Biggest Misconception Security Managers Have About CCTV

By Carlton Purvis, Published Apr 09, 2014, 12:00am EDT

Cameras for surveillance are a waste most of the time, according to security consultant John Strauchs. For this post, we interviewed him on misconceptions of CCTV and dealing with security managers.

The Biggest Misconception Security Managers Have About CCTV

There are three functions Strauchs says a video system can provide: Surveillance, forensics and automation. Forensics would be footage to review after something has occurred and automation he describes as using cameras to automate tasks, like facial recognition for access control (the least common use of surveillance which we will discuss more later in this post). Surveillance involves someone actually monitoring the cameras looking for things of interest.

Strauchs says the biggest misconception security managers have about CCTV is that is that adding cameras will provide surveillance.

“It can, but organizations never have the manpower required to do an effective surveillance program ... If you think about having an operator work an 8-hour shift, after about three or four hours, because of fatigue, they’re not seeing anything,” he said.

He says he’s hardly seen anywhere other than military facilities and prisons with effective surveillance programs. In those cases they were rotating operators every three to four hours.

“Office buildings and schools and businesses buy these with the notion they’re going to have surveillance, but it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Security Managers Should Know the Limitations of a System Before They Buy It

Too often managers get caught up in marketing hype and think they need a system based on demos or because a product is new. If they don’t have the technical background to really evaluate these products, they should bring someone in that can, he says. Strauchs says 80 percent of the time, sites are buying cameras with surveillance in mind -- they think they are going to be able to keep an eye on a site and watch for incidents.

“They think they’re going to catch crimes in progress or stop something before it occurs, but 50% of cameras at corporate sites don’t serve any purpose,” he says.

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He cites parking garages as an example. It’s almost impossible to get 100 percent coverage unless they’re willing to spend a large amount of money for cameras and monitoring staff. He recommends focusing on putting cameras where they will provide the most forensic value instead.

The Rule of Three

In some cases, security managers are already sold on a product (due to marketing) regardless of what a consultant tells them. In these cases Strauchs says he uses what he calls the rule of three.

“I say three things: Don’t do it. Please don’t do it. Then I ask ‘How do you want me to do it.’”

Ultimately if the customer wants it and it is just going to cause them to waste money, then he tries to help them find the best version of what they want, but says he has walked away from jobs where what a client was requesting could possibly cause harm or liability.

His rule of three actually has a fourth part too.

“Then I’ll put it in writing. I’ll write a letter saying I gave you this advice and this argument, but you want to do it anyway so I will do it,” he said.

Home Surveillance Recommendations

He had a somewhat puzzling recommendation for people looking for home surveillance. It wasn’t Dropcam, Comcast Xfinity, or any other popular system. Strauchs swears by trailcams.

“If someone was looking for a home system, I would tell them not to do video. I’d tell them to go buy some trap cameras and set them up in your house. It’s easy to set up and you’ll get good photos to give to police,” he said.

He said cheap home systems are “junk” and unless someone is willing to spend a lot of money they’re not getting much better quality than trailcams.

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