CCTV and the bigger picture

Andy Hedley-Smith, General Manager at Ward Security talks CCTV and argues that the quality of the technology accounts for nothing without proper installation, maintenance and monitoring.

As with all technology, CCTV systems have come on in leaps and bounds with regards their capability and quality. The latest camera systems not only deliver ultra-high quality images, they can also offer face recognition and scene recognition whereby an unexpected change in a scene will trigger an alarm.

While this vastly improved capability and quality is obviously of benefit, the reality is that it means little if the system is incorrectly set up and has not been installed as an integral part of a wider and carefully planned security suite, and is not being properly maintained and monitored.

As an example; a recent call to a site to investigate a burglary illustrated the degree to which poorly installed, maintained and monitored CCTV can fail as both a deterrent, and as a way to highlight an incident in progress. Whilst this was not a site Ward Security covered, we were called upon to undertake a security review.

There were several issues with the CCTV system in place that should have been picked up as part of a proper maintenance programme, not least being that the clock on the system was an hour out, which made it difficult to find the correct segment with the offender gaining access to the site.

The site owners were at a loss to understand how the offender had gained access. When the correct segment was eventually located it revealed that he had simply pushed his way through gates on which a maglock was not working properly.

The front doors of the building were secured, however, once he had entered the underground car park he found a door into the building which would not close properly.

A full post-event site security review also revealed that the CCTV cameras were incorrectly set up and kept alarming as cars were passing the site. The company had employed a false economy of only having two cameras when they needed four or five, and the cameras they did have were not pointed in the right direction for effective coverage. Also, nobody was monitoring the CCTV out-of-hours and signage was insufficient as a deterrent.

The obvious conclusion was that the CCTV system was only of limited effectiveness due not only to its own shortcomings, but also wider site vulnerabilities. Even its use as a post-event investigatory tool was hampered by inadequate maintenance. The facility manager had recently tasked the access control engineer to check the system, but he didn’t check the clock, putting it two hours out.

For the CCTV system to be of real value it should ideally be tied in with access control, with properly sited and installed cameras and effective alarms.

The goal should always be to have a system where every element supports each other. Only in this way can you achieve a truly holistic security solution.

Of course, this is difficult if not impossible to achieve if you bring together different security elements – cameras, alarms etc. – from different suppliers. It is far more effective to task one company to deliver a solution under the oversight of a security consultant who can conduct a full site review and who can understand the particular issues and vulnerabilities of the site, and who can quality assure the work.

It is also important to not rely solely on the technology.

Remote monitoring is essential, however it relies on quality of installation. CCTV is fantastic tool if properly installed, maintained and monitored. A proper site review will pay huge dividends and will enable the CCTV system to be properly set up, for example masking off correct areas to avoid false alarms triggered by things like passing cars.
It is important to understand that site vulnerabilities will change as buildings and usage change. For example, a new business moving next door will have an impact, so good quality periodic reviews and audits of the set up and maintenance are useful in fine tuning your security suite to make allowances for changes. Failure to do so could mean missing a new vulnerability.

Another client wanted cameras inside their building. The installers they had chosen had neglected to take the important step of assessing the business and getting an operational requirement from the client – what it does, how it operates, and what needs to be protected. A security review revealed a major vulnerability in the car park and needed additional CCTV coverage, but the installers had not understood this.

Modern CCTV is a truly powerful tool, but its effectiveness can be easily undermined. CCTV should not be viewed in isolation, and the quality of installation, maintenance and monitoring will have a significant bearing. The supplier that installs CCTV should assess the business to understand threats, risk, and vulnerabilities and how to mitigate those. They should also be able to tie in CCTV with other security suite technologies and provide a high-quality maintenance package. Anything less will devalue the technology.

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