The World's Most Demanding Surveillance Requirements

By Carlton Purvis, Published Apr 01, 2013, 12:00am EDT

Qatar, the world's wealthiest country, is known for its opulence and may soon be for its mandatory first-rate surveillance systems. While many countries struggle with low quality, antiquated systems, Qatar seems intent on making every business in the country have world class surveillance. Indeed, recently, the government took control of specifications.

In this post, we review the details and share experiences from an integrator with first-hand experience working under the country's new laws. 

Background

In 2011, Qatar, created a Security Systems Department to regulate and oversee all security operations throughout the country. Last week, the agency launched a new website, which for the first time puts all of Qatar's government-mandated surveillance specs online [link no longer available].

For Qatar, it's not just about upgrading surveillance, the country also sees it as a national defense initiative, even requiring some cameras and control rooms to be accessible through the National Command Center. 

Six manuals, available for download from the SSD website [link no longer available], describe the specifications in English and Arabic:

All cameras must be Megapixel IP, tamper and vandal proof and the system must store all recordings for a minimum for 120 days in MPEG-4 or H.264 format or better. Moreover, key required features include:

  • WDR, auto-iris and analytics required.
  • Infrared cameras must be used in dark areas.
  • Recordings require an audit trail.
  • Operators are prohibited from monitoring more than nine cameras on a monitor and limited to eight hour shifts.
  • The systems must have a minimum of one hour back up power.
  • Systems must be secure with "the latest" encryption without impacting video quality
  • The system must have service agreements in place for cleaning, repair, maintenance, upgrades and fitness checks. 

Additionally, control rooms must be monitored around the clock, year round and operators are limited to eight-hour shifts.

Moreover, the government requires very dense camera coverage across facilities, far more cameras than is commonly used even in professional systems. For example, in banks, these are just a sampling of required areas for cameras:

 

Before any construction can start, a company must submit blueprints, schematics and a proposal for its planned surveillance system to the Qatari Ministry of the Interior [link no longer available] for approval.

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Few Exemptions

Our source learned through experience that there is almost no wiggle room in the new laws. However a few rare exemptions exist. For example, cameras must be IK-10 certified, but there is an exemption for the AXIS Q6035-E, which is IK-09 rated "they said it is close enough to IK10." 1.3 MP is listed as a requirement, but AXIS cameras are approved at 1.2. These exemptions may apply to comparable brands, he said.

Inspections

Once a building is completed it is inspected, and if it is not up to code, businesses can be banned from opening for a year and subject to fines. Most government databases in Qatar are linked so problems with a surveillance system can have impacts across services. For example, one hotel is blocked from issuing tourist visas until its CCTV system is up to code. The same goes for renewing business licenses and billboard permissions. 

Local Limitations on Sales / Integration

For those companies looking to participate in this 'gravy train', be warned that Qatar has restrictions on who can own and work at security integrators. It will not be easy or simple to set up business there. However, manufacturers of higher end products may want to step up marketing efforts to local, approved companies.

Positives

There are clearly upsides to a mandating high-quality surveillance systems:

  • Selling is easier because there is little need to convince clients about adding extra cameras, or buying higher quality.
  • Some think the new laws will help get rid of bad equipment and cheap integrators. Because integrators are subject to ratings from the MOI (based on their design plans), trying to cut corners or submitting plans with technical problems can result in an integrator being banned from the CCTV business for a year. “Before the new laws ... the market was filled with cheap installers and the main contractors who issue CCTV bids simply wanted the cheapest,” our source says. “I installed systems I loathed simply because the tender specs out garbage equipment.” With the new laws, he says he works on higher quality, more enjoyable projects. 

Negatives

On the other hand, there are certainly negatives:

  • Camera counts must be radically expanded, as the coverage requirements are very strict and broad. For example, a 150 camera deployment more than tripled after the requirements were released.
  • Businesses have had to rip out existing, working systems to get up to code, because of the prohibition of IP-over-coaxial and analog systems as well as the requirement for megapixel. Less than a month after finishing a hotel surveillance system that used analog cameras with "cheap" DVRs, the Ministry of the Interior mandated the new specs. Within weeks, an integrator was rehired to install a new system that would meet government specifications.
  • Another concern is the cost for businesses to upgrade. “There is no room to save money with the new laws,” says the IPVM member in Qatar. “They are inherently expensive, both in terms of the camera type, the camera quantity, and the storage amount.”

While we doubt this is a template for many other governments, this is certainly a fascinating case. What Qatar is mandating as a minimum requirement meets or exceeds what is used even in most of the wealthiest multi-national corporations. 

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