CCTV systems are often taken for granted as part of a security solution. The establishment of a set of cameras and a control room is seen to be a deterrent in itself, and it becomes a routine process that happens the same way every day. In a sense, we need to reinvent the way CCTV is done on a regular basis, to freshen up perspectives, and to realign what we want to get out of our systems.
As part of this, one can consider a number of questions about the systems you are working with. Firstly, are you confident that the camera views that are being displayed are what you think you need in order to deliver results?
This may highlight a number of issues, including the fact that cameras may not really be in the right place at all, that some time ago when being cleaned or due to deliberate actions they are now looking at something totally different from what was intended, that they may have deteriorated to the extent that the view is hazy or possibly doesn’t exist anymore, that maybe with a higher megapixel camera you would be able to zoom into areas of interest a lot better than a current view being displayed.
Or you may simply notice that your cameras are in serious need of cleaning, need to be renewed, or you really need some more cameras to cover areas that are in fact quite important. In order to establish any of these things though, you need an idea of what you want to be using the cameras for, and if they satisfy those requirements.
Control room questions
Given that many CCTV control rooms have multiple screens with multiple cameras views per screen, how well can operators look at the camera views displayed? I’ve discussed the need for a camera viewing strategy on a regular basis, but look at the way cameras are being displayed on monitors (or even displayed at all). From a security management strategy, what purpose does each camera view provide? You may want to contemplate the following questions:
• Do camera views just fill up the screens so things look busy?
• Are they there just to make management feel more secure, or similarly make security feel like they are working?
• Do they give operators a way of evaluating the whole situation easily and quickly?
• Do they provide views allowing detection of warning signs or indications of conditions that may be a problem?
• Can display views actually allow an operator to detect crime actions or see people stealing, and does the current display really allow you to do that when you look at it?
• Do they providing a basis for target selection for more focused viewing?
• Are they just there to act as visual alarms?
• Do they really generate evidence that can be used in court or in an inquiry or are things going to be embarrassing if anybody asks you for footage?
The display of surveillance screens is not a one size fits all solution and different places and events need to be viewed differently to get successes. So do you have the same camera displays day after day, or are they changed for a different surveillance purpose? Do you have the same cameras being displayed or not displayed. Is there any variation for events or different times of day? Are camera views sized differently for different purposes? Have you thought about increasing the size of your display screens, or the number, or are they positioned appropriately for the operators?
Operator processes and capabilities
Do you have the right people looking at camera views, making decisions, and getting results? How were they chosen? Have they ever received any training and is this in line with what you are wanting to get out of the system? How do they report things, does anybody look at what they do, and is it relevant at all?
Are they being led by any kind of viewing priorities or strategy? How can things be improved so they can give you better information? When was the last time you got a successful detection of an incident? Is this acceptable performance? Can you measure performance, and is it in line with what you really want to get out of your system? Do you know what you want to get?
The biggest danger for surveillance is routine, not just for operators viewing screens all day, but generating an environment where the same things are done in the same way without really considering if they are fit for purpose and whether they are generating value. From time to time, take a different view of the systems and the way they are being used. Look at the cameras from where they are being pointed at, and look around you to see what happens there. Get operators to walk the areas they are viewing and come up with suggestions. Try new things, experiment, make things more challenging, and make things more fun. Change expectations.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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