Hi-Tech Security Systems - Human Factor Articles

Contributing Editor - Dr Craig Donald

Focussing CCTV Operator Performance (Part 1) - October, 1998, Vol 4 No 8.

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Part One - Providing a Focus for Observation

Effective surveillance requires operators who are focused on what they are doing and make the best use of their attention span. In previous articles I have written about issues in setting up a CCTV system and how to address some of the human factors and control room ergonomics. I also emphasised the need to be clear on the competencies that were required by operators and being careful to select the right people to realise the potential of the system. Getting the right systems and the right people are foundations for an effective system but they are no guarantees of success. Training is also essential, but even with this results are not automatic. Operators are often sat down in front of the CCTV system and monitors and told to "do surveillance" and "look out for incidents". This may produce some success, but having little guidance on how to approach the viewing for the shift usually leads to a failure to deliver the desired results. Looking at a screen for hours on end with no structured activities leads to reduced concentration, lack of focus, and a passive approach by even the best operators.

In the last few weeks I have visited a number of sites which have taken active steps to focus operators on achieving results and where systems have been set up to optimise performance. Although implemented in different ways these actions hold true for most CCTV environments. Following the steps below should lead to surveillance operators focussing more effectively on the job:

1. Define what CCTV surveillance should be looking at.

2. Define how the surveillance should be approached by the operator.

3. Describe what indicators to tune into in recognising incidents.

4. Review standards of surveillance outcomes.

Define What CCTV Surveillance Should be Looking at.

In order to give surveillance operators the right work focus, expectations and areas of concern need to be clearly defined. Some activities that should assist in getting clarity in this regard would include:

1. Risk analysis: Risk areas need to be defined, the potential for loss quantified, and the protection requirements laid down. The risk areas could cover physical locations or parts of a production process, and could be influenced by specific time periods, the presence of personnel, the existence of physical objects (such as bags) or a combination of characteristics. For the operator, these risk areas determine the priorities that need to be looked at, the time spent on viewing different areas, and the intensity of review. In town centre surveillance for example, areas where people are easily distracted, the presence of dark alleyways, points where an easy getaway is possible, or situations where people are likely to be immobilised in traffic are all high risk areas for theft and assault.

2. Information: There is a need for a flow of information into the surveillance section. This information may be based on investigations, analysis of trends, patterns or anomalies in data, or general observations. This kind of information can then be used to focus the operator’s attention on concerns that have been identified.

3. Procedural requirements: Procedure is at the heart of many security functions. Whether the procedures are for a croupier at a roulette table, or for a technician repairing a piece of diamond processing equipment, procedures define what behaviour is expected. Deviating from procedure or ignoring any of its aspects creates an incident condition. Developing the procedures, defining why they are there, and highlighting the implications of any contraventions gives operators a basis on which to look for indications of wrong doing.

4. Visual anomalies: These are characteristics of situations or people where things deviate from what could normally be expected. Often reflected in non-verbal behaviour, these anomalies provide the clues that something is not as it should be. Being able to recognise these anomalies allows the operator to predict something before it happens or recognise an incident which falls outside the context covered by regular procedures.

Define How Surveillance Should be Approached

Once you have defined what you want your operator to look at or look for, the question is how best to get him or her to do it. There are a number of ways to focus the operator and these serve to heighten the attention span and increase sensitivity to potential incidents. A discussion I had with Herman Walsh, Chief Engineer - De Beers Group Security brought up a number of technical solutions they have or are implementing in order to address these areas and maximise the performance of their operators. Where relevant I have mentioned how these are applied as part of a solution.

1. Structure the behaviour of the operator. This involves getting the operator to work through a structured set of activities during the shift. These activities cause the operator to pay more intensive attention to what is being viewed. In its broadest context, this structuring may involve writing up a schedule of activities that an operator needs to cover over a time period. Other methods would be to use checklists, target reports, and logging. These all serve to do the same thing - they get somebody to systematically look at and record what is happening in an event or with a person. The system developed by De Beers allows the operator to review any production or maintenance task occurring in a protected area using a checklist on the screen. As the employee works through the job, the surveillance operator checks off the tasks performed. To provide assistance to the operator to understand what he or she is viewing, a separate window gives a write up describing what is supposed to be happening. A schematic illustration of the equipment can be also obtained, or in some cases a video showing work routines can be launched. Any deviation from standard practice can be identified and then recorded. Where some tasks are not performed, where work is done in an unusual order, or where work takes longer than usual to complete, an incident note is automatically generated on the computer for follow up.

2. Direct the operator’s focus towards issues. Highlighting issues and drawing the attention of the operator is another method of focussing the operator. One way to do this is by classifying different physical areas according to risk. As soon as a person approaches a sensitive area, the operator needs to increase his or her vigilance. Risk ratings displayed on the screen can highlight the importance of the area for the operator. However, attention can also be drawn electronically to what people are doing. Siemans, for example, were demonstrating a facility at SECUREX that highlighted when somebody was moving in an area but only in a certain direction. As a person moved towards a perimeter fence, the figure was immediately targeted on the screen, if they were moving away, the highlighting was dropped. De Beers are using technology which not only picks up somebody moving too quickly in an area, but also highlights where the number of people is over a specified limit. The detection of rapid hand or arm movement is also possible and is likely to be used increasingly to detect situations where such rapid movements are unusual. As soon as the rapid movement is made, the operator’s attention is directed to it by a signal on the screen and is followed up. The need to monitor procedures also directs the operator’s focus. As soon as a situation occurs for which procedures exist, there is an immediate demand on the operator to methodically check that all actions are done according to requirements. While De Beers have a computerised checklist for many procedure-based situations, the surveillance operator in the casino is mentally checking off croupier adherence to procedure on a constant basis when viewing the tables. Whether recorded or done mentally, the existence of a set of procedures which govern peoples’ actions and the monitoring of these is essential to the surveillance function.

3. Sensitise people to what they should be looking for. An essential part of surveillance is knowing what is normal in the environment versus what signals a potential or actual incident. In many operations, extensive effort is made not only to establish normal physical conditions (eg., layout, direction and pace of movement, dress, positioning of people and objects) but also the characteristics of the people themselves (typical behaviour, habits, contact network). The more the operator is tuned in to the environment, the easier it will be to spot the problem. Given that incidents usually develop where people position themselves in order to initiate what they want to do, knowing the context of the situation also helps the operator to recognise when a situation is developing. The capacity to build up profiles on employees and then have operators update and review these gives a feel for the usual and a better ability to detect the unusual. Ideally, operators would review such profiles on an ongoing basis to familiarise themselves with personnel they would be putting under surveillance.

4. Ensure that people know what they are viewing. A general point is that operators who have worked in the situations they are reviewing make the best surveillance personnel. This is because they know how things work, what reactions to expect, how to recognise when there is a problem, and what kind of behaviour can be expected from the people involved. While operators with experience in target environments have an advantage in this regard, there are a number of other criteria which determine success and it is only if these are in place that the person will in fact be a superior performer. A surveillance manager at one of the casinos was commenting recently that a croupier who had joined the surveillance section was amazed at how well the operators knew her job and that of the people around her. Constant viewing and evaluation potentially enables surveillance people to pick up extensive knowledge about the job. However, a new surveillance operator with no training or familiarity with conditions in the area he or she has under surveillance is going to miss many of the subtleties that are necessary for effective detection. On site exposure is important so operators can physically acclimatise themselves to the area they will be viewing on the monitor. Familiarity with actual work processes is also important and training by field personnel or mentoring by an experienced operator are important components to guide the operators focus. The De Beers approach, however, addresses many of the traditional shortfalls of CCTV personnel viewing situations with which they are not familiar. By having the procedure steps, performance criteria and training information directly available on the screen when reviewing work processes under surveillance, they are using best practices defined by the relevant department to evaluate the situation. After a period, it could be expected that they would become well practised in recognising delays, anomalies and irregularities in the work being done.

Establishing a clear defined surveillance approach builds in management and system support for the operator to know what he or she is supposed to do. The combination of providing a structured approach to work within, directing the operators’s attention using different tools, sensitising them to what they should be looking for, and providing an expertise base with which to evaluate practices all go to enhancing the operator’s focus and attention span. If the attention and vigilance of the operator can be maximised during high risk time periods, ultimate effectiveness should increase substantially.

Part 2 in the next edition will continue this theme, looking at what surveillance operators should be tuning into, and how standards and review reinforce the focussed surveillance approach.

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