The rise of remote video verification

March 2006 Surveillance

In 1998 I was attending Ifsec in the UK where we had a Leaderware stand to promote our operator selection software. The security area in the UK was relatively new to me at that stage and I made a point of covering as much as I could.

As is fairly typical at exhibitions worldwide, they had an affiliated conference going on next to the exhibition hall, which I visited. Even after eight years, I remember the conference papers well because of their important and far reaching relevance to the industry. One was a paper by John Woods on ergonomic design for control centres with Woods going on to play a major part in the establishing of British Standards for control room design. The other was by PSDB psychologists on the importance of CCTV operator selection, something that our SAMAE selection package has become the international standard for. The third paper was by Nigel Foster who was discussing what was then a relatively new area, control room monitoring - later to be referred to as visual verification.

All these areas have become critical in the effective development of CCTV, but Nigel Foster's paper reflected the start of the use of CCTV in monitoring and visual verification that has become a sweeping international trend. In my observations of the industry, remote video verification is rapidly gaining critical mass and will become an increasingly important aspect of CCTV in the years to come. Foster's paper reflected the initial reasons for the rise of remote visual verification in the UK, although it has since established other good business reasons for its existence. In the UK there is a strong emphasis on police responding to alarms that would normally be handled by security companies in South Africa. Like anywhere else, the UK police had the protection of the public generally at heart and with stretched resources did not want to spend valuable time attending to false alarms. Frustrated with the frequency that these were occurring, the UK police indicated that after a certain number of responses to false alarms at a particular site, they would no longer respond to that site unless it could be confirmed that something was in progress.

Visual verification

Foster indicates that besides the police providing a strong emphasis for getting visual verification, the keyholder of the business or premises also had a strong vested interest in this. A false alarm at critical times such as your child's performance in the school concert, a daughter's wedding, your wife's birthday, or while sleeping at 2 in the morning is not at all welcomed. Equally and somewhat ironically, Foster points out that no keyholder really wants to be bothered by a genuine alarm activation - the thought of driving to a factory in the middle of the night with the possible prospect of armed intruders waiting at the other end is not something that most people relish. The need to do away with false alarms and to have an informed evaluation of the situation that caused the alarm is therefore in the best interests of police, clients, and a responding security company. It is therefore no wonder that remote video verification has taken off the way it has.

The terms in this area of the industry tend to be used somewhat loosely at times. Monitoring, verification, visual, video, remote, off site monitoring, among other words, all get used interactively on a regular basis. In the present context, I am using the term of remote video verification to equate to what the British Standards refer to as 'remote monitoring of detector activated CCTV systems'. This process involves the presentation of detection or alarm information to an operator, the identification of cause, making an informed judgement on the situation and appropriate response, and taking responsible actions to address the situation. Systems designed for remote video verification need to be designed and installed to a high standard because of a number of security solutions that have to work together to provide an integrated monitoring, viewing, and response capability. Core to the systems is the detection technology that is used to generate the alarm or event conditions. The standards place a strong emphasis on false alarm avoidance, which can play havoc on the monitoring process. A site I visited which was experiencing four alarms per second (virtually all false) would obviously not be a candidate for such technology. Further, the standards emphasise the relationship between detectors and cameras. Detection zones have to be consistent with camera coverage - anything detected must be viewable. The use of audio monitoring and a facility for on site announcements is also strongly recommended in the standards. Other facilities such as arming and disarming systems or components, activation of protection devices such as locks or pepper gas, control of lighting and access systems, and communication with response units make for a fairly complex set of requirements that must work together in a usable and efficient system.

Consider carefully...

It is not just system design that is important to look at. The nature of the site under protection also needs careful consideration. Aspects such as lighting, reflections, the nature and level of movement in a scene, and frequency of change are issues that can materially affect the success of a remote verification scheme. Transmission of data is critical in most CCTV operations, but in the case of remote verification, ensuring sufficient video quality in transmission is key. Picture quality should be at least sufficient for an operator to determine the nature and detail of a viewed event. The operator concerned needs to make a decision rapidly and on the spot. This calls for operators with good judgement and who are well trained, but who can also clearly see the criteria that decisions should be based on. In this context, client expectations are important to determine as part of the operational requirements and these need to be reconciled against the transmission and system capabilities. The design of the security system and the match to the remote monitoring capability requires skilled and knowledgeable personnel. Certainly this needs to be considered in the choice of solution providers.

Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware, which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on 011 787 7811 or [email protected]

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