1. Ignoring Environmental Factors in Monitored Areas
Ignoring environmental factors in monitored areas is the most common mistake made in CCTV deployment. The most intuitive example is ambient light level: insufficient or radically unequal lighting can result in undecipherable footage.
Other factors that you need to consider are:
- Ambient humidity, dust and vibration, which can severely impact the lifetime of the CCTV cameras, their storage media and their cabling.
- EM interference, which may require special provisioning for long-distance data cables.
Environmental factors should play a role when planning deployment and selecting equipment. Even indoors equipment is susceptible to bad lighting conditions or electrical interference, so you should not ignore these concerns simply because your company’s offices are in an air-conditioned, exemplary clean glass London building.
2. Ignoring the Monitoring and Storage Areas
Most CCTV users are primarily concerned with what they are monitoring, so they focus primarily on the cameras.
No pun intended – but this is not the complete picture.
If live monitoring is required, the operators have to work from a secure room, where access is strictly controlled and logged. This room needs to have an adequate size and lighting, and – since the equipment usually generates a lot of heat – adequate ventilation and temperature control. In fact, some businesses opt to do the live monitoring off-premises.
Even if live monitoring is not accessed, the recorded pictures need to be stored and archived in a secure location, as businesses are legally responsible for the security of their CCTV footage.
Make sure that your storage room is not affected by humidity and that it’s perfectly safe from extreme weather conditions.
3. Treating CCTV and IT Infrastructure Separately
Infrastructure convergence is no longer something that security professionals are debating. Even large enterprises, where physical security and IT have been separate functions virtually throughout the history of IT, are no longer talking about whether it makes sense to treat them together, but about how they can optimise this convergence.
Maintaining a separate network for CCTV equipment, set up separately from the rest of the office network, with separate maintenance procedures and servicing contracts is a significant management and financial burden. It reduces the flexibility of your security systems, while needlessly increasing infrastructure costs. Networking service providers have long recognized this tendency and have begun to offer integrated network design and cabling services.
4. Inadequate Data and Power Cabling
Although physical security and IT are no longer separate functions, they do have specific – and separate – requirements. CCTV cameras have special requirements that range from legal restrictions to specific provisions regarding power supply and data cabling.
Most indoors CCTV cameras today use Cat-5/6 cables for their data connections, just like desktop computers. Higher-speed cameras, or cameras used for outdoors deployment tend to use fibre optic cables, which can carry sensitive data at higher speeds and over longer distances. Due to their convenience, wireless cameras are becoming increasingly popular – but even these require power cabling (albeit, if the electrical installation is adequate, over much shorter distances).
However, each type of cable only works over a certain range of distances and has a special connection and interoperation requirements – for example, you cannot plug an optical SFP or OFP connector to your office router.
Mistakes made when choosing equipment tend to be costly to repair – and mistakes made while installing the cabling tend to be difficult to troubleshoot.
5. No Balance between Security and Maintenance
Good quality CCTV cameras are designed to be sturdy and reliable. If they are properly installed, most cameras end up being replaced due to growing customer demands or technical obsolescence, not because they break.
However, like all security equipment, CCTV cameras do need regular inspection and maintenance. It can be tempting to place cameras in inaccessible locations and permanently seal cables into their enclosures. Indeed, no one will be able to tamper with the cable or the camera – but changing a damaged cable or replacing the camera will be equally difficult.
It is crucial to think about your long-term investment here. Make sure that easy access to cables is granted and that the maintenance and repair teams can intervene quickly when there is a problem to be solved.
6. Not Following Legislation and Police Recommendations
Not the following legislation is the single most disastrous mistake you can make when it comes to CCTV cameras. Being recorded at work or in a public place is a problem that everyone takes seriously. Leaking or misusing recorded information can have disastrous consequences for the persons recorded, even when they are not caught doing anything illegal.
This is why the UK has very strict legislation related to what you can record and under what conditions. The fundamental act which governs how you are allowed to use information from CCTV cameras is the Data Protection Act (DPA) In short, according to the Data Protection Act, if you are using CCTV cameras on your London commercial property, you must:
- Let everyone know that CCTVs are being used and why (usually by putting up a sign announcing that “you may be recorded”).
- Keep images only as long as your business needs them.
- Be able to provide images within 40 days to anyone who has been recorded and, if you are asked, to the authorities.
The DPO itself is augmented by a number of other regulatory documents, primarily the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Protection of Freedoms Act (POFA). These requirements are outlined in the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, issued under the POFA. The ICO’s handy code of practice also includes a useful, more down-to-earth overview of your responsibilities.
The legislation in this field is very murky and probably best left to experts in matters of law. However, you should at least be aware of its scope, and you should ensure that any third-party you work with is aware of it as well.
7. Bad Storage and Archival Practices
Most CCTV footage is not used immediately after being recorded. At a minimum, many burglary attempts against commercial properties take place during the night, so it can be hours before someone retrieves the recording. In other cases, it may take days or even weeks before someone notices something wrong and decides to look at CCTV footage, or before an official request from the authorities is delivered.
Consequently, CCTV footage needs to be properly archived. The basic guideline is that your system should be able to store 31 days of good quality pictures; there is rarely any reason to reduce this period, but for some businesses, it can make sense to extend it.
Good storage practices are not just about storage capacity though. You also need to keep in mind that:
- All recordings must be retained in a secure environment with adequate access controls and logging.
- The tokens used to access secured data (passwords, encryption keys etc.) should be kept secure, only by authorised operators, but must be available at all times. Footage that can no longer be accessed is of no use.
- Footage should be archived and indexed so that the desired fragment (usually identified by date and time) is easy to locate.
8. Skipping System Validation
The installation of CCTV systems is often time and resource-constrained. Many operators are content to just turn everything on and make sure that every camera seems to be recording and producing footage.
This can be sufficient for simple , which only have one or two security cameras pointed at the doors. But for more complex projects, this level of validation is dangerous.
Have you ever noticed how “alien” CCTV footage seems – how everything looks warped, how the surroundings look remarkably static and narrow, and how various features are unexpectedly blurry, even though others are crystal-clear?
That is because CCTV cameras have optic parameters that are quite different from those of the human eye. Unfortunately, that makes it hard to verify parameters like coverage and image detail just by looking at a screen for ten seconds.
The Home Office’s CCTV operations manual instead recommends that a set of vital parameters be verified according to a documented test procedure, based on design specifications. These parameters cover features such as:
- Image parameters: field of view, image detail, live and recorded quality.
- Integration with any other security system components, such as alarms, access control, and motion detection systems.
- Storage time and quality.
Does all this seem too complex? We’re not going to lie – it can be. Especially if you want to make sure you the CCTV system monitoring your London office building is always functioning properly and is not easy to tamper with.
It may be tempting to purchase the cheapest cameras on the market and have your “tech guy” install them, but this will in no way guarantee your safety.