Staying in control

April 2013 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

The number of security control rooms has increased over the past few years as organisations see the benefits of monitoring the movement of people and even processes. The big question though is whether your control room is delivering the goods. Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to a human factors specialist, a designer/manufacturer of control room furniture and consoles, and a security systems integrator to find out how to ensure optimised quality output in the control room.

The right person for the job

So what criteria should you consider when employing someone to work in your control room? Do you want someone with IT skills, an ex security guard or perhaps a ‘crook to catch a crook’?

Craig Donald, director at Leaderware and regular contributor to Hi-Tech Security Solutions, says that one should first define the purpose of the control room. “Is it a security monitoring control room or an emergency reaction control room? The type of person you would select as an operator varies depending on the intent of the operation. For an emergency control room you require a person who remains calm and collected under pressure, has good communications skills, is a good listener, is able to speak well and clearly, can define the key factors, can understand and analyse situations, can identify subtle nuances both on a monitor and verbally on the telephone, and has high levels of accuracy.

“On the other hand, your security monitoring operator should be vigilant, have concentration and observation skills, be analytical in terms of separating relevant and irrelevant items and events, identify things that do not fit in a situation, and be able to interpret body language,” he continues.

In either scenario, the more experience an operator has in the field, the better able they will be to relate and appropriately react to events. However, even if a potential candidate has experience as a security guard, unless he has the other attributes required, he will be unable to effectively cope with the stresses and demands of the job. Likewise, a ‘reformed’ criminal might understand how crimes are committed, but you still need to have some assurance of their integrity.

According to Donald, some of the skills that are often overlooked during the selection process are whether the person can write an effective and understandable report; their ability to accurately capture data; and the ability to calmly answer the phone in an emergency situation. In addition, observation skills and the ability to correctly analyse a video are deemed important and should be thoroughly checked and assessed. “It would be true to say that many of the skills required by a good control room operator are inherent rather than acquired skills.”

Kelly McLintock, group managing director at the UTM Group says that an operator should have a comprehensive understanding of security and risks. “Sadly, the risk equation is often missing from their skills set. The same cannot be said of a criminal, who very clearly identifies and understands risk.

“The ideal candidate would be computer literate, have a trained understanding of human behaviour, be able to think outside the box and have a lot of patience. A personality index will provide a good gauge of whether a person is suitable to work as a control room operator.

“Interestingly, we have found that women who have children are most often the best candidates as control room operators. This can probably be attributed to the fact that they have subconsciously trained themselves to literally have ‘eyes in the back of their heads’. This ability to employ their peripheral vision so effectively is a great advantage in a control room with multiple monitors. In addition, they show great attention to detail and are able to multi-task,” McLintock points out.

Quality in, quality out

Penny Bond, CEO of ProGroup Manufacturing, believes that the ergonomics of a control room play a critical role in the quality of the service supplied. “The control room should be designed for the comfort of the operator. However, the furniture, specifically the chair, should not be so comfortable that the operator feels inclined to doze off to sleep.

“The desk should be designed in such a way that controls are within easy reach and monitors are mounted for optimised viewing. Correct lighting is very important and should be neither too dim nor so bright that they cause reflection and glare on the monitors. The ambient temperature should be conducive to productivity and here a superior HVAC system is worth investing in.”

In addition to the control room itself, a recreation room should be provided for operators to take breaks during their shifts. Since they often do not leave the control room environment during their shift, due to access issues, this provides them with a welcome respite from the high levels of concentration required.

“Wear and tear is quite extreme within a control room, since operators are generally working in shifts around the clock, 365 days a year. As equally important as the initial design of the control room is the maintenance of its components, for maximised productivity of operators,” adds Bond.

McLintock agrees that correct layout is a key factor to quality output. “In addition, the technology they use should be chosen for ease of use and interpretation. Providing operators with superior tools for video analytics, searching and reporting is advantageous to all.

“With respect to the physical environment, we have found from experience that bomb-proof control rooms are too dark and require extensive lighting. There is a very delicate balance between providing a comfortable ambience and lulling your operators to sleep. We recommend that operators take a comfort break after 45 minutes to ensure that their concentration levels are kept consistently high,” he notes.

Quality is core

Policies and procedures play a crucial role in the control room. “If these are not adhered to, quality immediately suffers. One way of ensuring adherence is by providing adequate supervision. Coaching of employees should be supplied and feedback on their actions and performance should be provided to identify issues before they escalate,” says Donald.

“We outline three elements to success: process, policy and procedures. When any one of these factors is ignored or neglected, it impacts negatively on both the other elements. You need to close any loopholes rapidly to be effective,” adds McLintock.

“By establishing that the service provider understands the client’s requirements upfront, compliance issues can be avoided. The client should influence the contents of the service level agreement (SLA), rather than the service provider merely dictating the terms. This is a collaborative effort, with the ultimate aim of producing an outcome that is favourable to all stakeholders,” Donald concludes.


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