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How to get the best out of your CCTV system in 2021

Our 2021 Guide for CCTV System Optimisation

Image of CCTV system design in progressMarket research which we commissioned this autumn, randomly targeting medium and large-sized businesses running CCTV systems right across England, uncovered evidence of some disquiet about the effectiveness of the surveillance systems which they had in place.

The shopping list of improvements which those running these systems were looking for was long. Only three per cent of businesses in the study were looking for no improvements in their CCTV systems in the next 12 months.

Over a third (36 per cent) of firms running CCTV systems are now looking for tighter integration with other security systems, ranging from fire and smoke alarms to access control systems.

Others wanted improved user interfaces for security operatives – making it easier for them to locate and export evidential video recordings; a minority were looking to reduce the number of false positives they had to pick through.

Other expectations lay much more with the here and now. For example, many wanted their CCTV cameras to support corporate initiatives to enable a safe return of staff and visitors to their workplaces.

Focus on optimisation first

We decided to look underneath these core findings to lay out some of our thoughts and ideas for improving the way many CCTV systems are run today. A strong foundation can be built for increasing the functionality and capability of surveillance systems, only if businesses first invest in optimising what they have already.

Without these building blocks being put in place, those more aspirational goals highlighted in our study will rarely, if ever, be realised without considerable expense and false starts.

You need to start with that firm foundation. As such, many of the changes which firms managing CCTV systems need to make are very ‘down to earth’. However, our findings in the field suggest that they are still worth articulating because we encounter these issues very regularly.

By working through these issues, firms can hope to get the most out of their existing systems today. The alternative is often to execute expensive ‘rip and replace’ strategies which fail to solve existing shortcomings or deliver on new Operational Requirements (ORs).

Camera-level configuration

When planning to improve the effectiveness of existing CCTV systems, it’s always a good idea to start with camera-specific configuration. Each camera deployed needs to be configured in line with your company’s Operational Requirements (ORs). However, many ORs we review rarely have sufficient granularity. In other words, they don’t state what each camera is supposed to be capturing precisely – what threat(s) they are deterring or preventing, or exactly what business information is required.

Worse, many companies (partly because of this lack of forethought and documentation) just apply a blanket set up to all cameras: applying standard frame rates and resolution across their entire CCTV estate, for example.

It may seem onerous to work out and document why each and every camera you have is being deployed. However, it’s crucial work considering that it is likely to be there collecting video recordings for over five years before it’s considered for replacement or decommissioning.

ICO Requirements

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) demands this OR information anyway. You need to justify why you need a CCTV camera in each location where one is installed, and whether any other options that were less intrusive could have been deployed.

As part of the Data Privacy Impact Assessment (DPIA), the ICO demands a document about how the CCTV will be used and how long you will keep the recordings. You should also explain how you plan to keep the recordings secured, and the responsibilities of your staff in relation to CCTV. There are lots more requirements detailed on the ICO website and you must register with them also.

No default setups

Secondly, it is important when cameras are set up originally not to deploy them on standard, default ‘out of the box’ settings. Avoid ticking through all the standard settings to get cameras live as quickly as possible. This approach normally renders your system un-optimised. It can also render them a cyber security network vulnerability. This lazy option frequently costs the business more money and operatives more time because, very often, those inefficiencies are not spotted for months or even years. In some cases, inefficiencies are never identified and rectified.

Make sure the camera equipment and software you have selected offers ‘Advanced Settings’ which enables the necessary granular configuration. It may cost a little more for devices and software which offer this granularity and flexibility. However, in larger CCTV systems it may save thousands of pounds in the long run in terms of bandwidth usage, storage space, even RAM and CPU utilisation.

Review initial configurations

Thirdly, review the camera and video management system configuration about a month after initial system has gone live to make sure cameras are delivering the right video evidence, to the right quality. Often at this stage, managers running CCTV systems uncover new uses for cameras which require configuration changes.

For example, with a camera deployed to monitor footfall through a covered shopping centre, it might be found that certain cameras need to be used to provide evidence in a rising number of ‘slip and fall’ insurance claims. Because evidential requirements are more onerous in this case, the cameras covering certain areas may need to deliver higher quality video and hold it for longer.

It’s also advisable to review performance of cameras installed outdoors as seasons change. So as winter approaches, cameras can be checked for performance in lower light conditions, evening glare or during heavy rain. Is the fact that the sun is lower for longer creating a vulnerability in some areas at dusk? Video recordings must be reviewed and the cameras and cabling itself checked for evidence of water ingress or vandalism, for example.

Apply camera firmware and VMS software updates regularly

Fourthly, make sure camera firmware is kept up to date. At least once a year video management software (VMS) should also be updated to the latest version, complete with cybersecurity patches. Firmware and software updates often contain performance enhancements so staying on top of this is critical for running an optimised system that will deliver for you.

IT infrastructure double-check

Finally, you must ensure underlying IT infrastructure is adequate and sufficiently specified to handle the large volumes of video any system will require. Video data is very different from other types of data flowing through a corporate network. Servers with the latest Windows operating system, storage devices, networking equipment will all need to be specified and configured correctly for optimum video data processing.

Summary

Although this is not an exhaustive list of areas to focus on when setting up, upgrading or re-configuring your CCTV systems, it provides a good guide for getting started. If you need an expert eye to run over your documentation or check your systems, please contact our support team at 0151 633 2111 or leave your details via this contact page.

Published on December 1st, 2020 by Kevin Bowyer

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