Installing CCTV the right way
Today, CCTV systems are common in most areas of our lives. Whether this is a good thing or not is a different story, but it is important that if you are in any way responsible for a CCTV system then you should ensure that it is as good as it can be. Too often we CCTV systems that are obviously a result of a box-ticking exercise – no thought or effort was put into the design and installation. This is a sad thing to see and should not be accepted. You wouldn’t install a lighting system that leaves areas in darkness or create rooms with no doors, so why have CCTV that does not do its job?
This might seem like an odd thing to say, surely if you put CCTV in a room then it is covered – box ticked? Maybe you get lucky, and the camera does provide some good coverage of the area but what is going on in that room, and what actually needs to be covered?
Before making, numbers and types of cameras are discussed every installation should have an operational requirement. This might sound difficult, but this simple document can be used at many stages of the installation and will help make the system as good as it can be.
What should an operational requirement document contain? In its most simple form, the document should detail the overall reason for the CCTV system’s purpose and each area’s specific requirements.
If we take a small ‘corner’ shop as an example we could say the following: the CCTV system’s primary purpose is to reduce theft of stock. This statement may seem obvious, but it is important to have a clear understanding of what the system is trying to achieve – in this case the reduction of theft. So, once you have this established, it is important to work on the elements that could help prevent and detect theft. It is always worth remembering what would be useful for an investigation into an incident. The more cameras you have the more information you will collect and use but if you don’t have the right cameras in the right place you could be missing the vital detail on all of the cameras.
In our shop scenario, overview cameras should be used to monitor and detect theft. This could mean that 5 cameras are used to cover every angle in the store. Usually, overview cameras would be positioned to look down over an area – this generally gives the best results for this requirement. The downside is that you reduce the cameras’ ability to capture good images of the suspect’s face and clothes. This is not a problem as these cameras are doing what you want them to do – capturing evidence. It becomes theft when someone takes an item and walks out of the shop without paying for it. These overview cameras should be able to provide this evidence – ie suspect A takes an item from the shelf and places it in their pocket. To assist an investigation, it is vital that an identifiable image of the suspect is obtained. In our shop example, every entry point should have a camera positioned in such a way that it captures id images of everyone that walks in – in all conditions. If they have a baseball cap on or the sun is setting outside the door – the cameras need to be able to capture their face clearly. This camera should be high resolution, recording at a high resolution and frame rate, positioned lower down, and be able to cope with extreme lighting conditions. This will dramatically increase the likelihood of a positive identification being made. Conversely, overview cameras do not necessarily need to be as highly specified – coverage is more important than the detail. It is worth noting that most cameras have standard-setting that work in most situations. The backlight setting often known as WDR (wide dynamic range) is usually switched off by default. The images captured by a camera that is looking at a door will benefit dramatically with WDR set correctly at certain times of the day and night. If the standard settings are not changed you might see a good image when setting the camera up but when you review footage as the sun is lower in the sky you can only see a silhouette of the person. This attention to detail makes all the difference and separates a good system from a bad one.
In our small shop example, CCTV installed in the right way based on the operational requirement will result in increased usefulness of a CCTV system. Police resource is under huge pressure and if the shop is able to provide stills of the offense and a clear image of the person backed up by the video evidence then it is less likely to be screened out due to lack of evidence. It is unlikely that this will result in a custodial sentence but will likely stop this person stealing from this shop – thus achieving the operational requirement to reduce theft of stock.
The requirement document can also be used as a basis for a tender for a system and a measure of the system’s installed ability to meet the requirement.
Choosing the right camera
Once you have an operational requirement for the entire system and individual cameras you can then start to look at the hardware. Cameras fall into one of two groups – Analogue and Digital. Older cameras tend to be analogue with newer cameras being digital, also commonly known as IP.
Analogue cameras use a coax cable to transmit the video signal from the camera to the recording device – which is often digital. The quality of older analogue camera systems can be fairly low definition compared to the latest IP cameras – as you would expect. The difference is like comparing VHS video to SKY Q. Analogue systems can still be of use and if set up correctly and maintained can continue to give years of continued good service. You would not specify a new analogue CCTV system today.
There is a system that allows analogue cables to be used to give HD CCTV results. These Turbo systems are a good way to improve your CCTV system on a budget – you can save the cost of installing new cables – which can be the most expensive part of an upgrade. There are a few drawbacks but for a lot of cases, this is a very cost-effective way to upgrade. This hybrid solution is a very good bridge between old and new technology and has been developed extensively by many manufactures and has a lot of very useful functionality. It is definitively worth considering if you have an existing system that would be difficult and expensive to re-cable. You would be limited to putting cameras in existing locations, but additional cameras can be added – you are able to mix turbo cameras with IP cameras on the same hybrid device.
IP cameras use a standard ethernet cable and network infrastructure to connect to the recording device. This allows for greatly improved bandwidth for the cameras – allowing for extremely high-definition images to be captured and stored. Systems can be standalone or fully integrated into the corporate IT network – either way, your CCTV cameras will be available from any authorised device within the network and beyond if you choose. IP cameras are what you would install if you had the option and funds.
Both turbo and IP cameras come in a number of forms and can be rated for indoor or outdoor use. Choosing the right camera and bracket can make all the difference.
The most common types of cameras are dome, turret, bullet, and PTZ. There are a couple of other types of cameras that I will detail later.
Dome cameras are one of the most common types of cameras installed. As the name suggests dome cameras have a clear dome or bubble with a camera in. These cameras are generally fixed. This means that when the engineer installs the camera they fix the camera in a particular direction and this cannot be changed remotely – an engineer would need to physically visit the site and make an adjustment at the camera end. These are the type of cameras you would use to monitor a fixed location – an entrance to a building for example.
Typical dome cameras
Turret cameras are becoming very popular and are similar in design and function to a dome camera. The turret design allows for more and better lighting options. For fixed camera solutions, these are the camera of choice for most applications.
Typical turret camera
Bullet cameras are a more traditional type of CCTV camera design and are more suited to external applications. These cameras are generally larger, and this allows for more capability. ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras are generally always bullet cameras. They can have larger lenses and better zoom capabilities.
Typical bullet camera
PTZ – Pan, Tilt and Zoom – cameras are, as the name suggests, able to move. These cameras can come in many different formats. Traditionally these cameras are controlled by a human. The camera can be used to ‘look’ around an area and they are very useful in many situations. The drawback is that they can be looking in the wrong direction and miss an event. This is where proper design is needed to ensure that proper cover is given. It would be very unlikely to have a CCTV system that is comprised of only PTZ cameras. The latest generation of PTZ cameras have AI built-in and are able to track events without the need of a human. If you have a camera overlooking a yard, the camera can be set up to track any movement overnight when the site is closed. The camera will zoom in and track humans with ease – this could be an intruder or a security guard. This can provide better images in the event of an issue and increase the level of security provided.
Typical PTZ camera
Thermal cameras can come in various forms and they are becoming an option for more organisations as the price has reduced. They are still more expensive compared to optical cameras but can become viable as they have unique properties that can reduce the number of cameras required, which in turn reduces that installation cost. Perimeter protection is an area when thermal cameras really come into their own. They are able to monitor huge areas for heat signatures and give a reliable alert when a heat source is detected. They can also be used to monitor machinery and operations for increased temperatures – potentially alerting a fault before it becomes a problem. They can be used for elevated body temperatures in humans – an indicator of Covid. They are also able to highlight even very small heat signatures – high-risk areas, where smoking is not permitted, can be monitored and the cameras will alert if it sees the ‘cherry’ on the end of a cigarette.
Typical thermal camera
There are also cameras that are called fisheye or 360-degree cameras. These cameras are extremely wide-angle and require software to de-warp the image to make is look ‘normal’. These cameras do not provide a lot of detail but do provide extreme coverage of an area. You can retrospectively PTZ around an area from a recording. These cameras are extremely useful overview cameras and in the right situation and used in conjunction with fixed IP cameras can be a valuable part of a system.
Typical fisheye camera
All of these IP cameras are able to run analytics that can be of great use and make systems more beneficial to the operator. People counting CCTV systems can let you know how many people are within a site and give an indication if all personnel have evacuated during an emergency such as a fire. Queue lengths in a shop can be monitored, and additional positions can be opened to alleviate waiting times. Heatmapping can be used to monitor a shop floor – the effectiveness of displays can be assessed by seeing the areas where people stop the longest. Areas can be automatically monitored for fly-tipping
– cameras can send an alert when something is left in an area where it shouldn’t – suspects can easily be identified, images can be used in prosecutions and the rubbish can be cleared quickly. Cameras can monitor the direction of travel for people or cars and flag is someone or something is moving in the wrong direction – useful for crowd control situations.
I hope that his article helps you understand the importance of planning your CCTV system and gives you an idea of how upgrading your CCTV could improve the security and operation of our business.
If you would like to discuss in more detail your requirements and how ACCL could assist you and your company please get in touch and we will be delighted to help.