Control room commandments

April 2010 Surveillance

Saying that the control room is the lifeblood of any professional security company, Zane Greeff, technical director for Elvey Security Technologies points out that its modern-day functionality extends far beyond alarm monitoring.

“On the back of rapidly evolving technology and demand for intelligent and near-instantaneous reaction to a variety of distress calls, today’s control room is a multifaceted entity capable of monitoring premises, people, data and events as well as receiving and reacting appropriately to alarm signals,” he explains. “Whether the event is a burglary, fire, unauthorised entry to restricted premises or intrusion, the sophisticated control room, through the use of cutting-edge technology in the fields of video verification, alarms and CCTV (closed circuit television), allows personnel to act appropriately and in double-quick time.”

It is therefore vital, says Greeff, that security architects take into account 10 critical factors essential to the functionality of the control room.

1. Reliable suppliers

While he understands the temptation of opting for cheaper equipment, especially in light of the recessionary conditions that are gripping the world, he warns that the initial saving of a few thousand rand at the point of purchase could well end up costing a company that or more on repairs, maintenance and additional technical support. He strongly advises prospective buyers to choose suppliers with SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) and ISO 9001 accreditation.

2. Correct equipment

Business models can vary widely, depending on a security company’s size, resources, clientele and service commitment. Explains Greeff: “Organisations that operate across a large area generally require more resources than those which service one or two suburbs. For best results, the first should choose an integrated system comprising a base station capable of monitoring multiple incoming alarms; a number of monitors for surveillance and data interpretation, and radio links to make constant communication between patrol vehicles and guards possible.”

3. Staff hiring and training

Despite the high level of sophistication of modern-day security equipment, no control room can rely solely on artificial intelligence, maintains Greeff. “Control rooms still require a strong human presence to support the equipment. The interaction between human and machine is fundamental to the success of the control room, hence the need for employees to be well trained.

“Someone who is under-trained will not be able to handle problems, system errors or come up with viable solutions. Trouble-shooting therefore has to be included in staff training, which has to be of the highest standard.”

4. Embracing new technologies

According to Greeff, the days are long gone when telephone lines and long-range radio signals were the preferred method of transmitting signals from the end user’s alarm panel to the control room receiver. “In this techno-savvy era, security companies are increasingly switching to more reliable methods of signal transmission that offer the added benefit of lower costs to both end-user and security monitoring station.”

Communication line options today include IP, GSM/GPRS, which he says is revolutionising the way security companies operate. He says it is because IP networking not only increases functionality, but also enhances integration potential and cuts down on hardware and infrastructure costs.

5. Future expansion

As oak trees grow from little acorns, so many successful businesses start small, with one or two people servicing a small client base from a single office or even a converted garage. However, says Rory Webber, national sales manager for Elvey Security Technologies, no matter how humble its beginnings, a security company has a moral responsibility to its clients from the outset to respond swiftly to alarms. It should therefore kick off with a system that can be expanded as the company grows. One that uses individual line cards works well in his experience. “Phone line cards and network line cards can be used to create one integrated monitoring solution,” he explains, adding that this type of system not only reduces start-up costs, but makes for easy expansion since the number of line cards can be increased as the business grows.

6. Disaster recovery strategy

Critical to the design of a control room is the implementation of a disaster recovery element that will take over operations in the event of a power or communication failure, says Webber. Should there be a system failure, the primary central monitoring station can then reroute communications to its receivers, thereby preventing downtime and ensuring that activities continue as normal.

7. Secure network alarm monitoring

A growing number of modern-day IP line cards feature critical security elements such as 128-bit AES encryption and anti-hack designs that isolate internal communications from external data transmissions. These are to ensure data transmission integrity, says Webber. To this end, they would need to be UL AA High-Line Security and ULC level 3/4/5 listed.

8. Self diagnostics

No matter how advanced it may be, equipment can and does fail – sometimes without any warning or evidence of malfunction. “What is particularly alarming about an undetected failure is that the equipment can operate in that state until a technician spots the problem,” he warns. To avoid this, base stations should be equipped with central processing modules (CPM3) which provide continual software supervision to ensure automatic backup to a redundant port. “This means that if the automation system goes off-line, the CPM3 switches from the primary Ethernet port to a secondary or serial port, before going into manual mode. Additionally, the CPM3 polls each line card to get consistent up-to-date information, another important benefit.”

9. User-friendly programming

Rapid technological progress has made it possible for base stations to be programmed either locally (by referencing the unit’s menu-driven VGA display) or remotely, using a networked Ethernet connection supported by the correct console software. Webber says the software can also be used to upgrade the unit’s flash memory with new operating software without having to handle hardware, pull chips or disrupt the activity of other components.

10. Console software

The tenth commandment is that the console software should integrate seamlessly with the central base station, with an easy-to-use, straightforward interface. “The software connects via the receiver’s Ethernet port from any network computer while simultaneously providing a number of remote diagnostic tools such as communications debugging and real-time status of all sub-systems.”

Before making a final decision, he recommends buyers consider other optional features such as a flash memory upgrade utility, date and time synchronisation, edit and archive configuration and a virtual event log.

For more information, contact Kenny Chui, Elvey Security Technologies at +27 (0)11 401 6700, [email protected],


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