Remote is lekker, or is it?

August 2016 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring, Integrated Solutions, Security Services & Risk Management

Remote monitoring services are more common and more versatile than ever, and being used in more situations than ever. In this article, Hi-Tech Security Solutions asks three experts in the field of remote monitoring and control rooms for their take on what works.

The control room, whether remote or on-site, needs to be capable of handling technology, high loads of bandwidth and unreliable utility and communications services. Then it also needs the right people in place to make effective use of the control room’s facilities and deliver an acceptable service to customers. One can’t take a guard and expect him/her to function well in a control room without additional training. We also asked our experts about what they think is critical when staffing control rooms.

Our experts are:

• Gareth Cowan, MD of OmniVision Security Services,

• Mike Voortman, MD of Verifier, and

• Ian Downie, director of Xone Integrated Security.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What are the pros and cons when it comes to remote monitoring versus having an onsite control room or security service?

Mike Voortman, MD of Verifier.
Mike Voortman, MD of Verifier.

Voortman: We see an ever increasing demand for onsite security combined with a remote monitoring component. This is mainly due to the need to mitigate risk given the constantly evolving tactics of organised criminals. Having all your eggs in one basket, with a single point of failure is not sound security advice, however, smaller complexes and the like are often forced to choose between onsite and remote due to cost and operational requirements.

As a general rule, we find that risk is drastically reduced with remote monitoring after hours in locations where “lock down” is possible, due to the elimination of collusion and the intimidation of guards. Remote monitoring also normally proves to be more cost-effective, and when you factor in removing the hassle and time-saving with not having to constantly investigate and manage incidents. The ROI (return on investment) is immense when remote monitoring is properly implemented.

Downie: Remote monitoring is ideal for the following:

Ian Downie, director of Xone Integrated Security.
Ian Downie, director of Xone Integrated Security.

• Simple environments.

• Black screen environments.

• Automated trigger environments.

• Audits and data mining.

• Fail over.

• Collusion monitoring and avoidance.

• Dead time.

It’s important to remember, however, that just because it is off-site does not make it any cheaper or better unless:

• It is a black screen environment where the operators are merely responding to alarm triggers (which can ideally be verified by quality video footage).

• It is a second tier control room due to the complexity and volume of information and action required.

• It provides a routine audit function, such as checking on productivity, staff performance, health and safety and optimal functionality at critical times.

• Reporting and analysis of complex or multiple sites to generate meaningful reports.

Cowan: Historically, the extra costs of an on-site control room were easier to justify, but these days it’s become a lot harder. Off-site control rooms benefit from cheaper, quicker and more reliable data transmission, and the use of encrypted, high-speed VPN solutions can allay the concerns some managers have around data security. The performance of off-site control rooms can therefore be very competitive when compared to on-site control rooms in most circumstances.

Also, within a dedicated, specialised monitoring team there is little chance of operators being distracted by other tasks, or of being bored and inattentive between monitoring tasks. Provided the off-site control room has spare capacity to receive the extra workload, the monitoring team will be alert and attentive at all times. These days, the perceived lack of control over a remote monitoring station’s capacity is probably the biggest concern for a security manager deciding on an off-site solution.

Gareth Cowan, MD of OmniVision Security Services.
Gareth Cowan, MD of OmniVision Security Services.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: How does a remote monitoring service deal with the lack of ‘feet on the ground’ that know the site and the environment?

Voortman: Staff rotation and training are the main impacting factors on performance of onsite staff. Where we see that they are well managed and trained, and have superior CCTV technology onsite, better results are achieved all round – whether from remotely monitored triggered alerts or from localised events playing out.

Responders’ local knowledge is essential, as the remote operator is limited to camera views and site/location maps for orientation, and if prevention of incidents is to succeed, then it’s all about response times. Technology is hands down more reliable than human detection when it comes to intruder detection or site perimeters. Once initial detection has occurred, it’s obviously up to the human to monitor and escalate (or not), and this is where intuition and training comes into play.

Downie: As the ability to generate information and intelligence from devices increases, it becomes more important to structure this information so that relevant and pertinent information reaches the person dealing with it in such a manner that he can act on it in a reliable and measurable way. In order to achieve this, the historic methods of simply viewing large numbers of cameras, making manual entries and dealing with events telephonically are unlikely to be efficient.

Significant procedural set up, workflow, automation and automated communication and information exchange is required. Visual aids, automated exception reporting and alarming by devices, trend notification and integration have become essential in many of today’s complex environments.

However, the ideal is always to have highly trained individuals, supported by a detailed and current set of processes, which they are fully briefed on at all times. This is then supported by the various technology applications above. Often this can mitigate against not being on site. In many instances however it cannot perform as well.

Cowan: It’s my belief that the most effective security solution is one that combines technology with feet on the ground. This allows for the most rapid detection and response to any situation. However, where it is not possible to combine both elements, the security manager must carefully consider his priorities before deciding which way to go.

Electronic security systems have reliable means of detecting unwanted activity over a far wider area than do individual guards, who only know what’s in front of them at any given time. And while a guard, in theory, can react to an event very quickly, off-site control rooms with the proper technology in place can often interact with a site to deter criminals long before anyone is able to arrive on the scene. Verbal warnings broadcast from the control room, the release of pepper spray or activating a smoke bomb can be very successful in thwarting crime without putting bodies on the line. Similar types of remote interaction are effective in fire prevention or control and many other applications.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What technology is critical to a remote monitoring operation in your view?

Voortman: There are three critical aspects here: detection, transmission and event management.

• Correctly configured/integrated detection equipment – whether conventional beams/passives, video analytics or fire/temperature sensors are essential in order to trigger meaningful alerts.

• Quick, uninterrupted transmission of the event to the remote monitoring station is critical, as decisions need to be made, and time taken for verification and actioning has to be minimised.

• Event handling and management on a solid, user friendly CMS (control management software) makes all the difference to the overall performance of the solution.

Downie:

• Video analytics.

• Data mining.

• Incident management system.

• Thermal CCTV.

• Sophisticated electric fencing.

• Real-time RFID guard tracking.

• Information exchange.

• Two-way video/audio links.

• Automated alarm triggering from various devices.

• Good communication devices and links.

• Power and communication redundancy.

Cowan: If you’re looking to outsource a complete security solution, you absolutely have to utilise a control room running an integrated PSIM platform. Client needs may include intruder alarm monitoring, fire alarm monitoring, video analytic monitoring, licence plate recognition, temperature monitoring etc., and the off-site control room will monitor numerous clients with dozens of different systems in place to fulfil these needs.

Only a control room that runs a single, unified platform can hope to manage this effectively. The control room software needs to interact with each client’s device individually, behind-the-scenes, but present a single interface to the control room operator. This allows operators to know the system well and to use it efficiently, and allows clients to remain truly free when choosing the best hardware for their requirements on-site.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What selection criteria applies, or what do you look for when hiring operators for a remote monitoring control room?

Voortman: We believe that a multifaceted evaluation process must be followed in that operators need to be team players, whilst also self-disciplined, empathetic yet forceful, detail ‘observant’, yet having the ability to think bigger picture, having a superior visual memory whilst also strong verbal memory, being inquisitive yet respectful. These are just some of the factors considered.

Downie: The first principle is that the monitoring must have a senior who takes accountability for that site. If it is only left up to an operator, whatever you design will not work. This senior manager will be responsible for ensuring processes and SOPs (standard operating procedures) are current, as well as customer liaison. If the requirements are simple, such a person can run multiple customers or sites.

As regards the operators themselves, the processes must provide for continuous measurable input to allow task fulfilment and measurement. The operator’s individual skill set will vary from customer to customer and site to site. These could include:

• Minimum two years’ control room environment experience.

• Grade B minimum.

• Well spoken English and Afrikaans, other languages advantageous.

• Clear criminal record.

• Well presented.

• Computer literacy: Word, Excel, plus typing skills – minimum 40 words per minute for a control room operator.

• Technical understanding to use networks, occurrence book and alarm monitoring applications.

• Knowledge of incident management systems.

• Body language recognition skills to detect suspicious behaviour on CCTV footage.

• Be vigilant and alert.

• Ability to remain calm under pressure.

• Excellent communication skills, telephone and radio etiquette.

• Problem solving orientated and skilled.

• Conflict management and resolutions skills.

• Community awareness.

• Reliability and punctuality.

• Excellent report writing skills.

• Excellent analytical skills.

• Plot and plan special operations to assist to tackle criminal activities on premises.

• Knowledge and experience of OHS, SHEQ etc.

Cowan: I look for a history of training when selecting operators, as I believe it to be a strong indicator of their willingness and ability to learn. Besides a few essentials, the type of training is of secondary concern as the control room itself will have its own procedures and controls the operator will have to adhere to. But if someone is not willing or able to learn before stepping into the control room, getting that person up to standard will be an unwinnable battle. Besides this, an operator in an off-site monitoring control room must be well spoken, curious, must pay attention to detail and must have a good memory to easily identify something as being out of the ordinary.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What processes should be in place to ensure control room operators and on-site staff work as a team to service the customer?

Voortman: Dual reporting to the client is essential, and the remote service should never be performed by the onsite service provider to ensure that the integrity of service delivery can be established. Once that is established, certain ground rules or standard operating procedures need to be put in place.

Minor things like reciprocal OB references being given for every interaction between remote and onsite services are critical for SLA (service level agreement) audit management and incident investigation purposes, for example. Customers should be evaluating results and referrals from satisfied customers when appointing services – otherwise it’s likely that they will just be getting ‘more of the same’, and criminals will soon ‘work out’ the new operator (especially if onsite staff have been retained by the new provider).

Downie: You need to know what is being done and how well it is working. I would suggest:

• Logs which cannot be tampered with and which are accessible by the client.

• Records must be kept of activity, efficiency and performance.

• This should be measured against a matrix to monitor continuous improvement and target realisation.

• Frequent audits, internal and external, are required.

• Daily and monthly reports are crucial.

• Documentation of all key functions – preferably a file per function.

• A detailed SOP with an efficient SLA.

Cowan: The key to any emergency response is good communication. Procedures that promote regular communication between the on-site and off-site staff will help build connections between personnel and promote better teamwork. This in turn will result in more effective communication when it’s actually needed. These processes can be as simple as regular system testing (testing audio systems, testing alarm systems), or as complicated as a live drill.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What services does your company offer to customers in terms of remote monitoring?

Voortman: Our services are broadly described as follows: Cost effective event-based verification monitoring in the following market segments:

• Guard reduction services and perimeter intrusion monitoring – residential, commercial, estates, industrial.

• Access control and guard compliance monitoring.

• Preventative licence plate recognition (cloud-based) – alerts, monitoring and dispatching.

• Retail shrinkage control monitoring.

• Community access monitoring.

Downie: Xone Integrated Security offers a complete turnkey solutions encompassing security personnel, control room staffing, control room design and construction, as well as design of the systems, processes, electronics and installation and maintenance. We have two remote monitoring centres, one based in the Western Cape and the other in Gauteng. These provide a comprehensive range of remote monitoring services which include:

• First tier remote monitoring functionality (where there is no control room on-site).

• Second tier remote monitoring, alarm notification and audit with customised reporting.

• Dedicated single customer remote monitoring.

• Concierge services.

• Specialised market segment turnkey remote monitoring solutions.

• Creation of remote monitoring facilities on a customer site where they have multiple sites, including the provision of all facets, such as design, construction, technology installation, transmission and staffing.

• Night time failover to remote monitoring (can minimise guarding requirements).

Cowan: OmniVision is a fully independent, off-site, event-based monitoring service provider. This means that we monitor our clients’ sites, usually for security purposes, using alarms to activate the on-site CCTV system. Sensors, beams and cameras are used to detect and alert OmniVision’s control room to unwanted happenings on-site, whereupon live monitoring will ascertain exactly what is taking place and, if needed, the control room interacts with the site to pre-empt any escalation.

We then organise the appropriate response according to the facts at hand and guide responders throughout their response wherever possible. Events OmniVision can detect and monitor include crimes such as trespassing, burglary, hold-ups and hijacking, but can also extend to managerial concerns such as till monitoring, queue management and people counting. Our clients include NGOs, residential estates, industrial, commercial and retail businesses, hospitality providers and single family homes.

For more information contact:

Ian Downie, Xone Integrated Security, +27 (0)82 906 7600, ian@xone.co.za, www.xone.co.za.

Mike Voortman, Verifier, 086 111 6023, info@verifier.co.za, www.verifier.co.za.

Gareth Cowan, OmniVision Security, +27 (0)21 761 5336, gc@omnivisionsecurity.co.za, www.omnivisionsecurity.co.za.



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