Camera management

March 2010 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

A camera profile not only ensures the device is necessary, but guides operators in performing their tasks.

CCTV tends to be thought about in terms of large-scale systems. Management at the level of individual components tends to be overlooked in the context of the greater system, unless it is causing a specific problem.

While most sites are very aware of doing things like regular camera checks to ensure cameras are operating, the active management of each camera tends to be neglected after the initial installation. Yet there is an ongoing need to ensure that each camera is managed to increase the effectiveness and viewing reliability. Camera tasking not only assists in operator viewing that is more consistent and better directed, it provides a ready reference for the audit of systems and personnel against specified requirements.

Cameras form part of a CCTV system that should be designed according to operational requirements and a system specification. However, while the system design should have an operational requirement and purpose to each camera, this purpose is often not made clear for subsequent use. Managers seldom sit down with individual operators to define tasks, activities and expectations on a camera-by-camera basis. As a result, operators seldom have a clear understanding of what the camera is intended to view, what needs to be monitored, and camera views. When I have at times asked operators why cameras are looking at particular locations, I have been given a range of sometimes strange and imaginative answers that I am sure bear no resemblance to the original intention in the system designers mind. In discussions with colleagues more recently, a number of suggestions came up which were designed to more effectively manage the camera tasking.

Effective camera tasking

In order to effectively task each camera, the ideal is to construct a camera profile. Some people go further, referring to developing a job description for the camera. Operators can then refer back to the profile at any stage to familiarise themselves with the activities that should be performed relative to that camera.

The profile should include stating the clear purpose of the camera and the viewing area it should cover. It should also include recording criteria that should be applied to that camera in the event that your recording system allows it to be customised – ie, frame rates and resolution. This is to assist in follow up investigations and to ensure that recorded evidence matches the initial expectation of the camera requirement. A good suggestion is to generate a frame capture of the specified view of fixed cameras in order to create a reference image. Cameras may be moved during maintenance, or even deliberately pushed off position in an attempt to prevent viewing of an area to facilitate illegal activities by people on site. The reference image allows cameras to be easily audited against their original specified position.

I find that as time goes on and different operating personnel become responsible for CCTV viewing, the original purpose of the camera and its role are not passed on and it can become forgotten. Even where not much time has elapsed, different people have different interpretations of what they are supposed to be viewing and looking for. A short outline of the risk areas, appropriate procedures, required behaviours, types of events that should be looked out for, and critical viewing times will assist operators and ensure standardisation of viewing by different people and across time.

Highlighting suspicious activities that can occur on that camera and other things the operator should look out for not only sensitises them to issues, it is likely to lead to better detection. It does need to be ensured, however, that operators are still aware that other incidents not listed can occur and need to be looked out for. There is a danger that because criminals adapt their behaviour and continually come up with innovative and surprising ways of committing crime, operator viewing that is too focused or directed will lead to the operator ignoring anything else that occurs. Indeed, I have seen this limited 'field of view' happen in a number of locations.

Flexible watchers

The camera profile guide can be taken even further. By supplementing the profile with updated indications on the camera map of different events or incidents that have been detected over time, operators are made aware of hot spots and what kinds of incidents occur on an ongoing basis. This guides operators and starts moving them towards an intelligence led surveillance focus. One of my biggest concerns with CCTV is that operators spend time simply viewing images that continually occur on screen without thinking about what is going on and what they mean.

Camera management provides a very real way of ensuring that the management, installation, and operational objectives are effectively aligned and are being addressed. It is a very real way of assisting in detection performance for relatively little effort and can assist with getting common knowledge across a number of operators and new people who arrive. This kind of camera profiling can also be in electronic and or paper form, giving a quick reference for operators to refresh their memories and viewing strategies. It also provides an easy way of testing knowledge of the system, performance management, and auditing of system effectiveness.

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 +27 (0)11 787 7811 or


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