CCTV Monitoring – The elephant in the room

CCTV Elephant in the room
There are various perceptions of CCTV monitoring depending on your background and real-world exposure to it. One perception that appears consistent across all system users is that actively monitored CCTV is far more effective than passive CCTV systems. That CCTV systems that are actively watched by dedicated operators achieve better outcomes than those that are not.

The reasoning is sound. If people are dedicated to watching the cameras live, they can alert security staff or Police as events arise. This provides the opportunity for intervention before an incident becomes too serious.

Sounds all perfectly logical right?

Watching CCTV may sound like good fun for some, but soon enough it becomes quite mundane.

The challenge with actively monitored CCTV systems will be ensuring that operators remain focused at all times. Aside from the obvious distractions such as Facebook and internet browsing, remaining attentive for extended periods is much harder than it sounds.

Over the years, various studies have been undertaken regarding the ability for the average person to remain focused on basic tasks.

In 2008, a study by the University of Nottingham looked specifically at CCTV and the attention span of CCTV operators. What the study explored was the ability of operators to undertake quite simple tasks such as spotting objects and tracking people over short periods of time.

The study is long and detailed and takes several reads to fully appreciate the key messages in it. What is apparent though is that the longer people are assigned to watching and monitoring CCTV, the less they actually notice. And the ability to notice even dramatic scene changes is lost very quickly, regardless of the level of focus applied by the operator.

A study from 2002 that is still well referenced by the CCTV community found that after 12 minutes of continuous video monitoring an operator will often miss up to 45% of screen activity, after 22 minutes of viewing, up to 95% is overlooked. And that is based on a very small number of cameras and monitors.

What is popular today is for control rooms to fill their walls with monitors, each with perhaps 9 or more camera images displayed. It is evident that this style of CCTV monitoring is ultimately quite pointless, especially when we consider how technology can automate many of the functions that would normally be assigned to operators.

after 12 minutes of continuous video monitoring an operator will often miss up to 45% of screen activity, after 22 minutes of viewing, up to 95% is overlooked …

Through the use of intelligent analytics, we can now monitor and detect;

  • Left object
  • Removed object
  • Stopped vehicle
  • Movement in the wrong direction
  • Inconsistent movement patterns
  • Increase in queue numbers
  • Increase in people count
  • Facial recognition
  • Behavioural recognition

Many analytical programs are now smart enough that they can “learn” the local environment and alert operators to pre-agreed changes. The operators would then verify what is occurring and make a judgement call on what needs to happen next.

It is a far more efficient way of monitoring CCTV because the operators can monitor hundreds of cameras without having to be constantly watching the monitors. The use of technology means that the outcomes are far more reliable and ultimately more cost effective.

A full-time CCTV operator employed on a 24/7/365 basis in Australia would cost the business in excess of $300,000 a year. For local councils, the costs for an employee operator working 3 nights a week, can easily reach $80,000 a year.

When monitoring CCTV, we want to identify the extraordinary, not the ordinary. People are notoriously bad at performing mundane tasks, so why would we continue to rely on them? It just no longer makes sense. Or cents.

About the author

Luke Percy-Dove

Luke is one of the most respected and highly regarded Security Advisers and Security Design Consultants in Australia and has been a trusted key player in the security industry for more than two decades, delivering security solutions for hundreds of businesses and organisations nationally.