Eyes wide open

Published:  30 November, 2014

Digital technology is making CCTV a far more valuable tool in detecting and deterring suspicious activity on the mall

CCTV is one of the most important components of any shopping centre’s security provision, helping personnel in the control room identify and monitor criminal activity and emergency situations, arming them with the information they need to communicate with guards on the ground, and with police, for a quick and effective response.

Recent technological advances - including the move from analogue to IP network systems - has enabled CCTV to take great strides from the grainy images of old to a high quality image unimaginable ten years ago. The ever broadening range of camera lenses, from fish eye to 360 degree, means that a single camera can replace six or even eight, cutting down on costly infrastructure, and video analytics, offering a range of clever and automated functions, are coming to the fore.

Turning images and audio into data and transmitting it over a network or internet connection, IP-based cameras offer greater flexibility, better performance and easier installation than analogue, and are widely seen as the future of CCTV. While it has been available for 10 years, take up was initially slow and it has only been the last few months and years that there has been a real shift towards it.

“I’ve seen a big move from analogue to IP in the last 6-9 months,” says Gary Trotter, general manager, Hadrian Technology. “Before there was a problem with economies of scale but we’ve reached the tipping point now and the price has reached a point where it’s available to the masses. For the first time IP sales at Bosch overtook its analogue business and I wouldn’t be surprised if manufacturers stopped making analogue in the next six months.”

“With IP now you can get six times the picture quality for not much more than the cost of analogue,” he adds. “When the recession hit in 2008 most shopping centres had their budgets cut and had a list of likes and needs. A CCTV upgrade often found itself in the ‘nice-to-have’ category but centre owners might be surprised at how cost effective new systems can be.”  

According to Keith Douglas, security consultant at Property Solutions, CCTV is out of date in many shopping centres and isn’t being used to its full potential. The problem, he says, is that once installers have been in and specified what’s required, building managers add to it, and because it can be a hugely costly operation, they sometimes take shortcuts.

“CCTV systems are often initially specified by security installers and later added to by facilities managers and building managers,” he says. “One of the problems is that neither party tends to undertake a security risk assessment, which will identify specific vulnerabilities, identify threats, undertake impact analysis and consider proportionate countermeasures in terms of risk. There may also be a shortfall when it comes to emergency planning and continuity, such as Cloud storage, uninterrupted power supplies, remote monitoring and back-up networking ability.”

Peter Savva, associate director of response at Ward Security, has similar concerns. With many shopping centres having increased in capacity since the installation of their surveillance systems, CCTV is often in need of an upgrade, but it is often left as is rather than being tweaked and enhanced to accommodate the changes.

Despite costs having dropped considerably, CCTV systems are a big investment, but there is the option of a phased switchover between analogue and IP - with the existing analogue system coded into an IP recording platform - so that budgets can be stretched over several years until a full upgrade is viable.  

“There are a lot of analogue cameras still out there and they can be costly to replace so there is a real mixture in levels of investment and technology,” says Karl Pardoe, regional sales manager, UK and Ireland at March Networks. “But there are ways of getting the maximum use out of existing systems - mixing and matching analogue and IP for a hybrid system tends to work well and there are ways of utilising analytics.”

Ward Security will go in and do on-site checks, looking at existing systems from a fresh approach and bringing in best practice - are the cameras in the best places? Is there data compliance? - highlighting to the client where there are breaches and what needs to be tightened up on, if necessary.

“Where there are budget constraints, companies can work with a mixture of old and new technology,” says Carl Davies, CCTV project manager at Ward Security. “People don’t want to spend a small fortune so we’ll look at how they can get the maximum out of the system they’ve already got. We’ll attend site, conduct a survey, think about what security needs to see and come up with a bespoke system according to the budget.”

When it comes to developments in camera technology and image quality, concentration has been on the use of HD and megapixel cameras, and those with 360 panoramic view capability and fish eye lenses. The next development is 4K CCTV and at 4x HD it has the equivalent image quality of eight megapixel cameras.

“These advances greatly improve playback quality enabling the security team to react to an incident quickly rather than having to track hours of footage,” says Trotter. “Control room staff use a joystick for greater control, and can look at a whole scene, zoom into any area and achieve facial recognition. Investment in this kind of technology should make it easier to identify petty theft, an unattended bag or a lost child. And it offers more flexibility.”

And there are other benefits. CCTV can be used not only to detect crime and threats but as measuring devices to discern footfall, flows and hotspots and to monitor specific promotions or staff performance. It can also spot health & safety issues, provide examples for training or help to deal with insurance claims, particularly in slip & trip cases.

One of the biggest concerns for Hadrian Technology’s clients is mitigating slip & trip claims and according to Trotter they are paying out millions in compensation and legal fees unnecessarily because while many of the incidents are manufactured by fraudsters, the landlord is often seen to be guilty until proven innocent.

“Putting in better quality CCTV has paid for itself in six months in some cases because it’s been used effectively to mitigate slip & trip claims,” he says.

 

Video analytics

Video analytics has made it possible for cameras and CCTV systems to fulfil a plethora of added functions, many of them automated. It can identify packages, track objects or spot missing items, change fire safety procedure according to the level of traffic or even focus on a specific bit of equipment to detect malfunction.

“Video analytics transforms CCTV into a detection system,” explains Davies. “Staff can pick a square from the scene they’re looking at and zoom into it to record people’s faces and there are cameras that will automatically raise an alarm in the control room if it picks up something unusual. Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) cameras have a number of benefits and are being used more and more.”  

Bosch has products that can search for an object of a certain size or colour, moving in a certain direction, bringing up a list of ‘videoclick’ thumbnails within three seconds so that a person can be found in seconds rather than in what could have taken half an hour of going through playback footage, Trotter points out.

And there are other functions. Security guards can drag and drop four different cameras, and four different viewpoints, onto a single screen so they can look at multiple parts of the centre at the same time whilst controlling each camera separately  - zooming in with one, for example, and playing back another. If there is a suspicious object on the mall, this kind of functionality can help to highlight quickly when that object was left there.

While these video analytics can be invaluable, Douglas says there are often problems in utilising some of the newer features with operators unfamiliar with the capabilities and in need of further training. But he thinks when used properly, analytics could enable shopping centres to better utilise man power.

With uptake picking up and costs going down, these technologies are fast becoming a viable option, but there are associated challenges, not least data storage and compliance with the Data Protection Act.  

Trotter explains: “The challenge now is storage. The more the quality of cameras improves, the more storage is needed, the more expensive it becomes. And with companies looking at power consumption there’s a need to be green so that’s another issue.”

The problem, according to Pardoe, has been that the security industry has had to wait for IT to catch up and to get to the  stage where it is feasible for hard drives to store the data recorded by IP-based CCTV systems.

“Storage is expensive and the suitable hardware needs to become more financially viable,” he says.

Compliance

CCTV can be a sensitive issue both with the public and campaigning privacy groups and according to CameraWatch, a not-for-profit advisory body that supports CCTV users’ understanding and compliance with current policy and legislation, over 90 per cent of CCTV systems observed fail to meet the requirement placed on them by the Data Protection Act (DPA). Even the police have fallen foul of data protection laws after Kent Police was fined £100,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office in March, for abandoning police interview tapes at a former station.  

One effective way to ensure data is stored and protected is to have a central office off-site where all data is sent and stored, removing the need for complex IT infrastructure needed to keep information on-site. It would also mean that information could only be accessed if there has been an incident and police could go straight to the central office to request data rather than disturbing the running of the centre. Several shopping centres might use a single well-respected company to store their data and regulations could be more easily applied to make sure that data is protected. And it would mean staff could be kept out of danger, monitoring a centre remotely in the case of fire or full evacuation in other emergencies.

For Pardoe, data storage rules need to be updated: “Traditionally, analogue recording tape has had to be stored for 31 days whereas in Europe that’s been brought down to 48-72 hours in some circumstances,” he says. “I think that’s where we’re moving. Most events are responded to in 24-48 hours so there’s no need to store 31 days’ worth of footage; I think that will come to an end.”

And there are other concerns, as Trotter explains: “IP is an open network so it’s no longer closed circuit and that makes it slightly less secure because it can be hacked into. That’s one thing the industry faces and it’s something the Data Protection Security Office is taking into consideration.”

The second key issue in compliance is to make sure the public is aware of why surveillance is in operation - the easiest way to do that is by putting up prominently placed signs that outline what the cameras are being used for and providing contact details of the company or authority responsible.

“By law people should have seen a sign stating that CCTV is in use before they actually appear on a camera,” says Douglas. “Once someone has seen a sign they are effectively giving their permission to be recorded.”

“Compliance is outlined in the Data Protection Act, the Protection of Freedom Act and the Freedom of Information Act, which is under review,” Douglas explains. “The Home Office issued the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice in June 2013, BSIA advises on the planning, design and installation of CCTV and ASIS provides free-to-download guidance. But there’s a real need to undertake a study on compliance because it’s difficult to know which sources to refer to.”

Douglas advises shopping centre managers to get in touch with their local Counter Terrorism Security Advisor (CTSA) for any queries about how CCTV can be better utilised. “They won’t contact you unless your centre is seen as a major security risk but do contact them; they
will be able to provide recommendations,” he says. 

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