Are Your CCTV Cameras Broken?

Author: John Honovich, Published on Dec 01, 2010

Broken cameras are some of the most common and, ironically, solvable problems in video surveillance. Not only does this undermine confidence in users, it hurts public perception as broken cameras are viewed as wasted money.

A good example of this is a scathing critique by the UK's "Big Brother Watch". In their 23 page, anti-CCTV screed, the most common and compelling argument is how often cameras are broken.

Over the years, we've seen similar issues over and over again in different cities, applications, products, etc.

While most surveillance problems are the result of manufacturers, out of service surveillance systems are often the result of poor planning by security end users.

We see 3 core issues:

  • Failing to budget for long term system costs
  • Underestimating outdoor issues
  • Factoring in wireless maintenance costs

Let's break them down.

Failure to Budget

When deploying a system, almost all the attention goes to the cost and functionalities of the new products. While this is no doubt important, ignoring the costs for ongoing maintenance/monitoring is a common problem.

We understand that it can be hard for security end users to 'go back' and ask for more money. Tight budgets, security as a cost center, lengthy allocation processes, etc, etc. However, if you don't figure this out up front it will lead to ongoing problems (even with the 'best' products and installations).

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As a rule of thumb, users should allocate 10-15% of initial installation price for annual service costs. If you spend a million dollars on a new system, you should have at least $500,000 to maintain it over the next five years. For background, review our LinkedIn discussion on pricing for maintenance contracts.

Underestimating Outdoor Issues

Outdoor cameras are significantly more likely to fail than indoor ones due to the elements (storms, heat waves, blizzards, cold freezes, hurricanes, monsoons, salt water, etc., etc.). While the specific conditions will vary by geographical region, cameras outdoors will fail.

Making matters worse is that servicing equipment outdoors is more difficult and costly. If the cameras are mounted high or out of the way, you often need to deploy a bucket truck to make even a simple repair.

Outdoor servicing can get quite expensive and can often result in delays (coordinating the right equipment to the site, etc.)

If you have a lot of outdoor cameras, it is especially critical to ensure you have a funded maintenance plan in place.

Secondly, if those cameras are PTZs (and outdoor cameras are often, if not usually PTZs because of the large areas covered), they are much more likely to fail than fixed cameras. For instance, most fixed cameras come with 2 to 3 year warranties but most PTZ cameras only have 90 day warranties (when they "are at any time used in continuous motion applications" - see the Axis warranty terms as an example).

Wireless Costs

Maintaining an outdoor wireless video surveillance system is much more complicated than a wired one. Every few months a new 'horror' story arises. The most recent is Scranton, PA's surveillance system. Also take a look at a good discussion we had in 2008 about other wireless failures.

In surveillance, wireless connections are generally unlicensed, low power and sensitive to obstructions. Unless it's very well designed and properly maintained, the chances that many of your wireless links fail is extremely high. Making it worse, many security integrators (and even IT integrators) are not wireless experts and can be hard pressed to optimize these systems.

Public Deployments - the Highest Risk

Because public, city wide deployments consist of almost entirely outdoor cameras and often wireless, these are the projects most likely to suffer from serious outages. And, as many examples attest, this is something that happens all too often.


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