Maintaining security and CCTV functions in difficult economic times

Issue 4 2022 Editor's Choice, Surveillance

Countries and their citizens around the world are in difficult times, as are the organisations that operate in these environments and security personnel who work in them, including CCTV control rooms. In this kind of situation, it’s unfortunate that security is often seen purely as a cost overhead.

Difficult economic conditions and pressures on companies tend to cause management to look at areas where they can cut costs, and security is perceived as an easy target. Security departments, and especially security contractors, come under ongoing pressure to reduce costs.

The first consideration is, should you really cut back on security? With deteriorating economic conditions and cost of living increases, pressure is on society in general and we are likely to see greater labour unrest, community protests, and internal company theft from all levels of employees along the supply chain.

Crime increases are going to be profound, and we have already seen this with the latest crime stats, and police in various countries have already started to turn their heads to minor crimes which have the potential to increase and spread to more serious offences. Along with this is an increasing development of crime syndicates which are growing ever more emboldened and sophisticated. So how do you make the case for a continued strong CCTV control room function and staff?

Position security in the big picture by showing it is relevant

Can you show knowledge of the likely threats and incidents that may happen and can you quantify the associated loss, whether in materials, downtime, infrastructure, reputation, or in worst cases, the lives of staff, clients or the public. There is a range of reviews and analysis documents showing current crime trends and circumstances that should be passed on to management as part of your standard security monthly report or briefings under exceptional circumstances.

This combines both business and security intelligence analysis components which should be highlighted to executives. In this way, security has a direct impact on the executive management group outlook and philosophy, increasing its relevance and influence in company operations.

Quantify the benefits of security

Security needs to show value-add or cost containment to the organisation, either by stopping loss or leakage, catching people, or benchmarking success against the wider industry norms and events. If your competitor gets hit by a crime-induced loss of R20 million and you are keeping your organisation safe, it is a good way of showing value. If your losses are 50% below industry average, it’s a good sign. Alternatively, if you can demonstrate the potential organisational impact of loss from robbery situations and you have picked up, stopped, or apprehended suspects from a number of these, it actively reinforces your role in protecting organisational value and resources.

If you are not producing regular reports quantifying the impact of security on organisational performance so management can understand the issues, then your status is going to be marginal at best. This is not just your own internal operational success, but quantifying the impact relative to your competitors, associates and other industry bodies is also important. If ongoing success is going to be jeopardised by cutbacks, then executive management will think twice about it, especially if their jobs or lives are on the line.

Stay close to operational processes

Cameras in organisations can be used in a number of ways to assist with effective operational control and process flow. Consulting with and contributing to a monitoring function and continual improvement with production management, finance and others can add value and integrate security and the control room into meeting the organisations’ performance and cost objectives.

Protests, strikes and riots

It is a winter of discontent; rising prices and interest rates, job insecurity, problems in services by government agencies and municipalities, COVID vulnerabilities, and general cost of living issues, raise labour and social tension. A few years ago, a major company faced with these same conditions reduced expenditure in almost all departments except a central surveillance facility. The decision paid back significantly as the unit effectively protected millions of rands of assets from mob destruction and was able to address and stop potentially violent incidents directly, as well as identifying agitators and removing troublemakers.

If companies aren’t making provision in their control rooms and plans for such events around their premises, they are already behind the curve. Tracking of social media and political developments are probably a pretty good thing to have available right now for predictive signs of disruption – again, sharing this with executive management reinforces your position.

Make sure you have the right operators

We have found time and time again that good operators perform much better and obtain most of the detections in almost any CCTV operation. If you choose your personnel carefully, and train them well in crime detection behaviour and the site they are watching, you can safeguard a large part of your service delivery performance.

One of the worst things to do is to bring in a new tender, choose the cheapest supplier of contract labour, and replace existing personnel with new ones who know little about the site and are a product of the cheapest selection strategies from the discounted company. I had one client who, after some intensive training, had some of the best operators in the country and worked closely with the supplier in enhancing performance. However, the company decided to reissue the tender and chose the cheapest submission. I got a call from them two years later asking how they could get good operators, as security performance had taken such a hit.

There is a common story about running away from a bear – you don’t have to run faster than the bear, just the person next to you. However, cementing your position is not just to make you look better than the opposition, it is to make you look outstanding and indispensable. I’ve trained in periods of economic difficulty in the past and found that clients who have a lot to lose in materials, infrastructure, lives or reputation recognise the importance of high-calibre personnel and continue to commit themselves to training as a way of safeguarding their operations and positions.

Manage performance

If you don’t have a proper performance management system to define who is doing best, or worst, it’s difficult to work out how well your staff is doing. How do you champion who to keep and who to lose? The system needs to work and be used effectively by the control room manager and site supervisor. The performance management system is more than just a way of encouraging people internally, it is a way of showing executive management results and the importance of keeping people.

Work smarter

I’ve emphasised repeatedly the importance of monitoring the most important things at the most important times. Yet I still see huge screens full of camera views of a size where it is almost impossible to see any incident indicators. With a focus on key value areas or hot spots, control rooms can demonstrate far greater value. It is not to say that you don’t look at anything else, but greater relevance of viewing can give you far better returns for your bucks. If you are under pressure to deliver, it is one of the best ways to demonstrate security relevance.

Use analytics

If you believed many salespeople from companies that sold AI-style analytics, you could do away with operators tomorrow. It is remarkable how managers who want to get rid of controllers are prepared to pay huge amounts on technology to replace them, that often doesn’t work. Yet some video analytics can help cover more, faster and more consistently. My personal view in the current climate is to go with the proven established technologies that have been shown to work and can be integrated into the control room easily.

Plan dilution very carefully and only if you have to

I was told by a CCTV manager at a user group session some years ago that I couldn’t question the competence of his operators and that they were doing a great job, and I was probably in their way. However, because of council budget cutbacks, the CCTV operators were being given a whole range of other activities including becoming the call centre for the council. The actual time and attention available for the core job of watching CCTV cameras had shrunk to a negligible amount of their total time in the control room. There may be changes of responsibilities in the control room, including taking on other security functions, but managers need to be careful not to compromise core functions.

Everyone working in an organisation is concerned about future prospects and work during downturns and difficult economic times. Coming off a COVID-led reduction in economic activity, to economic hits from the Ukraine war and unsettling talk of recession, we can expect further pressure on internal security within companies, as well as security contractors who are already stretched to maintain services under industry pressures.

This is happening in an environment where crime trends are rising, and in some communities, crime is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and at times violent. To avoid being seen as “just another overhead”, security needs to demonstrate its relevance and importance to organisational survival if those in seats in security management and control rooms wish to continue to sit comfortably.

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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