Johannesburg gets teeth

CCTV Handbook 2009 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

When deciding on a CCTV surveillance system a prime concern is whether it will do the job. The integrated proactive approach in Johannesburg has real teeth to prevent and control crime and to manage the city’s diverse range of utilities.

A question often coming to mind is whether closed circuit television (CCTV) monitoring is worth the investment in the first place. In too many instances where criminal activity should have been recorded, either the cameras were out of order or captured images of such poor quality that the perpetrators cannot be identified.

Of course, the price of the system installed often determines the quality. Sophisticated devices with night capability costing tens of thousands are seen as an effective deterrent. But are they?

The City of Johannesburg opted for a unique integrated proactive system, which is monitored around the clock and linked to roving response units in the street. Officially launched by the executive mayor, Councillor Amos Masondo, last December, the Macro Surveillance Centre has already captured 11 000 incidents since coming on stream less than a year ago.

Some of the footage has been presented as evidence in court, leading to successful – and speedy – conviction of criminals captured on camera. In many instances of serious crime, witnesses often refuse to testify against the perpetrators for fear of victimisation. Good surveillance footage is thus more likely to be presented as ‘irrefutable’ evidence.

Extensive cover

Johannesburg contracted with Omega Risk Solutions to install a network of more than 200 digital video cameras strategically located throughout the inner city. Incidents taking place any time of day or night are captured and relayed via optic-fibre cable to the Macro Surveillance centre’s secure hard-drive.

Trained operators constantly monitor 15 cameras each by means of large 40-inch LCD screens on which the images are displayed. Suspicious activity on any specific camera can be routed to a single computer screen for better scrutiny.

With the aid of a small joystick and keypad console the operator can swing the cameras mounted just above street level through 360° or up-and-down. The exceptional zoom capability of the cameras allows for a closer or wider look.

Technical director of Omega Risk Solutions, Thys le Grange, who designed the system for Johannesburg, considers it an integrated system. “Johannesburg Metro police (JMPD) and South African Police Services (SAPS) are stationed alongside our Omega monitoring staff in the surveillance centre, from where they are linked to dedicated reaction units patrolling the city streets on a 24/7 basis,” explains Le Grange.

According to Le Grange the system is also proactive in the sense that the operators are trained to read body language of people going about their business in the streets. Someone intent on unlawful action displays almost imperceptible signs that can be spotted by a trained eye. The roving reaction units could then be directed to the scene with a view to prevent criminal acts.

City management

Johannesburg also makes use of the integrated system to address service delivery issues, like burst water pipes, missing manhole covers, faulty traffic lights or obstructions to traffic flow, including motor vehicle accidents. With such constant surveillance across the city the operators are able to immediately despatch emergency services to assist in any critical situation.

The JMPD employs one set of computers in the Macro Surveillance centre solely for vehicle registration number recognition to identify stolen cars or those with outstanding traffic fines.

Yet more teeth

As important as public area security is today, the private sector – in particular industry and commercial business – requires similar strong security. Omega Risk Solutions, renowned for its innovative and holistic approach, has already installed interactive electronic surveillance elsewhere in South Africa and in other African states.

Taking it one step further, the surveillance is coupled to an integrated remote response – a case of immediate forceful action when seeing an incident.

“Our monitoring system available to business certainly has more teeth than conventional surveillance,” explains Le Grange. “Should an alarm at a business be triggered, CCTV enables the operator to see the intruder, who would then be given a verbal warning by means of loudspeakers. Should the intruder ignore this audio warning, he could be debilitated with a range of measures, including pepper spray, electric shock or smoke until the response team arrives.”

The question whether sophisticated surveillance is worthwhile has to be weighed up against the result one hopes to achieve. If the intention were simply to spot unlawful activity, almost any CCTV system would be fine. Its effect would be minimal – least of all as a deterrent to criminals.

Yet public area security and private enterprise are likely to prefer more effective means. A CCTV surveillance system with teeth is surely worth the added investment.

The power of an integrated surveillance system

* Omega Risk Solutions manages 216 cameras in a network covering a radius of impact over more than 50 km from the Macro Surveillance Centre in the downtown area on behalf of the City of Johannesburg.

* It opted for a digital virtual matrix using fibre-optic rather than radio or other communication link, which ensures faster response (less than 100 milliseconds latency). Interestingly, if all the fibre-optic cable were placed end-to-end, it would extend all the way to the west coast of Namibia.

* All recordings are stored 24/7 at 4SIF resolution for 60 days, utilising 420 TeraBytes, arguably the biggest single storage capacity on the African continent.

* The system has full power backup and redundancy. Its standby generator has a capacity of some 380 KVA, whilst the 80 KVA UPS is fully redundant and regarded as the best of its kind available today.

* Combined with its full redundancy, the system’s modular design allows for it to be hot swappable, thus eliminating any downtime.

* Cooling capacity of the equipment room is of the utmost importance and with a 120 kW cooling system is arguably a first of its kind.

For more information contact Sureen Nel, Omega Risk Solutions, +27 (0)12 361 0620,,


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