Mark Thomas of iWatch believes remote CCTV monitoring has come of age.

12 April 2011

CCTV monitoring involving a Remote Video Response Centre (RVRC) is an area of security that operates steadily in the background. In recent years, however, security monitoring has become one of the key driving forces behind improving practice and standards within the security industry - a direct result of its effectiveness and efficiency. We have asked Mark Thomas, managing director of iWatch UK, one of the UK’s leading monitoring stations, to give us his thoughts on the current status of CCTV monitoring and where the future lies.

Comprehensive CCTV monitoring is made up of three constituent parts, namely the security equipment installed on site, the monitoring facility or RVRC and the transmission equipment that enables live video and audio communication between the two. This article explores each of these three parts in relation to providing the end user with an effective, end to end, security monitoring system. It highlights the need for quality throughout, despite the conflicting demands of what is predominantly a price driven market.

Firstly, it is important to consider the current standards for remote CCTV monitoring. The “BS 8418: Installation and remote monitoring of detector activated CCTV systems code of practice” has been designed to ensure a minimum standard of operation across the entire monitoring service.

The Standard provides essential design, installation, commissioning, operating and remote monitoring guidelines for remotely monitored CCTV systems and has been designed to raise the bar for monitoring, transmission and installation. It has, significantly, been endorsed by ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) who recognize that it will drastically reduce false alarms and prevent unnecessary police call out. The ACPO completely supports the standard and has recently extended the issuing of unique reference numbers, URNs (previously only issued to Intruder Alarm systems), to include these “Detector activated CCTV systems”, but only if they are BS 8418 compliant.

The effectiveness of a CCTV installation depends on the equipment used and the quality of the installation. Most manufacturing companies promote their products on the grounds of complex functionality. Purchasers would be wise to gather data on a product’s ability to deliver this functionality, both within a system and during operation, using BS8418 as a reliable guideline and benchmark. The quality and intelligence behind an end to end system dramatically influences its effectiveness. I would recommend that only installers who are NACOSS or NSI approved are used. These approvals indicate procedural compliance and that an agreed audit trail will be followed. They also demonstrate a willingness to be registered and inspected and a commitment to a high quality installation service. However, these approvals are still not confirmation that the systems they design and install function and operate with false alarm reduction or effective off-site monitoring as their goal. In future, we need to demand a BS 8418 accreditation for installers to ensure that they are sufficiently trained and competent. This must also extend to accrediting the CCTV systems they provide.

Installers can use BS8418 to their advantage when it comes to selling a CCTV system. There is likely to be a cost increase for a BS 8418 system, but the end user redeems the cost over time through reduced false alarms, reduced police call outs and ultimately improved crime prevention. If a system is not BS8418 compliant a URN necessary for a police call out, can only be granted for the intruder alarm part of the site security system. The CCTV system is then only used to visually verify the alarm.

A useful, independent, means of assessing a CCTV installation would be to invite the chosen RVRC monitoring station to carry out a soak test before the system goes live. This could highlight any system inadequacies and demonstrate whether the system is likely to elicit false alarms. The RVRC could provide a list of recommendations necessary to solve on-site problems and improve effectiveness. It is up to the end user to decide whether they choose to follow these recommendations but time and money will usually be saved if they do. A RVRC can always refuse to monitor a site if they deem the on-site system to be inadequate, using up too much valuable operator time, although this is obviously not a popular choice as they lose a potential customer. BS 8418 can be used as a means to insist on minimum site standards.

Choosing a RVRC is much easier than selecting and installing a CCTV system. RVRCs can be BS 8418 accredited and the benefits of choosing a compliant centre are very significant. BS 8418 approved stations have specifically trained, SIA approved staff. SIA approval includes a thorough police check to prevent those with criminal records working in security settings. The RVRC has to provide 24/7 monitoring and have a comprehensive back up system incase of network failure, power failure and other potential disasters. A BS 8418 RVRC will have specific procedures for handling incidents, logging their outcomes, calling the police and informing the end user. BS 8418 levels of service are difficult and challenging to provide and require a high standard of operator. This often comes at an increased cost, but again the pay back to the customer in terms of improved site monitoring, outweighs this cost. A BS 8418 approved RVRC will quickly detect an incident and then take immediate and appropriate action. This might range from simply asking unwanted intruders to leave a site to requesting a police response. Customers and the police are confident that all incidents are monitored and followed up correctly and the police are only called out to genuine incidents. This, in turn, has a beneficial effect on site insurance and safety coverage. The ACPO are dramatically reducing their window of response to alarms and a point will come when they will almost never waste their time on an unverified callout. Employers also have a duty of care to their employees and key holders and should only ever send staff out to a site once the cause of the incident is known and the site is deemed safe. Once again, a BS 8418 accredited remote monitoring station will ensure this is the case.

Data transmission is the final part to consider when developing a quality security system. Traditionally the chosen means of transferring data from a site to a RVRC was via ISDN lines. Unfortunately this old technology is slow and incidents can be missed in the time it takes to dial or transfer the data. IP based systems provide permanently open broadband connections and are far superior. They can use a variety of networks providers that are fast and efficient. In some cases CCTV manufacturers will provide a network connection as part of their service. The network is specific to CCTV needs, limiting the number of network users to ensure that data can be transferred at maximum speed at all time without priority conflicts. In order to comply with BS 8418 there must be a back up network available at all times incase of primary network failure. Just being able to verify there is a problem via “ping” type functions is not sufficient. Back up networks were, until recently, a very expensive option forcing the number of BS 8418 compliant transmission equipment manufacturers to remain significantly low. In very recent months, TeleEye, to its credit, has addressed this problem by partnering with Wireless Logic (part of the Phones International group) to provide an affordable back up via mobile phone networks and a fail-safe, second signal option. To my knowledge this is currently the only one available.

The future of end to end CCTV solutions seems a positive one. New technologies are developing all the time providing a broader range of improved functionality. RVRC stations now offer highly effective security solutions but can also provide site management services such as entry and exit monitoring, door and barrier management, car parking services and even details of customer flow through a retail outlet to name but a few. These environmental process and marketing management options help businesses and services to concentrate on their areas of expertise or improve their service. BS 8418 standards, will, I believe, spread into many new services to ensure quality provision and safe environments for employees, customers and service users

Video analytics is also a rapidly developing area within the CCTV security sector. New technologies are being developed to analyze video data in intelligent ways such as motion detection, behavioral analysis, ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition), facial recognition and more. Left luggage, unwanted intruders and unusual behaviours can all be identified and will initiate an alarm. This technology can prevent incidents and speed up data retrieval immensely. Companies are beginning to pioneer the combination of CCTV and intruder alarm systems and offering them as a one stop shop which will, I believe, lead to improved monitoring and surveillance services.

CCTV security management has come a long way. The honeymoon period is now well and truly over. What is needed now is a commitment by the Security Industry Association to ensure a quality provision. We need to listen to our potential customers and the police and find ways of identifying incidents without increasing the number of false alarms. This needs to happen across all three key areas of CCTV monitoring and BS 8418 would seem an obvious and effective starting point. As an industry, we must keep our customers’ priorities at the forefront of our decision making and remember that it is ultimately peoples’ lives and livelihoods we are trying to protect.

Mark is the Managing Director for iWatch UK. iWatch UK offers a unique combination of BS 8418 certification, 24/7/365 CCTV and intruder alarm monitoring services with off-site, duplicated system back up. The company’s remote monitoring service is suitable for single and multiple sites. iWatch UK is leading the way on quality, end to end, CCTV monitoring.