No management, no solution

April 2010 Surveillance

Johannesburg’s CBD has been under the watchful eye of a sophisticated macro surveillance system for nine years. Technology has advanced rapidly. So has crime. Yet Johannesburg has, despite huge odds, seen a remarkable decrease in its criminal activity, thanks to surveillance technology, well trained operators and proper systems and procedures. We take a deeper look behind the central business district’s surveillance operation and examine where it is moved to and what the future holds.

In 1975, Durban saw the nation’s first CCTV surveillance system implemented. The technology, comprising black and white low-resolution cameras, was intended specifically to monitor traffic, with public surveillance being only a secondary focus area.

22 years later, in November 1997, a second pilot project was implemented in the CBD in Kempton Park. Cape Town soon realised the potential advantage of such a system, and followed suite, and the first macro public surveillance system was installed in 1998 in preparation for the Cape Town Olympic bid.

Thys Le Grange, an electronic engineer specialising in macro public surveillance systems for the past 15 years, currently employed by Omega Risk Solutions, a company offering advanced integrated security solutions, has been the lead project manager involved in the CBD surveillance journey, pioneering the Cape Town success story with Business Against Crime and Rudie Wolter, the Telkom project manager. He subsequently developed a similar system for the City of Johannesburg in 2001 in partnership with Business Against Crime. Omega pioneered solutions that have ultimately reduced crime in the Johannesburg CBD by up to 85% in areas under camera surveillance.

Statistics to date

According to Le Grange, success for him is the ability to save a life. “That makes the project worthwhile,” he says. “However, to measure success is a subjective matter. Success can mean different things to different people and can be measured in many different ways. Some may perceive success when the project is delivered on time and within budget. For others, success means operational deliverables, such as crime prevention and saving lives. If the main objective of the system is to protect lives and prevent crime, inclusive of city management ie, monitoring traffic lights, water leaks etc, then I can categorically state that these systems contribute positively to the management of CBD crime. Hundreds of video evidence and successful prosecutions bear witness of these successes,” says Le Grange.

Between 2001 and 2003, EC Harris, an international consultancy firm, conducted a study on the Johannesburg surveillance systems, and the results revealed that the city’s CCTV solution had indeed brought crime down by more than 80% in the areas under surveillance with a cost benefit in excess of 1:10. “Our recent statistics indicate that the Johannesburg system has brought crime down by more than 85% over the last three years,” Le Grange adds.

And what about vandalism? Does this not affect progress? According to Le Grange, vandalism has not in any way threatened the CCTV systems: “I cannot recall any incident of vandalism over the past 20 years. Criminals know that the last picture that will be recorded is that of the person vandalising the camera. Apart from one camera overlooking another, sensors have been installed to protect the cameras.”

Good management

Le Grange believes strongly in the term ‘Horses for courses’. What does he mean? “To select the best equipment that will deliver the desired results while considering the cost to own the equipment over a period of time, specifically from a maintenance point of view. If one selects substandard equipment, the maintenance cost and unreliability factor will be high. If one fields the correct equipment and a well-trained operational team is in place behind the cameras, it is game over for the criminals.

“The main principle I have always lived by is that of ‘Prevention/proactive surveillance’,” explains Le Grange. “Camera operators interpret body language to predict potential incidents and initiate reaction to discourage suspects from committing the crime. Most systems record incidences in a reactive manner. We do not wait for an incident to happen, we detect and prevent incidents before they occur.”

Le Grange stresses that the most important aspect of any public surveillance system is the management processes required to ensure that the solution will have the desired results. “I always use the following example” he enthuses. “The best technology will be worthless and doomed for failure if operated by incompetent operators. You cannot build a space ship and not operate it with the best-trained pilot. Likewise, one should implement the most technologically advanced public surveillance systems and then man it with the best trained operators,” he argues. “I cannot overemphasise the importance of this subject. The successful operation in the CBD control room, is dependent on appropriate systems, policies and management procedures to ensure sound control throughout the entire system. Without that control, the system is ineffective,” he stresses and quotes director of scientific analysis at the Forensic Science Laboratory at SAPS, Sonja de Klerk, who remarked that in 2009 that 95% of all CCTV video material could not be used as credible evidence in court cases. According to Le Grange, this is largely due to bad management of the chain of evidence and chain of custody. In fact, he argues, there is a lack of good management in most video control rooms.

Getting the basics right

Le Grange believes that the biggest stumbling block for CBD surveillance systems going forward is the availability of sufficient funds to expand the system coverage and then to operate and maintain them. “Technology is not the challenge – the challenge is the availability of funds.”

According to Le Grange, CBD surveillance systems are mainly financed by local municipalities and occasionally by the SAPS. Many government organisations have the necessary funding to invest in the acquisition of the system, but have insufficient financial resources to fund the ongoing operation and maintenance thereof, he explains. “Private businesses contribute very little towards these systems.”

Finally, one cannot separate the human factor from technology. Technology is only a tool. The balanced combination of technology and manpower (including appropriate and efficient response to incidents) would ultimately provide the integrated solution, claims Le Grange.

“In conclusion, the SAPS and the Metro police, in partnership with private security service providers provide the ideal foundation for a successful crime prevention strategy.”

Choosing the right partner

Choosing the right partner for a CBD system is critical. We spoke to Charles Volschenk from Geutebrück GmbH, a key supplier of surveillance systems to South Africa’s CBDs, to get a clearer understanding of the technology specifications required to secure our CBDs.

Geutebrück products were used in the Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Kempton Park, Alberton, Klerksdorp and Heidelberg CBDs. Volschenk highlights what he believes to be the most pertinent reasons why Geutebrück products were chosen for these projects, given the country’s challenging criminal back drop.

Geutebrück systems are used in numerous CBD’s worldwide, thanks to their enterprise capabilities and high-reliability. According to Volschenk, the most pertinent reasons for South African CBDs choosing the Geutebrück solutions include:

1. Reputation: the company provides large enterprise and highly reliable German systems.  Currently Geutebrück is rated as the top boxed NVR provider by IMS Research in 2009 and was also rated as the Number 8 software-only solution.

2. Best latency times of evaluated systems enabling accurate and secure control of multiple PTZ and dome cameras, by surveillance operators.

3. Dynamic live streaming capability which dynamically adapts streamed video to suit the viewer’s monitor resolution and image size – thereby cutting video traffic on the network by as much as 50%.

4. Ability to group and view cameras from multiple recorders according to viewer preference, rather than being limited to view only cameras connected to a single recorder at a time.

5. Ability to handle large databases (up to 600 Terabytes of Raid 6 storage, recording images 24/7 in JMPD case) while still efficiently searching for specific footage with almost no delay.

Volschenk further notes that Geutebrück’s local integration partner Multivid has had a long and successful history of installing CBD systems in Ekurhuleni and elsewhere. They were also contracted by Omega to assist with the Pretoria and JMPD systems due to this experience.

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