Is technology outpacing operator capability?

June 2016 Editor's Choice, CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring, Conferences & Events

A couple of years ago I was requested to do some CCTV surveillance training for a security guarding service provider to a major technology focused client of theirs. The client had put in an entirely new security system that included CCTV, but had run across a number of teething problems in getting the system up and running.

The problems were not related to the system per se, but more to the incapacity of the provided security manpower to actually operate the systems. Training in operation of the system had been provided a number of times to the contracted security personnel, but the retention levels when having to operate the systems was a major problem, leading to ongoing problems. Skill levels were not increased for operating the system.

With the new system, there was more extensive communication between management and employees, and a need for a higher level of understanding of company protocols and interpersonal skills, as well as of the processes involved in handling a range of issues related to these. The outcome was to replace a number of the contracted personnel, move effective staff from other operations where they were operating at a higher level, and give a more broad based development focus, including surveillance. The bottom line was that the traditional personnel from the service provider were significantly below the newly introduced system and operational requirements for the position.

?The emergence of intelligence driven processes

The iLegal conference in April has continued to identify this trend, with the nature of surveillance being driven by more complex processes. Foremost of these to come through was the need for intelligence to more accurately identify surveillance needs and targets. I have found that there is an increasing concern in the industry that they are not getting the kinds of results that they expect from CCTV surveillance.

A fundamental question then is, are operators looking at the right things at the right time? Targeting is a specific focused activity that is often driven by local knowledge, identification of anomalies and an awareness of crime based activity. It is also driven by a passion to succeed and catch people.

Simply scanning across a number of screens at random is not going to produce much effect. This focus on intelligence is a way of allowing a much more intensive surveillance focus on the people and areas that matter. Along with this focus on intelligence at the conference was an acknowledgement that the technology was going to change the way the control room was designed, organised and ultimately staffed. So we have a combination of operators who need to use cutting edge technology, interrogate databases and pick up date trends and anomalies, and become much more organised in the way they approach surveillance.

Enter the super-operator

Recruitment is going to become an increasingly important part of success in managing how people can deal with these new operations. Not all CCTV sites are going to be highly sophisticated, but we can expect the high end sites to become increasing demanding – calling on what may even be termed as ‘super operators’ in the context of what we have now. The need for abstract thinking, systems understanding, visual analysis skills are all going to increase.

Along with this is the fact that communication and conflict management are also going to be needed more as control rooms become customer orientated service centres – and sometimes these skills are not always available with IT orientated people. Training in these systems is also going to be at a higher level and people are going to have to understand the basis behind the technology they are using.

I find, for example, in the full body X-ray training that I do, that an understanding of X-rays is a fundamental requirement for X-ray viewers or screeners to appreciate how they go about looking for X-ray targets. Similarly, operators are going to have to understand things like how the different parts of systems relate to one another, the technology that drives cameras and strategies of how best to use what resources to deal with different situations.

Client-oriented control centres

We can therefore anticipate that upper end control rooms incorporating CCTV technology are going to be very different from now on. Already I see service providers having to reorient themselves to client expectations of these new control room environments and having a serious look at the kinds of people they are providing.

Ironically, much of the training standards and areas covered in the security industry are firmly rooted in the ideas of physical security and will be looking at the lowest common denominator. The people who are designing new security systems and cutting edge technology have had little or no exposure to traditional guarding and probably don’t care – they are paying less time to the human interface than how far they can push technology development.

Technology progress and client expectations are not going to wait around. It’s a challenging time for operators who are going to be enabling these new control room environments. I’m also eagerly looking forward to seeing who are going to be the flagship sites which are going to show us the future.

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 (0)11 787 7811 or


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