Why companies do CCTV control room surveillance training

Issue 2 2022 Editor's Choice, CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring, Training & Education

In a perfect world, we would do training for all who wanted it so they could rise to the pinnacle of their abilities and fulfil their unique contributions to companies and enhance their lives and the performance of the organisations they work for. In real life, there are a range of issues that impact on what training we give, who qualifies for it and the extent to which people are likely to receive it. Examples would include organisational culture, management priorities, risk management profiles, a willingness to invest in people, concerns over empowering people too much so that they move somewhere else and simple budgeting concerns and competitiveness for organisational resources.

Although security typically has certain minimum training criteria imposed by regulatory bodies or industry associations, these are generally seen as requirements to ensure a minimum standard and registratory requirements to provide for legal protection and accountability.

When it comes to getting resources for untapping the potential of people to realise their competencies and unlock the capacities of the systems they use, security personnel are often poor neighbours to management, financial, IT, HR and other organisational departments whose training schedules and course expenditures far outstrip those of security. Yet security is becoming increasingly important, technology orientated, sophisticated and relied on and the control room and use of CCTV is on the cutting edge of this.

I often hear top management complaining about the lack of performance of their CCTV systems and their capacity to pick up issues that have occurred. The focus on enabling personnel to use their systems and know what to look for is fundamentally a training issue and something that top management just as frequently overlooks despite their expectations of high level performance. There are a number of real-life case studies where the operational and financial failure of some organisations, sometimes almost catastrophic, can be directly linked to the inadequate provision of appropriate security systems and the capacity of people to use them.

High performing companies and training

I’ve been privileged enough in the past number of years to have worked for a number of leading organisations where the role of security or protection services has been aligned with the risk profile recognised by executive management. In all of these organisations, there is a recognition of the high risk associated with a loss in lives, assets, reputation and organisational performance. This justifies a focus on ensuring that CCTV control room staff are developed and capable of recognising threats and effectively addressing them. These include organisations in precious minerals and metals, casinos, airports, town centres, reserve banks, national key points, manufacturing plants and shopping centres.

Yet, while these organisations may be models for the industry, there are others in the same sectors that remain almost oblivious to the importance of a sound security function based on effective delivery by competent and trained personnel. In some cases, the focus of even leading companies may deteriorate when there is a change in executive management who display less concern for the risks or for organisational resilience. Often this occurs when the companies are facing other crises they are having to deal with, such as takeovers, restricting, industry crises, or social disturbances.

Ironically, these kinds of times with increased ambiguity, exposure and possible disruptions are probably one of the most important periods for organisations to maintain their capacity to deal with threats through well managed and operated control rooms.

In my experience, outstanding companies where security departments are committed to control room training are keeping to an already high standard in other areas. In a sense they are driven by the desire to be the best in all that they do and quality security is provided not only to executive protection, but all the way through the organisation.

There is also a focus on proactive protection where threats or crime are addressed before they become issues affecting the company or its employees. For other companies, there are a number of more practical issues that may influence training, usually due to shortfalls in control room and CCTV delivery. These include:

• A failure to detect something critical – the shock of control room failure to pick up a major event or breach that impacts on the company then creates a recognition that there has been a shortfall on skills. Often this is accompanied by a shock that all the expensive equipment invested in has not done the job. The recognition of not having the right calibre of people provides an urgent stimulus to spend money on training and to get a solution that makes management look good again and more secure.

• Along with a failure to pick up something important, a control room operator who is going to be disciplined or fired states that he or she can’t be expected to detect something without being trained to know what to look for and how to pick it up. The organisation therefore trains to try and make people more accountable for their failures in performance.

• There is a failure in apprehension or prosecution and losing cases because of poor quality footage, inadequate handling, inappropriate actions, or not following procedures. Basically, a criminal may have been caught, but because of the poor handling of the case, it is thrown out and this can contribute to a culture of impunity. The security manager comes under pressure and gets support to make up for a lack of training because nobody wants a repeat of this situation.

• Somebody feels that the subsidies paid over in the Skills Levies tax should be recouped – possibly one of the most ineffective reasons as it is often poorly directed towards real solutions.

• The person responsible for training is actually clueless about key security issues, often because of a lack of appreciation for the contribution of security to organisational performance and resilience. The result is training for training’s sake. To put it in the words of a client, “Sometimes personnel are ‘forced’ to undertake statutory training sessions that are completely useless and irrelevant to what we do as a department and a function.” In comparison, for relevant training the response was, “The training sessions were extremely informative, enjoyable and above all incredibly useful. I believe that some of our staff are looking forward to put some of the techniques they’ve learned into practice.”

• Regulatory bodies in the area of security can provide a stimulus for training as a requirement for the industry, but may be way off any focus on the quality of training delivery and effective development of personnel. Some years ago when I was working in the UK doing training with one of the most recognised security training companies internationally, regulated industry minimum training requirements were introduced. But this unleashed a wave of almost anybody getting involved in training to meet these minimum standards. It had an immediate impact on the pricing and the market for high quality, relevant training was undermined and no longer sustainable.

Security contractors

Security contractors provide a prominent service to many organisations and that can include the provision of CCTV control room staff. The client organisations play a key role in how such services should be implemented and service delivery contracts. However, the managers of security contractors are squeezed between the need to provide a quality service at a competitive rate and being successful in a tender where pricing is often seen as the key factor in the approval of contractors.

I’ve worked with very few security contractors who asked for training for their personnel because they wanted the best people possible for their contracts. Much of the internal training is conducted to meet minimum or regulatory criteria. In many cases, if the contracting company can get away with not spending money on training, they will do so. However, some contractors are willing to expend resources in training CCTV control room personnel to a high level due to some of the following situations:

• The client company specifies the training as part of the tender, so the cost is equivalent for all companies who have to cost these factors in. Having said that, I often come across situations where companies are claiming that they are using my training, but I have not had any contact with them at all. There is often a philosophy where the contractor wants to get a foot in the door and then neglects obligations as part of the cost savings.

• The security company spends the extra money or effort on high level training as part of an enhancement of their relationship with the client. The cost of training is offset against a stronger client relationship. This is tough to do in a cost-intensive contracting environment, but I admire the companies doing it.

• Similarly to the previous point, providing specialised training in CCTV control rooms is a way of getting a competitive edge against other contractors where the superior level of staff is seen to put the company ahead. This commitment has worked well in a number of cases with high profile clients. There are also times when I get called in, just before contracts get renewed, as part of a previous commitment to training that the contractor has to make up for before renewal, or to facilitate the renewal of another contract term.

• The contractor has a performance record that falls short of service delivery contracts and wants to implement CCTV control room training as an emergency measure to try and bridge the gap to satisfy the client. Often the training actually works and the turnaround strategy addresses the client needs.

One of the key problems contractors face is training personnel to a high level and then losing them shortly afterwards. It’s not just contractors but even full-time personnel where this can happen. Companies handle this in various ways, including only releasing certificates after a certain time, having contractual obligations to pay back if staff leave too quickly, or just relying on their image as a preferred place to work to keep people from leaving. However, the act of not doing training is likely to do far more damage than a few people leaving after demonstrating their competence and creating a more positive image of the organisation.

How do you know if the training is working?

• For the CCTV control room, the biggest measure of training performance is quick detection, even at times on the next day after the training. Things like operators meeting their monthly performance targets halfway through the month after training gives a very real measure of training impact.

• At a personal level, when people tell me they feel they have grown and changed from the training experience, I feel really rewarded emotionally. It has the double plus effect of not only benefiting the delegates, but also the trainer which I think is sometimes not considered. One of the best comments I’ve had from training was that the person wrote that they couldn’t wait to get back to work to try out the knowledge and techniques they had learned.

• Training outcomes show higher returns than the training cost – if a company can demonstrate five or 10 times the return from catching people and preventing theft compared to the cost of training, it obviously has an effect on the company bottom line. I’ve had examples where companies have literally saved millions from training interventions that cost a few thousand.

• Training has demonstrable performance benefits after the training has been done – reflected in improvements in the quality of the incident detection and response or service delivery by security as perceived within the organisation. When the operations manager of a major mall indicates that he or she has seen a major impact, it shows the client feels the training is worthwhile. When the general staff show respect for the control room operators, it shows a positive security impact.

• Success in prosecution rates as the evidence quality provided from the CCTV functions support legal actions against criminals.

• Audits done by third parties or managers from other sites show a superior effect from the training compared to other similar organisations who haven’t received it.

• The training becomes an ongoing fixture of the company security strategy, or the training gets ordered on a regular basis over a number of years. This shows that internalisation of the training is occurring. If the managers who were trained a number of years ago are also wanting their people trained, it shows the concepts are embedding themselves in the organisation.

Using security guards without any training in control rooms, whether procedures, operational methods and systems, or behavioural crime detection, is a recipe for failure. The control room is a cornerstone of any security or risk strategy and to staff it with people who don’t know what they are doing is asking for trouble. Choosing the right people for the control room is fundamental.

Further, if you don’t provide operators with the right skills, how can they be expected to leverage the technology to get the benefits that the company has spent so much on equipment and systems to try to achieve. Supervisors and managers are also critical in this development. If they haven’t been trained to know what their control room personnel are supposed to be doing and at what level, how can they effectively manage them. If control rooms are to have the desired effect, staff need to be empowered to realise that facility. Even more, they should have the skills to be able to take a proactive approach to resolve issues and add value for the various stakeholders who can benefit from control room operations.

Dr Craig Donald.

Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally and

consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on +27 11 787 7811 or [email protected]


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