Challenges for CCTV surveillance

February 2005 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

South Africa needs more prisons and the Department of Correctional Services will be looking to apply designs that achieve high security and prisoner control in environments that also meet new international standards in prisoner education, training and rehabilitation.

Several prototype prisons are to be constructed countrywide. CCTV surveillance technology specialist Thales Advanced Engineering, which has recently completed two prison upgrading contracts with the installation of digital on-line surveillance systems, believes CCTV systems for the prototypes will also have to be designed from scratch.

Thales joint managing director, Dr Bennie Coetzer, says surveillance systems for these prisons will have to be capable of adapting to and integrating with a revolutionary design.

"One of the major problems with conventional cameras is they have to be close to clearly identify individual inmates. Getting cameras close in a prison environment is difficult and impractical in that cameras can be damaged or covered. High quality cameras, which can identify individuals at greater distances, are a better but more costly option.

"A prison system is essentially a human surveillance system and it therefore needs to be closely monitored by people who have been trained in monitoring techniques and how to identify behavioural changes that can warn of an impending incident such as a drug handover or an attack on another prisoner."

Dr Coetzer adds that the environment is also one in which the inmates know where the cameras are placed and it is possible for them to impair or prevent a camera view of an incident simply by crowding around.

"Situations like this can be overcome through the placement of the cameras, their image quality and, to a lesser degree, the lighting of the area. High resolution cameras will identify the individuals and if the frame rate is high enough, an action such as a stabbing, will also be visible. Ideally, there should be cameras to give both overhead and side views."

The real task of active CCTV surveillance is to monitor prisoners during the hours that they are not confined to their cells. Dr Coetzer says the camera recording requirement for lock-up hours is less intensive so a low frame rate can be applied and cameras fitted with motion detectors used on the landings outside the cells.

The detection of bribery and corruption is another requirement for prisons so the system has to be configured to also monitor the actions of staff with cameras set up specifically to do so. Monitoring staff movement can be useful from a management viewpoint because the recordings will show whether or not a staffer carried out the patrols he was required to do, whether he fell asleep or whether he was drinking on duty and so on.

The period for which image storage is required is a critical factor in terms of cost as well as identification. Properly managed, the cost can be minimised by, for example, isolating just the footage specific to an event and storing it until it is no longer required. Properly managed, there is no need to store huge quantities of recordings for any length of time.

"To handle prison environments the CCTV surveillance system must be able to integrate with other security, access/egress and warning or alarm systems," says Dr Coetzer. "Apart from the integration aspect, other most important requirements include the ability to provide good intelligence from various subsystems and the ability to accommodate and incorporate new technology as it happens."

The system also needs to be able to pre-warn prison management by detecting and alarming an incident such as a sudden gathering of inmates in an area where gatherings are not permitted, or detect and flag an alarm if people start running.

"The overall objective is to provide the prison with a system that efficiently and cost-effectively gathers visual information, enabling the authorities to easily manage and react to that information. A good system will provide proactive and preventive monitoring to alert those in charge whenever something happens that differs from the norm."

Thales has recently manufactured and commissioned digital online CCTV surveillance systems comprising 112 and 100 cameras respectively for the Goodwood Prison in Cape Town and Malmesbury Prison in the Boland.

"These systems are proving to be a cost-effective and reliable means of improving internal and external security at such institutions. The inherent reliability and flexibility of digital technology and the ability to integrate such technology into existing systems add value for prison management."

For more information contact Dr Bennie Coetzer, Thales Advanced Engineering, 011 465 4312,

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