Performing a CCTV Audit

One fear that is shared by all of the people involved in electronic security is that the system won’t work when you really need it.

Recent headlines have shown the effectiveness of CCTV systems in catching terrorists, thieves and cheats, but what about the finer print in so many other stories where the villain was simply “unrecognizable by the camera?”

Fortunately, this situation is preventable. Unfortunately, you’re not likely doing all that you can to prevent it.

Many companies rely on audits to verify proper controls and procedures in their facilities. An inventory is a form of audit, as is an accounting or compliance audit.

Many companies now consider their CCTV system to be a critical part of their operation — why not perform a regular audit of that system as well?

CCTV Is Most Vulnerable
It may be tempting to extend this concept to all electronic security systems in a facility. I’m certainly all for the regular testing, adjustment and calibration of all of your systems. However, it’s not likely that these other systems will require a regular third-party audit for one simple reason — an alarm, intercom, access control or another related system do not have a “subjective” component. CCTV lends itself to more “gray” areas that benefit from another set of eyes and expertise to verify proper operation.

So what should be a part of this audit? Any audit worth it’s salt looks at two elements: Is the system performing as mandated and what can be done to improve things, if improvement is desired? Applying those concepts to our CCTV system audit, the System Audit Checklist table seen on page 20 of the December issue shows a few examples of what should be examined, as well as typical opportunities for improvement in those areas.

What an Auditor Needs to Know
To sum up what we want to know about our CCTV system, there are three things:

System functionality: This area can be broken down into the various subsystems, but the overall question is simple: Is everything working the way it should? Are images from cameras free of distortion and interference, and sharply focused? Do pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) cameras move when you tell them to and, more importantly, stop moving on command? Are images recorded as needed, and can you play them back on demand?

While these may seem like common-sense questions, it is surprising how many operators learn to compensate for systems that have deteriorated over time. Sometimes, an alternate camera is used, or they’ll wait until the subject gets closer to see if they can be recognized.

Even common — and easily fixed — electrical problems, such as unstable images caused by poor equipment grounding, can be ignored in much the same way that my 12-year old son ignores the dirt on his glasses. We tend to look through these problems.

System performance: While system functionality evaluates whether or not the equipment is working, system performance seeks to identify how well it is working — particularly in your specific application.

This type of evaluation will look beyond the quality of a camera’s image to determine the effectiveness of a camera in each particular location. Will adjustments such as lens or equipment changes — or even repositioning — help increase usability and overall effectiveness?

Similarly, recording duration, frame rates and compression quality should be looked at on digital video systems to see if you’re using the products effectively.

Preventative maintenance: Along the way, an audit should identify elements of the system that may be prone to premature failure and make specific recommendations as to how they may be corrected.

Cable strain on connectors is very common, and a few well-placed cable ties or supporting bracketry can often be an inexpensive fix. If there were problems with the initial installation, or subsequent changes and modifications, recommendations here will give you the ammunition to ensure things are properly corrected.

Selecting an Auditor
Perhaps the most difficult task in having a system audit performed is selecting the person to perform it. There are a few criteria that must be observed to keep the process objective. First and foremost, the auditor should have the skills and experience to perform the work. They should be in a position to recommend effective solutions and improvements, while having experience with similar systems. Look for someone who is genuinely interested in improving your system, not just their paycheck, and insist they not be afraid to speak their mind.

A second criterion is that the auditor should have absolutely no financial stake in the outcome of the audit. If they’re going to recommend a change, you want to be sure that the change is needed and not a revenue-generating opportunity for their firm. If you are to use the results of this audit to justify investing in added equipment, you’ll be far better served bringing an independent evaluator’s opinion to the budget meeting rather than a quote from your integrator.

Unfortunately, the second criteria described above rules out most of the obvious choices, including integrators, your own employees and manufacturers. While there may be other options, the two that immediately come to mind are independent consultants and colleagues.

Using a colleague is an excellent choice if you can find the right one, since the costs involved are minimal in most cases. This can be a trade-off relationship in which you’ll audit each other’s systems on a regular basis and derive equal benefit.

An independent consultant is also an excellent choice — though in the interest of full disclosure, I must point out that I am an independent consultant and have performed such audits for clients.

The right independent consultant fits all of the above criteria and can’t be accused of declaring a problem to generate more work or looking the other way to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Their insurance will serve to provide some protection from liability, and they can be retained to perform the work on a recurring basis without your having to show up at their place to look at their system as well.

A Double-Edged Sword
The idea of a system audit may prove to be politically unpopular. But the louder the objections, the more likely it is needed.

It will almost always uncover deficiencies in your system and will raise questions as to how things have been “allowed to get this far.” If you’re confident in your operation and are prepared to implement reasonable changes that make business sense, it will be a welcome opportunity for improvement.

However, if you think there is a chance that the findings will be ignored and that improvements will not be made, you may be better off skipping the process unless you’re prepared for the consequences.


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