A watchful eye on our cities
CCTV technology is continuously improving in order to be as effective as possible, and has proved itself as a vital security tool for the police, private companies and many public sector organisations over the years. Surveillance in the form of CCTV can be beneficial in terms of both crime deterrence and detection, and is fundamental in the prevention of terror activities, particularly in large cities.
In those cases where a terrorist organisation has been successful, CCTV has played an essential role in the investigation of such activities and has been known to help bring those involved to justice. Such was the case in the London 7/7 bombings, where images of the perpetrators were obtained from CCTV at Luton railway station. In terms of the planned attack on 21/7, which was aborted, the police were able to rapidly issue images of the alleged culprits captured by CCTV on various public transport. Nearly 28,000 CCTV recordings gathered by police helped lead to the convictions of four men, who were ultimately found guilty of conspiracy to murder. The footage was condensed into seven hours worth of recordings from buses, trains and stations, which was then used as evidence in court.
Number plate recognition
One particular type of surveillance was extremely influential in this high profile case – the widespread network of congestion charging cameras placed in the Congestion Charging Zone in central London. Usually, these cameras utilise Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) in order to collect congestion tolls during busy hours. In this case, however, the ANPR systems enabled the police to decipher the movement of particular vehicles in the lead-up to both incidents, allowing for a clearer timeline of events to strengthen the investigation.
ANPR software can generally be extremely useful in terms of city surveillance. This type of mass observation utilises optical character recognition on images in order to read vehicle registration plates. This kind of technology can be used in conjunction with existing CCTV, road-rule enforcement cameras or surveillance typically designed for this type of task. ANPR is currently used by various police forces as a way of electronic toll collection. However, it can also be an effective way of fighting crime and locating individuals who may have committed wrong doings, making it easy to track down vehicles in close to real time. These systems also typically use infrared lighting, allowing for careful monitoring of vehicles both day and night, which is extremely important as perpetrators may treat nightfall as a perfect opportunity to commit crimes or plant potentially threatening devices.
The advances of technology
CCTV is constantly developing in order to suit the security needs of the country as a whole. Sophisticated mobile Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) are now being fitted to buses and trains – known victims of terrorist acts – so that passengers can be safe in the knowledge that any potential harmful activity will be closely monitored and the necessary action taken to prevent an unwanted situation. When fitted, these compact, self-contained systems are capable of continuously monitoring the inside of a carriage or bus for suspicious behaviour, moreover providing a significant deterrent to criminal damage, delivering much-needed reassurance to the travelling public.
Another key area where CCTV is rapidly developing is that of video analytics. This impressive technology is invaluable in the protection against the risk of terrorist attacks in largely populated areas. One application of this technology that is extremely useful in terms of city surveillance is ‘object left/object removed’. In terms of ‘object left’, this refers to the identification of something that tends to cause panic in populated areas – an unattended item. Often, people make the assumption that the item, such as a bag or package, is a threat, perhaps containing an explosive device, which could lead to a chaotic situation. It is therefore crucial for security professionals to make the assertion as to whether there is an innocent explanation or if the item is indeed suspicious, resulting in an evacuation of the immediate area near the article. Object removed allows CCTV operators to be notified regarding the offending object, allowing for its removal and the restoration of public order.
This technology is useful in busy areas where, unlike airports, extensive security checks are not typically carried out. The transport sector makes particular use of this equipment. In 2007, Clapham Junction station in London was amongst the first rail stations in the country to install a CCTV system equipped with video analytics specifically aimed at addressing the rising risk of terrorist attacks. The cameras were installed to help in the identification of suspicious behaviour and in spotting unattended equipment. In recent years, this technology has been utilised by many other stations in the UK transport network.
High Definition (HD) CCTV is also expanding across a wide range of video surveillance applications. “HD CCTV signifies an unprecedented revolution in the quality of images that can be delivered, the ability to more easily identify suspects and make sense of their actions, and the potential to improve the successful conviction rate on the ground,” says Simon Adcock, Chairman of the BSIA’s CCTV section.
HD cameras also open up the possibility of covering a much wider area without having to use multiple different cameras. For example, in terms of wide angled and fisheye lenses which cover more surface area, there are features available that will allow operators to easily monitor an area without any distortion of the images, almost as if they were looking through the lens of a normal Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) camera. Operators of these cameras will also be able to pan, tilt and zoom the camera with the use of a joystick, adding flexibility to the monitoring process. When employed in the right contexts, cameras like these can allow for a more widespread observation in larger areas.
CCTV for event management
CCTV is also extremely invaluable in ensuring the smooth and safe running of events. Year round city centres host a wide variety of different events, ranging from Christmas markets, New Years Eve street parties, sports matches and concerts. These kinds of events result in a large increase in people flow, thus creating an increase in risk of crime or large scale attacks. CCTV, along with other security measures, allows for greater control over these potential threats and constant supervision of a wide range of areas.
Video surveillance technology at events helps to provide the best possible situational awareness so that those in monitoring the cameras either in the control room, command vehicle or on the ground, are able to see the big picture of what is going on.
This wide-scale view, with CCTV footage linked to a digital map of the vicinity, ensures that officers and event stewards can be marshalled effectively. At a tactical level, operators can drill-down to obtain more detail on a specific incident as it develops so extra resources can be brought to bear and, if necessary, potential troublemakers identified and dealt with.
CCTV cameras do not have to be static, for example one solution that is now used around major events is that of Football Command Vehicles. These offer a high visibility presence and include a mast‑mounted unit that provides a good all round view of a vicinity, allowing for relocation to specific hotspots if needed. Typically these are used at sports events where the threat of rival fans clashing can be imminent; however these vehicles could also be employed in city centres during busier times.
Linking with other systems
The integration of CCTV with other kinds of security equipment can also be extremely useful, particularly at events. For example, CCTV can be linked to an access control system, which monitors those individuals entering and leaving a particular area. The CCTV can provide pre-event and post‑event images of said individuals, and could lead to the identification of a criminal if an offence has been committed or a threat made.
CCTV can also be detector activated. When an incident occurs, a Remote Video Response Centre (RVRC) is alerted and images of the activated site can be accessed and monitored. This then allows the appropriate action to be taken, and the police to be notified if necessary, saving time and giving way to a faster response.
Regardless of the kind of CCTV that a business or organisation employs, it is most important to choose from a supplier who is inspected to a quality standard, ensuring that the service is professional and trustworthy. BSIA members offer a reputable service and are inspected to UKAS accredited standards, to find out more about the CCTV section or to find a supplier near you, visit the BSIA website.
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