The human factor in control rooms

September 2018 Security Services & Risk Management

Stuck in a sometimes windowless space for 12 hours daily may sound like torture to many, but it’s the given working environment for hundreds of surveillance control room operators countrywide. So what kind of person does it take to watch multiple video screens and make quick and responsible decisions when an incident occurs? Hi-Tech Security Solutions looks at what makes these men and women tick and how their performance can be maximised.

Craig Donald.
Craig Donald.

Leaderware’s Craig Donald says that there are a number of basic criteria to look for when hiring operators. Observation and visual analysis skills are obviously critical. “In fact, other skills just won’t work without these two being apparent. Moreover, a good operator needs to be able to work out the relationship between the things he or she sees on a monitor and they must naturally be able to concentrate for long periods of time.”

He adds that there must be a desire by the operator to catch the criminal, which boils down to a motivation to pick up on things that are wrong and then act on them. “The operator cannot be apathetic as they must be able to turn their thoughts on a matter into an intention.”

Integrity and trustworthiness are important characteristics and a personality that leans more towards the introverted end of the scale is preferable, since one does not want to have a room full of extroverted operators constantly conversing and socialising with one another. However, they do have to be good communicators in order to relay issues to other members of the team.

From a practical perspective employers should assess whether prospective employees have a credit problem, since research indicates that this could be a factor in prompting people to collude with criminals.

More than burglar alarm operations

Cliff Rose.
Cliff Rose.

Cliff Rose from Contract Surveillance Services (CSS) points out that operators in control rooms that require handling of alarm data and video feeds, and then developing a standard or structured response to an alarm condition, require more skill than the conventional response to a burglar alarm.

“Firstly, the quantity of data being managed in CCTV control rooms in various formats is technically challenging. The resulting video image presented to the operator varies from usable to unusable, depending on lighting and environmental conditions, the transmission capacity and speed of the transmission media, and the reproduction equipment. All these add to the deterioration of the video image presented to the operator in the control room,” says Rose.

“One needs to also consider the type of offsite monitoring service that is offered when selecting operators. The basic being connecting to a site in the event of an alarm and trying to verify the alarm in conjunction with fixed camera images. Alternatively, there is the ‘always connected’ monitoring and interactive connection with the site and processing different ‘site activities’ and site access control functions, which requires a more proactive control room operator, trained to identify problems and respond accordingly.”

Testing suitability

Kevin Monk.
Kevin Monk.

Kevin Monk from Stallion says that before his company hires a candidate, they are required to undertake an interview and if the person is deemed as probably suitable for the job, they are then required to submit to a predictive index. “This index identifies certain elements in their personality and in this particular instance will highlight a people-oriented person.

“We check the candidate’s score to see if they fit the pattern required and then we ask them to undertake a cognitive test, which focuses on the ability of a person to adapt and learn in various environments. This is followed by a computer literacy test.”

A similar skills set and personality is required by a control room manager, but there are a number of additional elements that one needs to consider. “It is not necessary for the candidate to be an ex-SAPS officer, however it is important for them to have some insight with regard to tactical implementation. Of course, it helps if the manager has already been exposed to a control room environment and the technology and operations that the control room is monitoring,” says Donald.

“They will obviously need to possess good management skills, be able to work with people and motivate them, and be able to mentor or coach operators on the job. Training could include an understanding of criminal behaviour, as well as how incidents develop and take place.”

Monk says that for the appointment of a control room manager, Stallion follows an interview process similar to that used for operators, but the computer literacy requirements are more stringent. “We expect control room managers to have computer networking skills, to understand the various platforms available in the industry, and to have a fair level of IP skills in terms of connectivity. In addition to this, they would need to have an authoritative personality.”

Training of operators is important and could cover recognition of the conditions before the crime happens or the signs that a crime is occurring. The training could also consider whether the operator has the ability to be proactive when an event occurs.

Monk says that Stallion provides a comprehensive in-house training programme whereby the entire staff complement is obliged to participate in refresher training every three months. “We believe that experience plays a large role with control room operators but we have seen that with the increasing use of video analytics, in terms of artificial intelligence (AI), much of the guesswork is removed. A number of companies in the market are using AI to perform simulations for the operator so that by the time that the controller is faced with an actual alarm, he or she is able to establish quickly and easily that it is a qualified alarm.”

Site management software

Rose feels that the development of automated responses and routines controlled by computational relationships which are managed by site management software is the focus for future development in the interactive control room environment.

Monk says that selection of software is based on the equipment installed in field. “In the past, it was common practice to employ video transmission systems that compressed pictures without using much bandwidth. However, with bandwidth now being more readily available, companies are deploying HD and second stream cameras. PSIM (physical security information management) platforms are also becoming more dominant and companies are integrating all of their HD cameras on one unified platform in the control room. This definitely helps to eliminate the confusion that can typically arise when dealing with multiple platforms.”

He says that one needs to ensure a number of non-negotiable specifications for control rooms:

• Redundancy of the control room – this should include a backup generator and two forms of connectivity (fibre and microwave for example);

• Business continuity of the control room. If something happens to the building where the control room is situated, there should be another control room to which operations can be diverted. This is relevant to both on-site and remote control rooms.

According to Rose there is also a need for software that provides the functionality to manage data for interactive surveillance control rooms. “There should be an emphasis on system integration on site to provide more standardised workstation functionality with lots of smart alarm versus video image switching. Additionally, there is also a need for automated video analytics supporting video image presentation in the event of an alarm condition.”

He adds that clever on-site management software transmitting relevant data to the control room is critical, and integration of detection and security systems at the on-site level is important to a meaningful offsite response. A good audit trail of all alarm events and actions is important for one to understand exactly what happened during an incident. One can then use this to train operators who may never have been exposed to or who have not had to deal with a criminal activity. “One needs to remember that the CCTV visual image from the site connects and engages the operator at an emotional level.”

Designing for optimal performance

The design of a control room needs to be addressed prior to operators taking occupancy, since even the slightest variations in specific conditions could have a negative effect on performance. Elements to consider include lighting, layout, colour of walls, flooring, ergonomics in furniture, positioning of video screens or walls and temperature.

An index called the Predicted Mean Vote (PMV) is often used to measure thermal comfort where primarily sedentary work is carried out in the workplace (which includes measures of humidity, clothing and activity levels). ISO 7730 suggests that the thermal conditions should keep the percentage dissatisfied or ‘uncomfortable’ at 10% or less.

Ways in which glare can be avoided include not positioning light sources immediately in front of or behind the operator. It is believed that the use of movable lights or light diffusers can be effective when flexible lighting solutions are called for. Reflective surfaces should be avoided wherever possible and video display units should be placed at right angles to any light sources.

Angelique Roos.
Angelique Roos.

Angelique Roos from Progroup says that lighting sources of between 400 and 600 lux are generally recommended, but a large factor in choice is based on whether the operator will be required to do any writing, which would typically require more illumination than required for just viewing monitors.

“The aim is to try and make life easier for those working in the control room. In addition, one needs to take into account that at some stage maintenance of consoles will be necessary so accommodation is needed for easy access by integrators or installers, without the control room coming to a grinding halt. Another consideration is for access flooring whereby the power and IP cables run under the floor rather than up the walls and into the ceiling. With regard to the physical flooring, we suggest anti-static carpet tiles or laminate flooring for ease of access and operator comfort,” says Roos.

Subtle wall colours are preferable since brighter, harsher colours can be jarring for operators. Aligned with this, it is important to ensure that one invests in the best possible ergonomic chair and desk available within the constraints of the budget, because of the long periods that operators spend sitting.

“Control rooms are often an afterthought and therefore available space can be limited. We advise the incorporation of a control room into the original planning which will allow for the creation of a room that is specified according to operator numbers and the amount and type of equipment to be based there. This will enhance, rather than aggravate, operator performance,” Roos points out.

For more information, contact:

• Contract Surveillance Services, +27 11 314 3000, [email protected],

• Leaderware, +27 11 787 7811, [email protected]

• Progroup Manufacturing, +27 11 493 1545,

• Stallion Security, +27 11 533 8823, [email protected],


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