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Read This BEFORE You Add Security Cameras!

Video surveillance systems can be a useful tool when designed and installed correctly, and when the user has realistic expectations about what they can and cannot accomplish.  In many cases though, users will install video surveillance cameras as a “quick fix” when they are having a security problem, without considering that cameras may not be the correct solution.  Unfortunately, cameras installed under these circumstances rarely produce the desired results.

Whether you’re thinking about a camera for your front porch, an office complex, or a hospital, keep in mind the true success factor in what makes a surveillance system successful is the delivery of imagery that is actionable.  Simply put, surveillance video is only valuable if it can actually be used to help end users.  There are more volumes of information available about video analytics than we could possibly capture in a short blog, so we’ll leave that aside for now.  But here are three basic myths to consider about surveillance systems that commonly skew a user’s expectations.

MYTH 1 – Security Cameras Deter Crime

A conspicuous, commanding physical presence is required to deter crime.  And despite an almost universal belief otherwise, there is no conclusive evidence that video surveillance systems serve as a deterrent to crime.  Small package size of the camera itself in obscure locations lack a commanding presence.  While a few studies have shown that there may be a decrease in crime when cameras are installed in certain settings, such as parking garages, there are many more studies that have shown that the installation of security cameras alone has no effect whatsoever on crime rates.

While more independent studies are needed, the evidence at this point suggests that security cameras rarely prevent crimes from occurring, and almost certainly don’t deter crime to the degree that is implied by many sellers and installers of video surveillance equipment. There’s likely not a person on the planet that doesn’t know banks use cameras extensively, yet there are thousands of bank robberies every year.

So, the following should be considered when contemplating the deterrent effect of video surveillance cameras:

  • Most people who engage in criminal behavior don’t have the same thought processes that honest people do and don’t consider the long-term consequences of their actions.

  • Many people who commit crimes aren’t thinking rationally at the time they commit them.  They may be drunk, high on drugs, or suffering from some form of mental illness or trauma.

  • Smart criminals are well aware of the limitations of video surveillance systems and may plan their crimes around them, committing crimes just outside of the range of cameras.

  • Security cameras are generally inconspicuous, and people become desensitized to their presence after a short time.  While there may be an awareness of cameras when they are first installed, they soon blend into the environment, making regular occupants of the area almost oblivious to their presence.

MYTH 2 – Recorded Video is the Best Evidence

The goal of most video surveillance systems is to provide recorded evidence when a crime has been committed, allowing the criminal suspect to be quickly identified, captured, and prosecuted.  Ideally, the recorded video would show the criminal in the act: stealing the computer, vandalizing the car, or assaulting the victim.  Images on the recorded video would provide a good picture of the suspect, allowing facial features, clothing, and any distinguishing marks to be clearly recognized.  When the suspect is captured and brought to trial, the video evidence would be compelling enough that a jury would be convinced of the suspect’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

While this type of scenario is often played out on television shows and in movies, in the real world it can be difficult.  Most users of commercial video surveillance systems are deeply disappointed when they discover that the system that they have invested in can’t provide recorded video that is useful as evidence.  This dissatisfaction usually comes to light when the user reviews recorded images in an attempt to investigate a crime after the fact.  Complaints frequently heard are: “I can see the person, but can’t identify who it is;” “I can see the person, but I can’t see what they are carrying;” “I can see a car, but can’t tell the make or model or read the license plate;” or “the view of the camera is blocked in exactly the area that I want to see.”

Most problems related to the quality of recorded images can be attributed to the following:

  • Too few cameras with too wide a field-of-view: Cameras can view a wide area, or provide a high-level of detail, but not both.  Many cameras are set to view an excessively large area, which makes it impossible to positively identify people at most points within the scene.

  • Improper viewing angle: To best identify a person, a camera needs to have a relatively straight-on shot of the person’s face.  Many cameras are installed too high, at the wrong angle, or pointed so that they only see the side of the face or the back of the head.

  • Improper lighting conditions: Cameras need to have an adequate amount of light in order to see.  More importantly, the lighting needs to be in front of the subject and uniform throughout the viewing area.  Backlighting, too little light, or the combination of bright areas and dark areas within the viewing area will usually produce an image of poor, unusable quality.

While all of the problems identified above are solvable, the cost of doing so can be prohibitive in many applications. It can also be costly – imaging piping, powering, and monitoring a new camera system for a large facility that was recently purchased during an acquisition – can easily surpass 7 figures to have this done properly.

MYTH 3 – People are highly effective at monitoring security cameras

Each year, an incredible number of camera systems are bought in the United States with the objective of assigning staff or a security person to constantly monitor the scenes from the video cameras in real time.  The objective of such installations is that some sort of response may then be dispatched immediately, and an undesirable incident prevented or stopped, basically using the live person watching the monitor as a detector.  This is quite often an unrealistic approach to security.

Experiments were run at Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy to test the effectiveness of an individual whose task was to sit in front of a video monitor, demonstrated that after only 20 minutes the attention of most individuals has degenerated to well below acceptable levels.  Monitoring video screens is both boring and mesmerizing.  There are no intellectually engaging stimuli, such as when watching a television program.  This is particularly true if a person is asked to watch multiple monitors, with scenes of pedestrians milling about in various venues, in an attempt to watch for security incidents. Logically, as the number of cameras and monitors increase, the less effective a person will be in this situation.

Nevertheless, don’t abandon your plans to use them! These points are not meant to deter anyone from using video cameras. While they can, and in most cases should be part of the overall security plan, cameras are rarely a security solution in themselves.  Every application is different and requires a unique solution.  It is generally recommended that users identify specific operational requirements – be it for a security threat, public safety issue or other vulnerability – and develop a comprehensive security plan for their facility based on a security risk assessment.

The assessment should address all aspects of security, including security policies and procedures, employee training, architectural security, electronic security systems and, of course, the use cases for Autonomous Security Robots! If you think we can help with eye-level 360 degree live streaming and recorded video coupled with a large physical deterrence amongst a plethora of other capabilities, please feel free to schedule a private demo and remember, robots are immune!

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