The supervisor role in control rooms

Issue 3 2022 Editor's Choice, CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

Does a CCTV control room supervisor need to have experience in CCTV to run a control room? It’s a question I come across on a regular basis and in many cases I see the consequences of someone in charge of the control room who has no experience in the area.

Many people tend to fall back on their areas of competency if placed in a control room and are unaware or ignore the potential of the high-tech control room environment and systems they are going to be working with. Yet there is nothing stopping someone, whether they have security or police experience or none at all in security from performing well in supervising a control room.

The critical issue is if they have the outlook and skills to quickly adjust to the environment, think tactically and get appropriate training to align themselves to the purpose of the control room. This may mean an initial catch-up mode though with thorough training. If people already have CCTV or security experience as well as these skills, then the chance of success is potentially even greater. But without a tactical perspective and awareness and understanding of the control room functions, the supervisor is unlikely to deliver on the responsibilities of communicating and driving the management strategies in the control room, including the CCTV viewing strategies and the risk management of the operations.

The control room supervisor role is not a simple task of making sure that all the staff are present and appear to be performing their duties, although critical failures in control rooms are often due to supervisors not performing even this simple function. The recent example of the Parliament building’s fire could be one such example.

Sometimes CCTV personnel are asked to account why they haven’t seen the occurrence of an incident on a camera. Usually this is due to the sheer number of cameras compared to a small number of viewing monitors and operators that restricts the scope of what people can cover. However, it can also be that supervisors simply are not guiding what should be looked at effectively and operators are not sure about what to view or are not paying attention.

Engaged and active

I’ve given the example in a previous article of observing a supervisor who was playing solitaire on her PC while being responsible for a team supposedly monitoring some major hotel and retail functions. In these situations, unfortunately, operators are going to follow the lead of the supervisor with an overall lack of focus on the job. Some control rooms need constant supervisor input and reviewing, particularly where these may involve tracking, response and other functions. However, even in a quiet CCTV control room, there are always things that should keep a supervisor active.

The central role of the supervisor has always revolved around the act of supervising people and the working of the systems and environment. This includes leading, directing, motivating, organising and monitoring. Attendance registers, staffing, shift management, disciplining staff and dealing with personal issues are all part of the day-to-day organising responsibility of supervisors. The role is also important to facilitate subordinates’ knowledge of how to operate the systems, be aware of the site and control room environment, to know and follow policies and procedures, be able to demonstrate the required skills for operation and be motivated to produce results.

However, leadership is immaterial if the people are being led in the wrong direction. It is the capacity to operationalise strategic or tactical implementation of leadership that is so critical to the supervisor role and the capacity to look for improvements in people, procedures and systems that deliver an ongoing solution.

Go beyond the basics

In order to get the most out of a control room, supervisors need to go beyond the basic organising and monitoring functions. This includes the responsibilities highlighted below.

• Optimise the CCTV viewing strategy based on risk factors, cameras and personnel availability at any one time. Cameras should all be used most effectively relative to the risk in the area under surveillance. This is something that can change on an ongoing basis, but there should always be a focus on looking at the most important things at the most important times. Doing occasional reviews of operator footage should be a standard part of supervisor activity to evaluate quality of surveillance.

• Ensure CCTV system auditing and ongoing enhancement occurs, where the working status of cameras and equipment is known, addressed where there is a malfunction and limitations in camera views and recording are identified on the basis of ongoing improvement. Often this takes time listening to the concerns or observations of operators and turning this into system improvement. Ensuring that new technology introduced into the control room is integrated effectively and identifying problems is also a key part of this.

• Ensure the relevance and implementation of standard procedures, identify areas that need to be updated and test that they cover relevant scenarios. This would mean auditing and reviewing work on an ongoing basis to check operators are following procedures and the procedures themselves are still relevant.

• Build control room resilience by supervising and testing communication lines and the quality of interchanges to ensure clear quality of information is conveyed and responses can be arranged quickly and accurately. This includes providing an integrated and smooth function including the responses to emergencies under simulated conditions so that staff are aware of their functions, know how to respond and can maintain their calm under pressurised conditions when actual incidents or emergencies occur.

• Provide for the development of staff by creating feedback and performance evaluation loops that led to continuous improvement and satisfaction. Feedback to operators is an important factor in motivation and success and supervisors are the ones who can take matters further, investigate outcomes of incident detection and provide feedback to operators.

They need to be able to identify crime types and how to recognise them and ensure that everyone in the control room knows how to do this. Regular group debriefing sessions on incidents should be held to facilitate transfer of knowledge. In line with this, supervisors need to identify performance weaknesses or shortfalls and arrange through coaching, training, or rehearsals to see if they can bring performance in line with expectations. They need to ensure that performance management systems are used, are relevant and working and they are perceived as fair by their subordinates.

• Provide for the ongoing enhancement of surveillance information and intelligence. The control room is a user and a generator of intelligence information that should be managed by the control room manager, but supervisors are responsible for translating this into operations. You need to question what kind of intelligence information has come out of your control room and how has the supervisor been contributing to this? Similarly, how has the viewing strategy been affected by the input of intelligence and has this even been considered in the way the control room personnel approach their monitoring functions?

How has something like the occurrence book being used as source of information rather than a list of activities that have been performed and what kind of data gets recorded? What crime trends are being observed, how many people of interest identified, crime methods used and places where there is a higher chance of something happening? What value is the control room providing to security?

• Ensure that control room practices and operator actions are done on the basis of legal and ethical requirements. If there are codes of practice established for the organisation, how are control room activities kept in line with these? Further, does the collection and handling of evidence meet the criteria for prosecution of cases where necessary?

Supervisors need to fill in the gaps in coverage at times, target specific issues with their own surveillance and provide an investigative function within the control room. This may mean conducting additional surveillance, giving breaks to operators in peak times or when overloaded, or doing dedicated viewing on targets, as well as reviewing the operator reports for comprehensiveness and accuracy. Sitting down with operators and seeing how they are viewing the areas of their responsibility is a good way of testing skills, knowledge and surveillance approaches and helps operators develop as well as the supervisor’s situational awareness.

There is a danger of looking at supervisors as a static function – someone who keeps thing in order, rather than one which ensures continuous improvement. For some supervisors, being promoted into such a position means they can take it easy and ‘supervise’ operators from the desk behind them.

Their role should be one of continual improvement of the control room systems, procedures, staff, as well as the supervisor on a professional basis. This does require the supervisor to have the training and awareness of what should be done and looked for. Without this they cannot align staff and systems with a tactical purpose of the control room. Placing the wrong person in the control room, or someone who is not equipped with the right skill set is a good way of crippling your control room functions.

Having the right kind of supervisors means the control room is continually moving forward with the activities and work by demonstrating effective service delivery and showing ongoing improvements. I’ve seen in a number of instances how good supervisors can make a huge impact on control rooms. They just need to be trained and empowered to do so and given support for this role.

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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