A Good CCTV System Is a Well-Maintained CCTV System

The electronic security industry is in my blood. When I go to shopping malls, office buildings, restaurants, etc., I find myself looking around and critiquing security system installations the way Roger Ebert critiques movies. Usually, the people I’m with just don’t understand. But, when accompanied by colleagues, it’s reassuring when they do the same thing!

Recently, my experienced installer friends and I have noticed that many CCTV systems are inadequately installed and/or maintained. In particular, it seems small retail CCTV systems have become a commodity like mass-marketed, one-type-fits-all burglary systems.

However, unlike a poorly installed burg system, which might cause a false alarm and dispatch, an improperly installed or neglected CCTV system does its damage silently.

Routine maintenance is crucial!

Over time, ignoring an analog CCTV system leads to degradation of the tape, and eventually the recorder and other components. My law enforcement associates tell me that they experience it first-hand when trying to retrieve critical video evidence from these sites. Often, the tapes are unusable due to grainy, blurry images that don’t reveal important details.

These problems are especially common in applications such as convenience stores, gas stations and fast-food restaurants, where cost was likely a greater determinant than effectiveness in system design. This is probably all too often the case.

Optimal system design is critical!  Some installers are so preoccupied about coming in with the lowest bid that the installations wind up being compromised. As a result, there may not be enough cameras used, leaving the remaining ones incapable of properly covering the area to be protected. So, instead of identification of a perpetrator, all you get is verification that someone was there.

Why bother having a CCTV system in a convenience store when you cannot identify the criminal? Why have a wide-angle lens looking out at groups of people, when it’s normal for people to be present in that area? Top that off with a lack of maintenance and you end up with terrible, unusable video.

How would you feel if your own family member happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, only to find out the surveillance video was unusable due to poor installation or maintenance?

Although the worst offenders may be the owners of these establishments, who frequently refuse to sign maintenance and service agreements, as far as I’m concerned, no installing dealer should EVER install a CCTV system without one! As an industry, we need to stand firm and make this the standard operating procedure.

Here are some guidelines to help make your CCTV installations the best they can be.

Recorders – For starters, as a rule of thumb, depending on the installation environment, a time-lapse recorder should be overhauled every 10,000 hours.

Videotapes – The following is a formula to determine the probable life expectancy of a VHS tape. Take the number 2,000 and divide it by the time-lapse speed. For example, if a time-lapse recorder is in the “96-hour mode,” dividing that by 2,000 would equal a tape life expectancy of 20. That means that after the tape is used 20 times, a fresh VHS tape should be installed.

Lenses – Where robbery is the primary threat, whether it’s a bank, department store or convenience store, the goal is to design the CCTV system to clearly identify the perpetrator. Don’t overextend the camera by using lenses with a field of view that is too wide. This doesn’t help with positive identification, only verification that someone was there, which falls short of the system’s intended purpose.

Review all of your CCTV accounts. Prioritize which customers need maintenance now. Be proactive; don’t wait for your customers to call you! Let’s help law enforcement by providing clear, quality images to help get the criminals off the streets. Help our industry help save lives.

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