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Independent consultancy to organisations that take security seriously

CCTV Tips for Purchasers



CCTV Installation

The following puts in perspective tasks and considerations that an organisation would be prudent to consider when investigating the purchase of a CCTV system.

CCTV systems are normally outside the knowledge base of most organisations, therefore when the topic of CCTV comes up to solve a particular problem there is normally a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not it is the right solution - and quite rightly so. I dare not guess at the percentage of badly designed/installed systems that do not fulfil the original intentions of the purchaser. On the other side, in the larger organisations well-planned and implemented CCTV systems normally expand fairly fast over a period of years as the added value becomes clear.

While nearly every CCTV requirement needs a unique solution in one way or another, the immediate visual pointers to a poorly designed CCTV system are often:

  • a cramped control/monitoring room
  • a poor control room operational environment
  • regular viewing of monitors physically mounted at a height above the operator's head
  • a very large number of monitors
  • automatic sequential picture switching
  • multiple images on viewing monitors
  • lack of marking on boxes and cables
  • loose wires coming out of boxes (all too often).

The Initial Process

First, ask the following questions and record the answers:

  • Why are we considering CCTV?
  • What are our problems?
  • Why do we want to address the problems?
  • What is the business case for a CCTV system?
    [If it was an incident write down all the circumstances surrounding it - environmental, expected/unexpected, known risk/threat/likelihood/vulnerability, consequences .....]
  • What are the prime objectives that a CCTV system needs to address? [e.g. the threats and business requirements]
  • In addition to above, what operational requirements/resources are required to fully address the threats/business requirements? [manpower, real time viewing requirements (if any), recording .....]
  • Is the intended CCTV system going to form part of a larger integrated security system? - see integrated systems and access control.
  • What impact will the proposed CCTV system have on employees, visitors and public?
  • What will be the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the CCTV system for the first five years? [Define project budget including CCTV equipment, operations, service, consumables, consultant and staff costs.]
  • Will planning permission be required?
  • Will registration with the Information Commissioner be required? - see CCTV Guidance at the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). For Domestic CCTV see Domestic CCTV systems - guidance for people using CCTV
  • Will blanking be required to meet local Planning Dept and ICO requirements?
  • Can we use our existing computer network for transmitting the pictures?
  • Do we need off-site monitoring?

Secondly, present the business case to the directors. Remember, if the CCTV system is a reasonable size it is likely to have an impact on the day-to-day operation of the organisation.

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PTZ Dome Camera


    • Don't assume putting in a CCTV system gives added security. In general terms CCTV is not a security system. Look at it more as a very valuable tool, which can greatly enhance the efficiency of a security operation.

    • Don't assume someone sitting in front of a bank of CCTV monitors is going to see the all-important incidents. Tests have shown otherwise. In general a full time observer of six monitors can be expected to pick up 10% of incidents. Adding more monitors may reduce the percentage rather than increasing it.

    • Following on the above point, don't wallpaper a control room with monitors unless you have lots of money to spare and want to make a visual impact for control room visitors. There are very few applications that warrant a large number of display monitors.

    • Don't assume the supplier has the time or knowledge to fully fulfil your CCTV system objectives. His world is highly competitive and if he is bidding, his first priority is to secure the work - in the best way he can. His second is understandably to make a profit, which may come after the initial bid. The CCTV industry is like most other industries in that there are all types out there, all playing to different game rules.

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CCTV Equipment Rack
    • Do consult with representatives from all departments before making a commitment. CCTV like access control is unfamiliar territory for most personnel. Introducing a sizeable CCTV system will have an impact on the personnel and their behaviour. They may not be able to express it, but they will feel it. Therefore, discuss and inform; get the majority of employees comfortable with the idea, even when you know the installation is a must-do exercise. For public systems consult with the public.

    • Even with a small CCTV system, do plan exactly how you are going to manage the monitoring and/or recording of the CCTV camera pictures, before the purchase.

    • Insist the CCTV company appointed has installed 50 + CCTV systems and the leading engineering staff doing the detailed design, installation and commissioning have each 10+ systems of 10 or more CCTV cameras per system under their belt.

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As a consultancy we get approximately 8 emails each working day from CCTV manufacturers and suppliers informing us of their current and new products. This implies there are a lot of manufacturers out there vying for a share of an enormous growing CCTV market.

The technology is changing all the time. Video cassette recorders (VCR) are now consigned to history, replaced by digital video recorders (DVR) and network video recorders (NVR). New systems generally are now easily connected to IT networks and the internet, so viewing 'live' images using your home computer, or your mobile is now common practice, but remote control of functional cameras is still problematic. This has led to a fast growing market in detector activated CCTV systems where an intruder alarm from a premises is signalled to a Remote Video Response Centre (RVRC) where camera pictures are checked remotely to confirm an intrusion before informing police and/or keyholders. Many will say digital IP cameras are the way forward, many others will say for the most economic solution consider both IP and analogue solutions.

Although analogue cameras still have a place the market swing now and in the future is digital cameras. The initial poor quality of pictures from digital cameras has now surpassed those from analogue cameras by leaps and bounds. The favourite flavour at the time of writing is the high definition HD or 4K standard cameras that give the wide pictures we are now used to seeing on our TV screens. However, as the price of megapixel cameras comes down and the megapixels per camera climbs, change is already on the way as it already allows in some cases the displacement of fully functional PTZ cameras with their dreaded network latency problems.

The only thing you can be sure about is that if this technical information is not out of date when you read this, it soon will be!

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Does it pay to get an independent consultant on board?

Yes, if you get a good one. Some have a great wealth of technical know how, some have the commercial and contractual awareness to ensure a fair price, and a few have both. Gordon Herrald Associates is an independent consultancy and has shown on many occasions it has excellent consulting experience and ability on technical, commercial and contractual aspects of CCTV projects.

Typically it pays financially if the system cost is greater than 25,000 ($35,000 USD). For CCTV systems greater than 250,000 ($350,000) our experience has shown that with a good independent consultant on-board, a purchaser can often be seen to reduce possible expenditure on complete security system project costs by 50%. If you don't have a clue about closed circuit TV systems, it could prove worthwhile getting advice from a consultant even on very small systems.

Being an expert on CCTV, an independent engineering consultant can also ensure a fair and reasonable service and maintenance contract is in place. This can be a small fraction of the standard proposals made today by some system installers.

Don't forget a good independent consultant will have (or should have) your wellbeing and commercial interests at heart, unlike many suppliers whose primary interest is profit.

In security consultancy and CCTV consultancy "small is beautiful" has a lot of meaning. There are always a few rogues and chancers about, but they do not normally last long. With a little care on vetting they can be avoided.

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Fully Functional Camera

Case Study

On one project the client organisation embarking on a new buildings project received an estimate from its long established international security supplier for the first phase physical security contract in the order of 400,000 ($600,000). The client concerned about the cost asked our advice. We assisted them by preparing a tender document with a fully detailed specification. This resulted in bids for an enlarged requirement coming in at 200,000 ($300,000) from other reputable international companies. (The company giving the original estimate dropped their initial price by more than one third - this created some embarrassment.)

We then produced the tender documents and detailed specifications for the electronic systems including significant CCTV, access control, intruder, movement control, communications and fire detection systems, all integrated into an easily operated Security Management System. The tender results produced bids between 900,000 ($1,400,000) and 1,500,000 ($2,250,000), all from reputable international companies. Without our help the client could easily have paid up to 2,000,000 ($3,000,000) for the security systems. Most importantly for the client organisation was that its buildings were fitted with quality security equipment and systems that were integrated to maximise operational efficiency from ergonomically designed control rooms.

In addition we assisted with the second phase physical security equipment to the value of approximately 750,000 ($1,100,000). IT security advice was also provided.

Conclusion: a very satisfied client. The savings attributed to the consultant were in the region of 1,000,000 ($1,500,000).

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Glossary of CCTV terms for Purchasers

4K Camera 8MP (3840 pixels x 2160 pixels) security camera

ASC Association of Security Consultants. The UK association for professional independent CCTV consultants.

Automatic Iris Lens A lens that automatically adjusts the amount of light entering the camera.

Bandwidth (of a CCTV camera) The range of light frequencies the CCTV camera light sensor is sensitive to.

Blanking Areas of a picture electronically blanked out, thus preventing the operator from viewing designated areas such as residential house windows.

BS EN 62676 Part 1-1 Video surveillance systems for use in security applications, Part 1-1 System requirements - General

BS EN 62676 Part 1-2 Video surveillance systems for use in security applications, Part 1-2: System requirements Performance requirements for video transmission

BS EN 62676 Part 2-1 Video surveillance systems for use in security applications, Part 2-1: Video transmission protocols General requirements

BS EN 62676 Part 2-2 Video surveillance systems for use in security applications, Part 2-2: Video transmission protocols IP interoperability implementation based on HTTP and REST services

BS EN 62676 Part 3 Video surveillance systems for use in security applications, Part 3: Analogue and digital interfaces

BS EN 62676 Part 4 Video surveillance systems for use in security applications, Part 4: Application Guidelines

BS EN 62676 Part 5 Video surveillance systems for use in security applications, Part 5: Data specifications and image quality performance for camera devices

BS 7958 Closed-circuit television - Management and operation - Code of practice

BS 8418 Installation and remote monitoring of detector activated CCTV systems - Code of practice

CCD Camera CCTV camera where the light sensor is a Charge-Coupled Device

CCIR Abbreviation for comite International des Radiocommunications. The European committee that produced the standards for the European colour television systems.

CCTV Common abbreviation for Closed-Circuit Television.

Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) The most common technology used today for imaging devices.

CIF Common Intermediate Format. A format used to define the horizontal and vertical resolution of video images. First proposed in the H.261 standard.

Cloud Services Remote servers hosted on the Internet, used for storing and processing data rather than using local servers or personal computers.

C mount and CS mount Industry standard types of screw threaded lens mounts.

Coaxial Cable A particular type of cable capable of passing a wide range of frequencies with low signal loss. Used extensively for short distance (<750m)video transmission in CCTV systems.

Compression A technique used for reducing the size of video detail information to enable faster transmission of video frames and reduced storage space on recording devices.

Consultants There are many kinds of CCTV consultant. Some installers call their sales personnel consultants - they are definitely not independent - they are paid to sell only specific equipment, which may not suit your application. Similarly there are free-lance consultants who have associations with suppliers - you should pay less for the consultancy as normally they get a commission on the sale - but you can pay a lot more for your system as it most likely will include the consultants commission, and the purchase price may not be competitive. Independent consultants, who are independent, is the best bet. You may see more expense initially on the table, but you will know where you stand, and there should be no surprises down-line. It takes guts to be an independent security consultant with integrity, so look for one where they have been vetted by their peers and abide by an acknowledged code of practice. The only professional organisation in the UK founded solely for independent security consultants is the Association of Security Consultants (ASC).

Contrast The range of light to dark values in a picture.

Covert CCTV Systems A CCTV system that uses hidden cameras. Becoming more popular than perhaps it should.

Digital Signal Processing The processing of control and video signals by digital means as opposed to analogue techniques.

Digital Video Recording (DVR) The recording of video signals by digital means as opposed to analogue techniques (e.g. VHS and SVHS recorders).

Distortion The amount of unwanted change to a video signal, normally caused by video transmission or processing

Dome Housings CCTV camera housing where the viewing window is a hemisphere. They can be more aesthetically pleasing to the eye and can also prevent people seeing the direction the camera is pointing in.

F/Stop Refers to the speed or ability of a lens to pass light. It is calculated by dividing the focal length of the lens by its diameter.

Fibre Optic Cables A particular type of cable capable of passing a wide range of frequencies with very low signal loss. Used extensively for long distance video transmission in CCTV systems.

Field One of the two equal but vertically separated parts into which a television frame is divided in an interlaced system of scanning. A period of 1/60 (US) or 1/50 (UK, Europe) second separates each field start time.

Focal Length The distance in mm from the focal point of a lens to the principal point of the lens.

Frame One complete video picture or image. Normally composed of two interlaced fields. In Europe 25 frames per second is used to give an illusion of continuous movement. In North America it is 30 frames per second.

Frame Rate Frame rate is the number of frames per second. Important for recording, especially with digital CCTV recording today, where the amount of memory required to store pictures in DVRs over extended time periods restricts the frame rate per camera.

Gray Scale Variations in value from white, through shades of grey, to black of the original image picked up by a monochrome camera.

HD Camera A camera with a sensor giving 16:9 pictures of 1280 x 720 pixels or 1920 x 1080 pixels.

HOSDB Home Office Scientific Development Branch - See PSDB

Hum Electrical disturbance at the power supply frequency or harmonics thereof.

Image Intensifier A device that uses photo multiplier technology to amplify the available light to increase the sensitivity of a closed circuit TV camera.

Incident Light The light that falls directly on an object.

Infra-red (IR) Lighting Lighting just outside the normal human range, but which some CCTV cameras are sensitive to. Enables one to "see in the dark".

Interference Unwanted influences that interfere with the reception of the desired signals.

Iris An adjustable aperture built into a camera lens that permits control of the amount of light passing through the lens.

IP Camera Camera that can send and receive data via a computer network and the Internet.

JPEG Abbreviation for Joint Picture Expert Group. Provides a set of digital compression tools specifically designed for still video images, but now also used for "moving" pictures.

Latency The delay in a network or system, caused by the hardware and software, for a signal/instruction/information packet to get from one part of a system to the another.

Lens A transparent optical component used for focusing the incoming light image on to the light sensitive part of the camera.

Lux Metric unit of measurement of light

Matrix Switcher Usually a combination or array of electromechanical or electronic switches which route a number of video image/signal sources to one or multiple viewing/recording components.

Monitor Used for displaying images and/or information to system operators.

Monochrome Images without colour, i.e. black and white with a number of grey scales

MPEG Abbreviation for Moving Picture Expert Group. Provides a set of digital compression tools specifically designed for video images.

Multiplexer A component that compresses a number of CCTV camera picture inputs into one output signal that can be recorded on a single tape or disc. The recorded multiplexed signal needs to be decoded before the pictures can be seen again.

Network Camera (Web Cam) A digital CCTV camera suitable for plugging into a PC or computer network.

Noise Unwanted influences that interfere with the reception of the desired signals.

NTSC Abbreviation for National Television Systems Committee. The USA committee that produced the standards for the North American colour television system.

Pan and Tilt Unit A device upon which a CCTV camera can be mounted that allows movement in both the horizontal (pan) and vertical (tilt) planes.

Pixel Derived from Picture Element. A pixel is the smallest area of a television monitor capable of displaying information in the form of a black, white, grey or colour dot. The more pixels in an image, the better the resolution.

Police Scientific Development
Branch (PSDB)
The PSDB produced a series of guides aimed at assisting the development, design and operation of town centre CCTV schemes. The PSDB is now known as the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB)

PTZ Abbreviation for Pan, tilt and zoom.

Quads Units that allow you to see four different pictures on one monitor screen.

RVRC Remote Video Response Centre. A continually manned centre that receives CCTV images from remote locations and when necessary interacts with the site and keyholders to provide security services.

Resolution (horizontal) It is usually expressed as the maximum number of distinct vertical lines that can be used to make up a picture.

Resolution (vertical) It is usually expressed as the maximum number of distinct horizontal lines that can be used to make up a picture.

Sensitivity (of camera) The amount of light necessary to fall on the image scene to provide a useful picture.

Sequential Switcher An automatic switcher that allows the display of sequenced CCTV camera pictures in a preconfigured order and dwell time.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio The ratio between useful television signal and unwanted interference

Slow Scan The transmission of pictures over long distances via transmission networks like the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Snow Heavy random noise that gives the appearance of snow on the displayed picture.

Spike An unwanted transient of short duration pulse of electricity.

Sync A contraction of "synchronous" or "synchronize".

Synchronizing Ensuring the scanning processes of two or more pieces of CCTV equipment are in phase

Telemetry Electronic method of controlling CCTV camera functions remotely

Test Pattern A chart especially prepared for checking the performance of a closed circuit TV system.

Time Lapse Recorder A videocassette recorder that allows the recording of video pictures at a lower rate than normal, thus extending the possible recording time on a single videotape. As there can be fewer pictures from a single CCTV camera, the viewed pictures may appear "jumpy".

Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) A balanced cable transmission method, used as an alternative to unbalanced coaxial cable.

Varifocal A manual zoom lens

Video Amplifier A wideband amplifier used for amplifying picture signals

Video Motion Detection (VMD) A CCTV system for the detection of movement within a picture.

Wavelets A set of digital compression tools that gives good picture quality at high compression rates.

Wireless CCTV CCTV system where CCTV camera pictures are transmitted from the camera over the air. In the UK wireless CCTV video transmission is license-free over 2.4 GHz and 5.4 to 5.7 GHz wireless bands.

Zoom To enlarge or reduce, on a continuously variable basis, the size of a picture image, primarily by altering the focal length

Zoom Lens A lens capable of changing the viewed image size.

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