CCTV systems are an essential component of many London companies’ security arsenal. Their usefulness in preventing and investigating criminal activity has been recognized by CCTV users, security experts and investigators for more than twenty years now. But CCTV effectiveness should not be taken for granted. Every CCTV camera works right when you take it out of the box and install it. Proper, continued CCTV maintenance is what ensures that your system will work right when you need it.
We rely on CCTV cameras because they offer permanent surveillance. They allow us to monitor areas around-the-clock, and to archive the monitored footage so that it can be comprehensively reviewed at a later time or used during investigations.
In other words, what makes CCTV systems so effective is that they offer permanent and comprehensive surveillance of an area.
In this context, CCTV maintenance isn’t just an operational best-practice — it’s a part of an organisation’s security strategy, just like running anti-virus software on company computers is. It’s not something that makes CCTV cameras more effective, it’s what makes them effective in the first place.
First of all, criminal acts don’t occur on a fixed schedule. That’s why surveillance has to be permanent in order to be useful.
A criminal act that isn’t caught on camera can’t be investigated based on camera footage. Ensuring that your cameras work at all times is critical to ensuring their effectiveness.
Furthermore, not just any footage is useful. For example, blurry, out-of-focus images make it impossible to identify people or objects, and are generally useless during investigations. You want a system that works well, not one that just happens to power on.
Second, successfully carrying out a criminal act requires not just motivation: it also requires opportunity. Lapses in CCTV maintenance sometimes present with visible signs, and while most petty criminals are passive observers, some of them aren’t.
They can spot damaged or flimsy cameras, damaged cables or broken lenses — and they know an opportunity when they see one. Poor CCTV maintenance isn’t just detrimental to your organisation’s security efforts, it can also put you on the wrong people’s radar.
So the answer is an emphatic, unquestionable yes. Your CCTV systems need maintenance, and having CCTV maintenance procedures in place is essential to your organisation’s security strategy. All CCTV systems need maintenance because:
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So how do you go about implementing CCTV maintenance in your organization? Where do you start?
As with other operational elements of an organisation, the capital thing about CCTV maintenance is to have a plan. Think about what you want in a CCTV system: you want it to be reliable, predictable, and to provide continuous protection.
Your CCTV maintenance plan should mirror that. It should leave nothing to chance and it should be implemented continuously
The straightforward way to achieve that is to outline and implement a periodic CCTV maintenance procedure. CCTV systems, though extremely diverse, perform a well-understood core set of functions, which makes it easy to compile a comprehensive list of tests and maintenance actions that you can carry out on a regular basis.
These tests and maintenance actions are usually compiled in a CCTV maintenance checklist. The checklist is what keeps your CCTV maintenance procedure reliable and comprehensive. It lists every item that you have to check as part of the maintenance procedure.
Of course, a to-do list is only as good as the way it’s carried out. CCTV maintenance procedures also need a reliable schedule and a clear responsibility chain. In other words, you need to know who does what, and when.
In short, a solid CCTV maintenance procedure should have:
Let’s look at all these things in detail.
The CCTV Maintenance Checklist
The CCTV maintenance checklist is the most important part of your CCTV maintenance procedure, and it’s one of those things where there just isn’t much room for compromise. If you rely on a camera’s feature or capability, then it has to be on the checklist.
Since CCTV cameras have a wide range of features and configuration options, there is no single checklist to rule them all. There is a core set of items that you need to check on all cameras, such as ensuring that the camera lens is clean, but you’ll need to compile one specific to your installation.
The good news? The most important instrument in compiling this checklist is common sense. Engineering expertise, the saying goes, is just common sense and a bit of mathematics.
So what should be on your CCTV maintenance checklist? You want to verify every functional aspect of you CCTV system, including:
Let’s take a more detailed look at a CCTV security checklist.
A visual inspection is the first, and often the most effective CCTV maintenance tool at your disposal. This is where you should start.
Remember that physical tampering usually leaves physical proof. Screws and connectors don’t come off by themselves — if any of them are missing or show obvious signs of damage, you should check the recordings as well!
Ambient conditions are an important thing that CCTV system designers and installers consider before picking a type of camera and its location. However, ambient conditions can change, and you need to re-evaluate them periodically.
The optical components of a CCTV camera are critical to its functioning. Optical components tend to be more sensitive to damage than other parts, so you need to be extra careful with them.
If everything so far is in working condition, that’s great news! There’s every chance that the assumptions and conditions that were in place when the CCTV system was designed and install still hold.
It’s time to check that the eyes of your security system are safely connected to its brain.
Many cameras can rotate, pan, tilt and zoom. If you rely on these features on any of your cameras, you should check them!
CCTV cameras are only the eyes of your security system. Your CCTV maintenance procedure should not be limited to the cameras alone — it should also ensure that any associated equipment is in good working order.
If you use any additional software to log, archive or process video footage, you need to verify it as well. Your CCTV maintenance procedure should cover not just advanced features, such as automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and vehicle access logging.
Also, check the basic capabilities as well — video archival and backup, for example. It’s also useful to schedule surveillance logging, archival and supervision operations along with CCTV maintenance operations as well.
How Often Should I Schedule CCTV Maintenance?
There are no legal or engineering constraints about how frequently you should schedule CCTV maintenance. Any frequency that allows you to keep equipment in working order is adequate
Your scheduling should be based on the requirements of your organisation, the level of threat you expect, and on the capabilities and requirements of your CCTV system.
As a rule of thumb, any CCTV system should be comprehensively verified at least once a year. Simple CCTV systems, consisting of no more than a few cameras and no advanced software, don’t need that much attention.
You should consider doing a full check-up more frequently if:
In addition to that, you should do a full checkup any time you observe or suspect that the system has been tampered with, or if you have any reason to suspect that you may be under threat.
You can also schedule some basic inspection and preventative operations more frequently than others. A basic physical inspection of all cameras can catch problems or tampering attempts, and it can be done frequently without much of an impact.
Outlining Responsibilities, Tools, and Standard Operating Procedures
In addition to the maintenance operations themselves, a solid CCTV maintenance procedure involves some administrative effort on the side. A thorough inspection can detect problems, but simply logging them somewhere doesn’t solve anything.
Preventative actions can prolong the life of equipment, but some of it will inevitably break.
It’s important to be ready to deal with problems when they occur.
This usually involves several things:
It’s important to know who performs operations and when. Many organisations, including large ones, supplement basic, frequently-scheduled in-house maintenance operations with more infrequent, but more thorough check-ups by external auditors or experts.
Whatever you choose, it’s important for the checklist not to fall through the cracks of your responsibility chain.
It’s also important for everyone to know what equipment and tools they can use. Many problems require only general mechanical tools, like screwdrivers and pliers.
But other problems are more difficult to diagnose and solve, and require more advanced equipment.
For example, cables that can’t be easily accessed over their full length can be difficult to test and diagnose. Specialized equipment, such as time-domain reflectometers (TDRs) may be required in this case.
It’s important to know what CCTV maintenance equipment is available, and to know when more advanced procedures than what’s available need to be performed.
Many preventative operations can be performed on the spot. A loose screw can be tightened, a dirty lens can be cleaned.
But what about items that need to be replaced?
Verification is only meaningful insofar as the people performing it know how to take corrective action. That involves guidelines about what purchases can be made with or without approval, what CCTV maintenance tools are available, how to contact suppliers, or which operations require outside expertise and which operations can be performed in-house.
CCTV and security equipment is long-lived, so the history of maintenance operations performed on it can span over many, many years. Furthermore, not all of it is fully performed with in-house personnel.
Consequently, it’s usually a good idea to establish a documentation trail. At a minimum, you should document the following details for each CCTV maintenance procedure:
Maintenance sessions are not just a way to keep your system secure. They’re also a good opportunity to improve you maintenance procedure, and you should take advantage of it whenever you can.
If you find that any additional verification, preventative actions or CCTV maintenance tools and equipment are needed, you should document that as well.
Recommendations and Conclusions
CCTV maintenance is an essential component of any organisation’s security strategy. Timely, thorough maintenance is the only way to ensure that a CCTV system can keep you safe 24/7.
Most organisations choose to perform CCTV maintenance procedures based on a checklist. This checklist enables you to verify all relevant functionality in a reliable and traceable manner.
Most items on the checklist apply to any equipment and organisation, but we encourage you to adapt and improve your CCTV maintenance checklist and procedure based on your organisation’s requirements and on your own experience with your own installation.
At the end of the day, a CCTV installation is only a means to an end. No one is a better arbiter of its efficiency and shortcomings than yourself.
But this doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself. CCTV maintenance is a time-consuming task, especially without the right personnel and the right tools. Luckily, we have both! Let us take CCTV maintenance off your plate so you can focus on what you do best – run your business.