While there are still critics of remote security system monitoring, it would seem that a carefully calculated combination of onsite guarding and offsite monitoring of surveillance cameras can offer strategic advantages. Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to industry players who outline specific considerations that will guarantee a more balanced and holistic approach to enhancing security operations.
Cliff Rose of Modular Communications says that it is important at the onset of an offsite monitoring arrangement to clarify with the client and the onsite security service provider that an offsite (remote) monitoring service in no way replaces this onsite security function. Similarly, the responsibility for ensuring onsite security and procedures always remains with the onsite security service provider.
“Our security function is as overseer of the onsite security procedures, as checker and enforcer of onsite procedures, as remote onsite support in the event of an incident and then reporting on events and preparing management reports for the period under review.”
Gareth Cowan of Omnivision says that the best solutions are definitely those where they work hand in hand. The major role of the remote monitoring company is to help the onsite team prepare an appropriate response for what is happening on the ground.
Mike Voortman of Verifier adds that in many cases his company is called in to do guard replacement services. “Generally, this happens on smaller sites where budget constraints allow for one or the other service, or a reduction in the number of guards. However, on larger sites such as shopping malls and estates, a continuous onsite presence is required.
“It centres on the efficiencies of us being able to filter nuisance, benign alarms and send out guards only when required. LPR and intruder detection systems are therefore complementary to the guarding function and provide peace of mind for client. Ultimately, the decision on whether to employ a hybrid service, or one or the other, depends on the risk profile of the site. Should a hybrid solution be chosen, then we would require a response from the guards in terms of operational function,” Voortman continues.
But does it work?
So how do remote monitoring companies guarantee their work? Rose is adamant that one needs to put guarantees into perspective. “If you buy a new car with a guarantee, it does not mean the car will not fail, it means that under normal operating conditions, should there be a component failure, it will be fixed at no cost to the client. In a similar way, we cannot guarantee a human indiscretion, but what we can do is to have sufficient checks and balances, procedures and measures in place to minimise the possibility of human or equipment failure. Even with all these elements in place, this is always an ongoing process.”
Voortman agrees that systems definitely need to be in place to audit performance. It is also necessary to have a strategic management hierarchy to ensure compliance with regulations and service-level agreements. The management of remote monitoring companies needs to assist its controllers in making sure that the protocols are implemented and to equip them with clear instructions. Since the sole focus is on high-end monitoring, one needs to provide controllers with extensive training and to pay attention to any oversights to ensure that controller performance is according to predefined requirements. Transparent reporting of procedures and issues needs to be a condition of any contract.
Cowan says that Omnivision uses a unifying software package for monitoring sites. “There is therefore one common interface, irrespective of the systems installed. This makes it easy for our controllers to use these functions and therefore efficiency is high and errors are reduced. When it comes to specific protocols, for example an alarm which needs to be handled in a certain way or an event that requires specific actions, then we simply program these requirements into the system for action under the standard operating procedures (SOPs).”
Reporting forms a vital link in the chain of communication and provides tangible evidence that the remote monitoring service is providing a return on investment.
Rose says that his company provides a comprehensive daily report for each site. In addition to standard alarms and incidents, the reports include information on details of client-issued access permits and vehicle movements, execution of permits with exceptions and circumstances, incidents outside of permits and action taken, guard patrols verified visually as well as visits by guarding company supervisors together with times.
Voortman says that reports are scheduled according to the company’s contractual requirements with the client and also on request for any specific incidents. Key performance aspects are also reported on. Transparent reporting is fundamental to the success of any client relationship. Independence allows for this transparent reporting.
Cowan says that video footage of events is recorded and preserved for at least 30 days for operators or clients to view and every time that an operator clicks on a button, the action is time stamped, thereby providing a full audit trail. “We can compile exhaustive reports and can aggregate data or do detailed reporting on second by second basis.”
Another loaded question, which received a unanimous emphatic defensive response from the interviewees, was the notion that the only function provided by remote monitoring companies is detection. Voortman says that the bulk of sites monitored have additional technology implemented, for example, audio challenge speakers on remote systems, pepper sprays and sirens.
He continues that the remote monitoring provider can enact primary intervention, which in many cases is the required deterrent to prevent event escalation. In addition to primary response, the remote monitoring team can determine the correct site configuration to ensure that the onsite and offsite reaction people can be sent to the right place onsite. This is achieved through the accurate interpretation by the controllers of the correct information that needs to be relayed.
Cowan says that interactive monitoring, whereby smoke bombs are deployed in retail stores, lights are switched off and other defensive actions are used, provide an additional element to the remote monitoring offering. In essence, any element which makes use of an electric switch can be controlled remotely to enhance the crime prevention phase.
Rose cautions that a thorough understanding of what remote monitoring services involve is critical to ensuring that customer satisfaction is guaranteed in terms of expectations being fulfilled. Remote monitoring, he says, can be offered as a reactive service or as a connected service. In the first instance, an onsite detector triggers and sends an alarm signal to the control room. The controllers then connect to the onsite cameras to verify the alarm.
A connected service entails permanent connection of the control room operator to the site and the controller participates in enforcement of site procedures, health and safety violations, access control processes, regular communications with onsite security, routine video inspections and virtual guard tours and then also reacting to alarm conditions and giving the appropriate onsite support.
He emphasises that to get the security personnel to the right location in time depends on a number of other factors, including familiarising the onsite guards with the position and zoning of detection devices as well as the areas covered by the various cameras. In addition, there should be an ability to communicate this zone or detector information to the onsite guards.
Collaboration forms one of the cornerstones of a successful security operation and remote monitoring service providers agree that specific elements need to be in place onsite for optimal system realisation.
“As previously mentioned, various service providers may be offering a reactive service or a 24/7 connected service. In each case the technology to set up or connect to a client will be different. The reactive service connection is generally done on the open public Internet and is susceptible to hacking, thus having a lower network security level but also a lower cost.
“The connected service is normally established through a closed private network with no Internet access and has a high level of security as well as a higher cost for connectivity. Our primary service is based on a VPN (virtual private network) with high security and performance-based contract from our network infrastructure service provider,” he continues.
Voortman believes that the security elements required on site are totally dependent on the products being implemented by the client and this in turn is guided by the client’s specific requirements, the nature of the risk, environmental conditions and the budget. “This is definitely not a case of one size fits all and knowledgeable integrators/installers need to have solid setup experience, with all the appropriate tools to ensure that the outcome matches the risk profile of the client. Connectivity is another important factor and there needs to be redundancy in place for optimised uptime.”
Cowan says that because the company makes use of a unified platform, they are able to support a large array of manufacturer brands and can work with any connectivity type, including 10 Mb ADSL lines, 3G, LTE, wireless and fibre, with the exclusion only of satellite.
Do insurance companies buy into the concept of remote monitoring and are there payback benefits for employing a remote monitoring service? Rose suggests that insurance companies only know about ‘an alarm system’ or ‘a fire detection system’ and are in the dark about the existence of remote monitoring services. “However, on a more general note, when one considers whether it is a practical security service that actually improves onsite security and enforces client procedures, measurable results such as the drastic reduction, for example, in break-ins from 10 a year to two a year is tangible evidence that remote monitoring services do work.”
Cowan, however, insists that insurance companies are aware of the benefits of remote monitoring. “We already have partnerships in place with insurance brokers and we regularly get referrals from them for clients who have experienced issues. It is possible that premiums are not necessarily reduced because one is signed up with a remote monitoring service, but the recognition will definitely come in time and no doubt discounts will be offered.”
According to Voortman, statistics should be provided to insurance companies to indicate a concrete reduction in crime. The aim is to provide a scenario where there is nobody left to target. “It should be the norm to be able to negotiate discounts with insurance companies especially when remote monitoring is implemented as an extra layer of security.”
Omnivision is able to provide virtual guard tours, remote access control, perimeter monitoring, monitoring of gates (video escorts), guard supervision services in terms of scheduled camera checking, as well as scheduled patrols of the perimeter and overall site using camera checks which mimic guard patrols. In addition, the company has a lift monitoring service whereby if somebody is inadvertently trapped inside a lift, they simply push a button and the control room is alerted and takes further action to allow the person to be released from the lift. They also offer licence plate recognition, community safety and blended solutions comprising of the appropriate selection of services for that client.
Modular Communications offers a 24/7 connected service, with control room operators being permanently connected to sites and participating in site procedures.
Verifier offers both black screen monitoring and non-black screen monitoring. The former service covers perimeter intrusion detection, access control, oversight over access control, guard replacement in many cases, early warning and dispatching systems, and alarm monitoring.
“In addition we can also offer shrinkage monitoring and managed services monitoring, especially within communities. In these instances we are contracted as an independent service provider to supply various services on behalf of the client and we assist them in managing these elements,” says Voortman.
It would seem that a blended solution, in other words one where security monitoring tasks are divided between onsite and offsite security personnel (remote monitoring), based on the strengths of each, may be the best route to follow.
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