Hi-Tech Security Systems - Human Factor Articles

Contributing Editor - Dr Craig Donald

Focussing CCTV Operator Performance (Part 2) - November, 1998, Vol 4 No 9.

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Part Two - Incident Recognition

Part one of this article described how management can improve surveillance effectiveness by being clear about what CCTV surveillance should be looking at. It also looked at increasing the operators’ alertness during high risk conditions. This second part of the article discusses how operators should "tune in" to the indicators of incidents and how one needs to maintain a high standard of performance to further focus performance.

Tuning into Incidents

Incidents are usually signalled by a set of conditions that occur either while suspects are setting up the incident situation, during the actual incident itself, or in its aftermath. The more operators are tuned in or sensitised to these kinds of signals, the more likely they are to recognise an incident in progress. These signals include the following:

1. Exceptions to the rule or breaches of procedure. Spotting anomalies or deviations from the usual situation is still one of the best ways of picking up an incident. Because regulations and procedures are in place to safeguard people, products, or property, they often have to be contravened during an incident. Whether somebody is suddenly showing unusual behaviour, is unexpectedly in an area or stays longer than could be anticipated, is dressed inappropriately for the setting, or is contravening or testing the limits of a basic accepted rule or procedure, operators can intensify their focus on that person.

2. Performance lapses. Poor adherence to standards of performance by an honest employee can highlight a potential problem. For example, where a croupier at a roulette table is slow to enforce or is not assertive with the "no more bets" procedure, the potential for various ways of illegal placement of chips is increased. In many cases this kind of croupier may be deliberately targeted when at a table by players wanting to use such techniques.

3. Body language. Body language (or non-verbal behaviour) indicating nervousness, stress, anxiety, or over-exaggerated behaviour where it seems unwarranted can be an indicator of someone preparing themselves for an incident or trying to get away with something afterwards. The customs environment is a classic situation where skills in recognising such body language is required. Somebody’s watching behaviour may also reflect a coming incident. Looking around to see camera positions, glancing over one’s shoulder to see who is around, and quick looks left and right are possible indications of somebody placing themselves to do something they do not want observed.

4. Distractions. Designed to distract the operators attention from something that is likely to occur, distractions may be used by a person committing an offence or by a group or team working together. Creating a sound, movement or commotion in one area creates the opportunity to do something unobserved in another. Often a high profile person is used to create the distraction. The blond blue eyed bombshell with a revealing cleavage bending forward over the table is on old stereotype but one which probably still has a significant impact. The ability to divide attention and monitor a number of things at once is important and one of the abilities we look at in the SAMAE assessments. The effectiveness of this skill is increased when the operator is tuned in to the kinds of situations that aid in causing a distraction, and where subtle communication between apparently unrelated people can forewarn of the source of a potential distraction.

5. Shielding. Behaviour which blocks camera viewing perspectives should set off warming alarms in the operators mind. A third party blocking the view of people behind, shielding behaviour when there is no apparent need to, and moving into blind areas without any apparent purpose are signs to look for. A recent program on postal theft, for example, had an employee standing without any apparent purpose in front of another person working. He wasn’t hiding the camera view well enough and one could see workers opening letters behind him.

6. Common sets. Many incidents are made up of a common set of cues. For instance, the little old granny walking through an empty park on pension day with two rough looking young men behind her should raise anybody’s attention. Operators should be made sensitive to such sets of cues. When there is one cue there is probably no direct cause for concern. As the number of cues increases, the incident jigsaw starts becoming complete.

The opportunity to detect an incident that may only last for a second or even a few seconds. The more the operator is tuned in to the signs that an incident may occur and how to recognise it, the higher the detection rate is likely to be. Further, the video evidence that is produced is bound to be of a higher quality when the operator is sensitised on what to look for. More than likely, there will be combination of the above signals to aid the operator’s identification of the incident. Achieving the necessary sensitivity to the signals requires a combination of natural talent, training and on the job coaching to ensure the operator is as familiar with the conditions in his or her environment as possible.

Monitoring Performance Standards

Monitoring the performance of operators completes the process of focussing performance. This monitoring should be aimed at motivating operators, diagnosing performance issues and problems, and identifying development needs of both the operator and system. It may even call for altering aspects of the environment being monitored so surveillance can be done more effectively.

The monitoring should encourage a long term focus on the job by the operator and is usually done through an ongoing performance review. Several techniques are available in order to do this. One is to benchmark the performance success of all operators so they can see how their own performance changes over time and how it compares to the general standard. If some kind of realistic benchmark can be set that should be obtained, so much the better. Another is to do evaluations of recorded material to see if viewing parameters, picture content and size, camera perspectives and footage of incidents is appropriate. A review of what kind of incidents have been flagged and the merits of this can also be examined to refine the operator’s approach. Reviews of how the operator has used his or her initiative are also recommended to encourage reactions to observed signals. Follow up discussions on how violations of procedure have been treated are also relevant. The De Beers system mentioned in part one of this article automatically notifies relevant personnel of situations where the operator has detected that work has not been done according to procedure through email and a prospective intranet facility. Action needs to be taken on this notification and discussions held with production, engineering or operator personnel on reasons for this. Finally, a point that I have made previously is that ongoing personal feedback needs to be given to the operator to encourage good performance and address shortfalls.

Effective surveillance is something that is the responsibility of a number of parties. Security and surveillance managers need to provide the context, focus and training for operators with the skills and awareness to put this knowledge to good use. The more that operators focus on high risk conditions and the higher the level of vigilance during these periods, the greater the success and capital return organisations will gain from their CCTV systems.


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