Understanding The Challenges of CCTV Monitoring


The role of CCTV surveillance can often be a crucial function, from spotting suspicious and unattended luggage, to identifying hostile reconnaissance.

When dealing with potentially critical situations, such as identifying suspicious activity and hostiles searching for vulnerabilities in a security system, the importance of an effective CCTV service is clear.

It is clear that motivated, attentive and observant security staff can form a highly-effective deterrent, but when the amount and type of information that an operator can take in is limited, how can you best prevent errors from occurring?

Recognising Human Limitations

The first step is in recognising and understanding that operators cannot, and do not, see everything.

We are limited in how much information we can process at any point in time, and research shows that tasks which require similar types of processing (e.g. listening to speech and reading, or two tasks that both need visual processing) are particularly problematic.

So what factors need to be considered?

External factors reduce the likelihood of an operator spotting suspicious behaviour:

  • Number of screens monitored
  • Method of monitoring (split screens vs single screen views)
  • Level of alertness
  • Room environment (too hot, too cold, too bright, too dim)
  • Field of view of cameras
  • Refresh rate / bandwidth issues on cameras

Internal factors minimising the detection of suspicious behaviour, or potential problems:

  • Limitations in observation due to divided attention, fatigue and distraction
  • Limitations in recalling an event
  • Personal beliefs and biases
  • Previous experience and knowledge

Maximise the opportunity of suspicious behaviour being detected:

  • Encourage teamwork between operators and security officers on the ground, with the team on the ground acting as an extension of the eyes and ears of the control room
  • Encourage reporting anything suspicious from other stakeholders in the environment, such as cleaners. This is especially important on sites that cover a large area as the more 'eyes on the ground' the better
  • Log details as soon as they are received, from radio messages or phone calls, not after an incident has played out. Humans have limitations in memory and their recall is easily influenced and tainted, making logging during evolving incidents an essential training task

Remaining Vigilant

Some control room tasks may need to be divided up on the basis of length of time for which an operator can continue to effectively carry out a particular task.

This is especially critical for monitoring tasks that require intense and sustained attention, because as time goes on, this attention may wane, and therefore detection of a person, object or other change in the environment may become less likely or slower.

Human attention span is limited, and tasks that require intensive sustained vigilance such as monitoring CCTV feeds for critical security breaches should be covered in brief shifts of around 20 minutes.

The best practice approach is to rotate tasks within a site, ensuring that the team maintain an understanding of 'norms' for the entire site, without viewing the same area for many hours a day which leads to gaps in cognitive awareness due to boredom.

Situational Awareness

It is important to be aware and have an understanding of the relevant aspects of a dynamic environment in order to best facilitate an appropriate course of action.

What does this mean for a control room? Knowing what's going on, where your resources are, and what to do about it.

Preparation must also be made for the transition from under-load to overload, which occurs when individuals or teams suddenly need to deal with a critical situation.

This can cause confusion as they are unable to cope with the sudden increase in demand for human cognition and leads to stress and reactive, sometimes unreasoned, decision making.

This is more often observed with less experienced security personnel.

Shift handover/briefing/debriefing are essential in maintaining situational awareness between operators in the control room. It is important to ensure an understanding is achieved between the departing and incoming operator of any incidents that may have occurred during the shift, any incidents that are ongoing, and generally anything that is 'out of the norm' for the environment.

Training & Understanding Processes

Regular training, refresher sessions and exercises are very beneficial in maintaining an effective CCTV service.

For example, camera patrols help operators practise the skills required when tracking a person of interest on camera, and improves familiarity with the site and spatial awareness.

Exercises are strongly recommended within the control room:

  • Factor in exercises from the outset to create an atmosphere of continued vigilance.
  • Use different time frames and different conditions.
  • Ensure that lessons learned are captured after exercises.
  • Ensure accepted standard operating procedures are assessed as a result of any learning.
  • Use feedback as a positive training tool.
  • Build a culture of reporting and responding by encouraging communication and removing barriers.


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