operator must know the site.
Coombs: Operators would need to be trained in both general security principles and protocols and have site-specific knowledge. The principles and protocols are a general guideline on how procedure would need to be followed and what to do in certain situations. Site-specific knowledge is what would determine the operator’s response to a situation in a different category, the better the operator knows the environment, the better calculated calls can be made.
Naude: It is a combination of site-specific knowledge but also a background of skills that would enable the operator to fit into any situation and be able to manage his responsibilities accordingly. The intelligent platforms used ensure interoperability and help operators in adapting to different client environments.
Oosthuizen: General principles are required in order to operate within a professional and regulated security company. Site-specific understanding and requirements enhances the efficiency of the operator. The SOPs from the software merely give a guideline per site to ensure all the relevant points are covered, but the savvy and well-trained operator ensures the correct procedures are followed and correctly executed.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What skills should control rooms be focusing on when looking for new operators? What skills should they be training and reinforcing continually?
Donald: Being able to work conceptually is becoming increasingly important. This doesn’t necessarily mean more education, but with less education people tend to struggle with the languages and interfaces more, as well as things like report writing. Observation skills and ability to make sense of information, including a sense of patterns of information and a feel for anomalies and inconsistencies is important. Operators do not just have to do their traditional jobs, they now need to be able to use new systems but also detect the shortfalls of the new systems and look at unintended consequences. Communication is becoming increasingly important.
Hattingh: Security control rooms would require the person to have a PSIRA grading. Challenges can be experienced in this regard, as a security officer may not necessarily be suited to being a control room operator. It is easier to appoint a person with operator skills and then have them obtain a PSIRA grading.
A control room is the ‘window’ to the operation and pleasant interactions between the staff and client create a good impression from the start. Communication and speech skills are vital, as are literacy and computer skills. Additional training can be performed to give operators additional skills and broaden their experience and capabilities. Training and refresher courses must be identified by management and formal sessions held on a periodic basis, even if it’s just to ‘sharpen up’ the person’s skill.
Swart: The criteria for a person working in your control room must be defined in advance. Additionally, these people are going to operate in a confined environment, which means one needs to consider social dynamics, respect for co-workers, hygiene and general behaviour. It is important to choose the correct candidate to entrust with your control room.
Additionally, this person must be able to function and concentrate for long hours. (In some scenarios, these people can work for up to 12 hours.) They must be able to function effectively for the duration of the shift. Your operator must be able to analyse situations and react correctly as laid out in the standard operating procedures.
Lastly, you need a person with good communication skills. This person must be able to address clients respectfully and be able to speak in a clear voice.
Coombs: At the end of the day, with operators you get what you pay for. Too many companies regard operators/security personnel as low-level employees that do not need any special skills. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Special skills needed would be:
• Attention to detail can be the difference between life and death in a specific situation. Providing correct and accurate information is necessary with regards to surveillance. This is for the protection of your fellow employees working in the field and the client that relies on you for protection.
• Communication is something that is neglected in most control rooms. Failure to communicate properly is an extreme threat to one’s operation – and can also be perceived as a failure in proper service to a client phoning in.
• Being bilingual is an advantage to a company as we reside in a country with 11 official languages.
Naude: Most definitely MS Windows and the relevant systems installed in the control room environment. Required skills include, communication and surveillance skills, agile thinking, observation and behavioural sensitivity, the operators must be disciplined and methodical.
Oosthuizen: Operators need to have good communication skills, written and verbal. Incident handling skills mean the ability to properly operate all equipment at his/her disposal and techniques to get the information to the front line as fast and accurately as possible, while managing difficult callers/responders. In addition, people profiling and observation skills with a good understanding of surveillance tactics are helpful. Technical awareness and understanding of the ability of the hardware and software at hand is also important, for example, understanding what can and can’t be done while sitting in the command and control chair.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What services/solutions does your company offer in terms of control rooms?
Donald: The impact of good selection practice can be seen very quickly during operations and training. By ensuring, with some of the Leaderware selection assessments, that operators have good observation and visual analysis skills, you can provide a solid baseline for operators’ performance. It is very difficult for an operator to be effective without these kinds of capabilities. Also, we find that training in incident detection and body language leads to an almost immediate improvement in detection performance and proactiveness, even with experienced personnel.
Hattingh: We have been successfully managing high-risk, high-value clients for many years. Through experience, knowledge and client requirements, we have developed our own monitoring platform. Software support and development is done locally and that enables agility when expanding the scope and services of the platform.
Staff retention has ensured we have an enormous wealth of institutional memory. This translates into the operating procedures and manages the client’s risk effectively and efficiently. To this end, we engage with client on liability with the service and ‘put our money where our mouth is’.
We have a complete disaster recovery site that is fully tested periodically for functionality and we are currently on the ISO 18788 journey, aiming for certification in the near future.
Swart: Rhyco Risk Projects prefers that the alarm and video sections of our control room are fully integrated and automated. Therefore, when an alarm is received, a different screen must not be opened, the system must be completely automated. The control room must be properly designed and the setup for each client should be properly done. A typical example is the fact that a housing estate and a financial institution will have very different action plans or SOPs.
Naude: Our SAIDSA-approved control centre in Centurion is operated by highly trained surveillance controllers 24 hours per day.
They remotely monitor all our customers’ security and related systems, which include beams, alarms, electric fencing, sensors, CCTV cameras and access control systems, which extend to remote exit/entry management and biometric and facial recognition verification.
Our offsite monitoring is event driven and we handle proactive ‘dial in’ CCTV patrols. Once an alarm condition has been positively verified or a threat has been detected, our response procedures are activated to ensure quick and appropriate action is taken and that the correct people and parties are notified immediately depending on the circumstances.
We have established large offsite dedicated control rooms for a number of our clients. Our ability to quickly provide an advanced, fully functional control room that meets our clients’ requirements is a standout solution we provide.
Oosthuizen: Quality over quantity. We do not believe in a control room with banks of cameras and operators by the dozens. With a centralised platform, bringing events, information and notifications into a focused view for the operator, the outcome is fast, precise and requires less intensive resources to operate the control centre.
Services we offer include: deployment, armed response monitoring, total monitoring and management of armed escort operation, offsite video event monitoring, secure cargo handling remote management, vehicle tracking/speed control/driver behaviour, patrol systems , area incident reporting and a support desk (faulty alarms).
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