Safety critical for shopping centres

May 2003 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

People do not shop where they do not feel safe. Security, safety and crime prevention are therefore critical elements for property developers and management in the design, construction and administration of modern shopping centres.

Both tenants and visitors to shopping centres need to see that security and crime prevention is a priority with management. This is the view of Dr Bennie Coetzer, managing director of Thales Advanced Engineering, a manufacturer of high level electronic surveillance systems. "Visitors in particular, are reluctant to go where they do not feel secure."

For property developers and management, the major issue is how to achieve discreetly visible and effective security that gives tenants and visitors peace of mind yet has minimal impact on shopping centre overheads. Dr Coetzer says significant cost savings can be achieved by applying closed circuit television (CCTV) systems and technology in conjunction with a security guard service. "The application of CCTV creates job improvement opportunities for guards who, with appropriate training, can be deployed in more senior roles pertaining to the administration of the surveillance system." Modern digital technology CCTV systems can revolutionise security at large shopping centres where some 150 cameras would be required on site. Capital cost with a full control room and 14-day digital image storage facilities for such a system would be in the region of R4-million.

"The decision to purchase should be driven by a number of factors and not merely the acquisition costs," says Dr Coetzer. "Digital CCTV systems achieve very high quality with exceptional reliability so that maintenance and service costs are minimised. The system also enables security management to make informed decisions regarding their reaction, which improves efficiency and reduces unnecessary costs.

"Fewer guards on foot are required and surplus guards can be trained and redeployed in CCTV system control and monitoring roles. Centre management also has the option to extend monitoring services to tenants at an increased rental. Liability and other insurance costs can be reduced as security risks are being well managed. These and other factors render the life cycle cost of ownership of digital CCTV systems very affordable with capital cost recovery achievable in two or three years as a result of efficiencies and savings." The value of maintaining and increasing the visitor base for a shopping centre is inestimable and there is little doubt that efficient security keeps customers coming back and attracts new ones. This, says Dr Coetzer, is where the ability of the digital CCTV system to prevent crime and - in instances when a criminal act does take place, to apprehend and successfully prosecute the perpetrator - becomes so important.

The positive identification of a criminal in the act is essential to successful prosecution and therefore the images captured and stored by the CCTV system need to be of high quality. "But it is not merely image quality that is so critical," explains Coetzer. "To be effective, the system must also allow rapid retrieval of image evidence so that the security team on the ground can react immediately to any incident and either make an arrest or render assistance, depending on the incident type."

An example that illustrates the need for high quality images and speedy retrieval, is the girl who went into a shopping centre toilet with a bag and mistakenly left it there. When she returned a few minutes later to collect it, the bag was gone. She reported the incident to security personnel, who retrieved images recorded by cameras monitoring the passageway to the toilet. The girl was clearly shown entering the toilet with the bag and then leaving without the bag a few minutes later. Another person was seen entering the toilet and then departing with the bag left by the girl. This person was then identified on cameras elsewhere in the centre and followed by camera. When the person began to head for an exit, guards on the ground were alerted and apprehended the person leaving the centre. The bag was recovered with all contents intact.

"To achieve this kind of pro-active success, picture quality has to be top notch and image retrieval rapid. The speed of application and image quality required can only be achieved by digital systems. Pro-active security is the best security and it can also be enhanced by linking the CCTV system control room to a system of panic buttons installed in each shop.

"Tenants who observe suspicious people or activity press the panic button. The control room is then able to zoom appropriate cameras into the immediate area to closely monitor it while at the same time directing a security presence on foot to the area. In a large centre there can be up to 50 panic button alarms a day and some of these turn out to be serious shoplifting incidents. In many of these cases the sudden beefing up of security presence prevents the crime being committed," concludes Coetzer.

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