CCTV operational requirements and incident behaviour

August 2005 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

CCTV systems should be developed with a clear purpose and objectives for what they want to accomplish. Equally, CCTV operators should be able to produce results in a manner consistent with this purpose.

The concept of operational requirements provides a basis on which to develop the purpose and objectives of your system. In the UK, the concept of operational requirements highlighted by Jim Aldridge is commonly used. Aldridge (1994, p.2), defines an operational requirement as "a statement of needs based on a thorough and systematic assessment of the problems to be solved and the hoped for solutions".

Using operational requirements involves a process that takes you through looking at a number of aspects relevant to the situation you are implementing a system for, including working with all the stakeholders in determining what their perspectives are. Issues covered are priorities, response times throughout the system, responsibilities of different parties, audit trails and future needs. The most important part of defining a system is what you want to watch, the technical quality of video picture and the kind of views of incident and evidence material you need to capture on camera. Scenarios and possible incident dynamics that you expect to happen need to be anticipated and thought through. This has major implications for the capacity and quality of your equipment, what you record and the positioning of cameras.

A poor definition of what picture views are to be expected will lead to limiting effects in your system arising right from the initial specification. These will automatically follow through into the design, initiation and testing of the system. At times when the incident material that you will need to view has not been considered enough, these problems may only become apparent when wanting to use the system under certain incident conditions. The use of cameras by operators often throws up a number of previously unanticipated issues and considerations. Where an experienced operator or supervisor is involved in the initial operational requirements, or where they are involved as part of a trial implementation, these features can be identified before the system is finalised. Alternatively, ongoing limitations can become a feature of the system that people tend to accept and live with despite the reduction in system effectiveness. Problems that can arise include not seeing the desired picture detail, light and viewing hazards, cameras positioned behind the activity that has to be monitored and a failure to meet evidence or information requirements from incident conditions. What is important in this context is that one is not merely monitoring areas of floor space or situations. An incident will typically occur through the involvement of people within those situations and it is the incident behaviour that is displayed which has to be monitored and captured.

What to watch as part of the initial requirements also needs to be communicated effectively to operators once they start. While the system design may provide the facility, operators need to be clear about what they are looking for and they do not always receive proper instructions on this. There must be a sizeable proportion of operators on different CCTV sites who are looking continuously at screens day in and day out with no real conception of what they are supposed to be spotting. When asked, the typical response is that they are looking for suspicious behaviour. When asked what form this behaviour may take, they shrug their shoulders with the belief that they will recognise it when they see it. Although blatant incident behaviour is generally likely to be seen, unfortunately most criminals do not co-operate so readily.

In discussions during the review of video material, we often find what some people see as suspicious looks perfectly normal to others. Indeed, when watching some actual video material different people may often interpret it as perfectly innocent with others thinking there are clear indications of guilty behaviour. In our CCTV training we stress that it is far more effective to recognise expected signs of behaviour rather than to try and interpret behaviour in order to make sense of it, particularly under pressure. The more the operator can visualise what kinds of incident behaviour can occur, the quicker the incident is identified and acted on once it happens. Not only is it necessary to communicate what managers see as the operational requirement, it is necessary to get the operator thinking through what they perceive as the requirements for the cameras they are using. Where operators are well tuned to the risk areas, their surveillance will be more efficient. The quality of surveillance is therefore greatly enhanced by knowing where to look and what to look for, with a camera system that supports these needs.

Ref: Aldridge, J. CCTV Operational Requirements Manual. PSDB, Home Office. 1994.

Dr Craig Donald can be contacted at Leaderware on 011 787 7811 or


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