Surveillance-friendly environments

August 2005 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

I was in a CCTV control room of an operation a few years ago, where I was looking at the way that they were doing surveillance. Within the space of a few minutes, I saw several behaviours that could have been actions associated with the theft of an article although they occurred as part of the normal working process and one could not see the article at all.

The operators were relatively unmoved by this - they see these behaviours all the time and have no way of knowing whether these are innocent actions or deliberate attempts at taking something. If the operator calls security to apprehend the person and nothing has been taken, it leads to awkward public and employee relation issues. If they do nothing, they run the risk of something being taken without their knowledge. Because the company and management culture is sensitive about employee issues, operators have to avoid disruptions and therefore no action is taken in ambiguous cases. If operators see behaviour that clearly shows a theft, they are allowed to get a response team in. The only trouble is that theft is seldom that obvious and as a result there is a minimal incident detection rate as operators do not want to create unnecessary scenes. Although the CCTV system may act as a deterrent, this is clearly a surveillance-unfriendly environment.

There are a number of areas that influence how surveillance-friendly an environment is:

* The working environment: How easy is it to view the target activity? This includes line of sight, lighting, light contrasts, obstructions etc and incorporates the concept of having defensible space. Metallurgy plants in older diamond and gold mines, for instance, were designed with no thought for surveillance cameras. Characterised by low light, wet and with multiple levels, piping and structural viewing obstructions, they are difficult to conduct effective surveillance in. Newer operations incorporate more features to allow clearer lines of sight, better viewing angles in high-risk areas, and a far more surveillance-friendly facility. A common problem in many production lines with large scale goods (eg, motor vehicles) is that when working on the product the person is hidden from view. Similarly, many town CCTV centres have to deal with store signs being placed in direct viewing lines of cameras and obscuring views behind them, which then have to be moved.

* The production process: How easy is it for the operator to understand what is going on in the production process so it can be recognised when something inappropriate is happening? In more complex environments, extensive training is given to familiarise operators with what is going on. In the casino industry, for example, operators are given weeks of training in gaming procedures. If the production process is predictable, it is a great deal easier to identify deviations. Also, how easy is it to camouflage theft within the normal cycle of activities or in the standard behaviour required to do the job? Are minimal hand or arm movements required, are target items being continually handled? Where should they be handled?

* Management culture: Is management committed to establishing a surveillance-friendly environment even if this means some constraints on the normal activities or dress of personnel? Some measures include pocketless coats or overalls, standard uniforms, short sleeves, target personnel having to show clean areas or hands after certain operations, a prohibition or restriction of movements in the working area. These are often seen as restrictive by personnel but can make the task of detection much easier. To what extent are surveillance operators authorised to make a decision that could cause a loss in production if they feel a serious incident has occurred? Is management committed to pursue findings by surveillance personnel or do they hang back?

* The distinctiveness of incident behaviours: How easy is it to recognise the incident? How easy is it to confuse the incident behaviour with normal behaviour? To what degree can the incident behaviour be camouflaged as part of normal behaviour? How often do incidents occur and what impact does this have on the vigilance requirements of the person to be selected? To what extent can the signs of an incident developing be picked up? How will a person remove a stolen object and how obvious will this be? Where can they go to conceal it?

Some environments are a great deal easier to perform surveillance on than others. However, this is both a result of the type of operation, when it was developed, how management has treated the potential risk within the operation, the influence of security within the production process, the nature of incidents themselves, and the ability of personnel to spot what happens. If your surveillance environment falls into the unfriendly category, you need to seriously consider what you can do in the different areas to make it more effective. What is important is that it is not just security's problem. To get an effective surveillance, a friendly environment is a key responsibility of risk management for managers across all areas.

Dr Craig Donald can be contacted at Leaderware on 011 787 7811 or craig.donald@leaderware.com


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