Data overkill in control rooms

October 2019 Editor's Choice

One of the greatest challenges for the management and operation of control rooms is going to be integrating the information generated by the numerous technologies increasingly coming into the control room. We have seen a vast increase in not only different types and sources of technology, but even within the same technology stream, for example, types of cameras, or even an individual technology such as CCTV with multiple camera overlays or types of views potentially increasing the nature of the display.

X-ray screeners use multiple filters to view target images for threats, but are still constrained at airports for example, to an average of five seconds of viewing of an image. For live viewing of control room operators viewing CCTV, other cameras, and a whole range of other technology inputs from alarms and access controls, this poses the greatest challenge.

The features of the challenge with live CCTV viewing is how the core camera viewing function can be retained without too much distraction, while still being complemented with information or images that would enhance the effectiveness of the operator and without overloading the person.

There are a number of ways to display this information. One could increase the number of monitors displaying the other additional information. The number of operators could be increased to have people dealing independently with some types of information and communicating to each other. Or, one can start integrating the display of camera information on a common display where the core task can still be performed and other information can be easily incorporated into the display.

Going to VR-type displays obviously enhances this kind of approach as displays can easily be pulled in, enhanced, enlarged or repositioned almost at will in a way that is all still effectively in the field of view of the operator. In actual physical viewing, having too many monitors in a real-time setting in front of an operator has an increasing dilutory effect on performance. So the impact on manpower needs to be carefully thought through when proposing the technology.

The format of the information conveyed also needs to be carefully considered in terms of how easy it is to understand, how well it can be integrated with an existing display or workstation, and how it enhances or possibly distracts from the operator’s attention into core functions. What does it mean for the actions that operators must perform, what about the amount of screen display space it would take up, and do you want to have raw results or those that have been processed through some kind of value-added information or even a classification of threat or recommendation?

Further, what is the implication if the new information is false or wrong, and what kind of reporting would be involved in this kind of event? I’ve seen, for example, technologies get put in to control rooms which demand so much attention despite many of the notifications being false alarms, that the core surveillance function completely breaks down from an operational point of view. Rules and procedures in handling results are also important to ensure that there is a clear expected response from operators when something happens. Again, this needs to occur in a streamlined manner and cannot be restrictive.

We will be getting progressively more inputs into a control room as time goes on and technology developers will continue to come up with ideas that have an impact on evaluating risk and detection performance. However, one cannot just dump the new inputs into a control room in an unstructured manner. The cost/benefit implications of the new technology input needs to be carefully evaluated. How these inputs create demands on operators, how feasible it is in terms of core functions and intent, and how these can be used in conjunction with operators’ natural talents and skills all need to be carefully considered. All too often, the rush to come up with new technology has been implemented without looking at the control room end goals.


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 craig.donald@leaderware.com


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