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Five steps to a successful video surveillance system installation

Many organizations have introduced video surveillance in the name of improving safety and security within workplaces, physical facilities and public spaces. An all-too-common catalyst for the installation or expansion of camera surveillance systems is a crime or security incident that captures the attention of the media, the public, or both. In the immediate aftermath of a crime or other troubling occurrence, there is often pressure on senior decision-makers within the organizations to act swiftly and visibly to recapture the confidence of key stakeholder groups such as customers, shareholders or the public.

There are many valid reasons for installing and expanding video surveillance systems but I would suggest that “demonstrating that we’re doing something about security” is not one of them. Indeed, a knee-jerk move to put up cameras often fails to meaningfully address the crime or security issue at hand and in some cases, may encroach on privacy laws. Even when implemented away from the “spotlight” of a recent disruptive incident, a majority of camera systems are not designed to meet a clearly defined purpose.

So how should organizations approach decisions to deploy or expand video surveillance?

This month’s column provides some answers and builds on previous columns on video surveillance that have focused on: dispelling popular myths, recent legal developments, and compliance with privacy legislation.

Video surveillance strategy

It is important that video surveillance be approached within a clear strategic framework, taking account of existing security risks, business requirements, and legal obligations under Privacy Legislation. Having a distinct video surveillance strategy that is aligned with the organization’s mission will ensure that purchases of camera surveillance systems are justifiable – i.e., risk appropriate, cost commensurate and compatible with the organization’s core objectives.
The strategy should be designed to set out a structured approach to decisions about the installation and expansion of video surveillance systems. A key assumption underpinning the strategy is that video surveillance should be considered only where it addresses the specific security and safety threats faced at a reasonable cost as one part of a wider, integrated security program.

Video surveillance systems are not needed in every premises, facility or workplace. Where video cameras may be necessary, clear steps should be taken in establishing whether camera surveillance is a viable option, including:

  • understanding and evaluating the specific nature and extent of the security risks faced;
  • deciding whether the installation of surveillance cameras can effectively counter the identified risks; and
  • consideration of other (possibly less intrusive) security measures that may more efficiently or cost-effectively counter the risks.

Step one: Is video surveillance a viable solution to address the security problem(s) at hand?

Before deciding whether video surveillance is the right step, the organization should establish the nature and extent of the security problem(s) or threat(s) in existence and its degree of exposure to those threats. After identifying the particular security threats it faces, the organization is in an informed position to review the security measures currently in place and establish whether security improvements are necessary.

Assuming that it is determined that security protection needs to be improved, the focus of analysis can shift to consider whether the installation of camera surveillance is the most appropriate option or if there are viable alternative solutions. This initial step helps to ensure that the strategic issues are analyzed first and the most appropriate solution is arrived at, even if this leads to security options other than video surveillance being utilized. Issues such as workplace culture, customer expectations, privacy law requirements and operational efficiencies should be front-of-mind considerations in this analysis.

Step two: What is the purpose of the video surveillance system?

Having developed a clear picture of the security concerns to be addressed and assuming that video surveillance is a preferred solution, attention should be turned to the purpose and objectives of the camera system. What are the specific outcomes intended to result from the installation of video surveillance? Examples of common system objectives include:

  • prevention/reduction of specific crimes and/or behaviours;
  • identification of particular types of abnormal or illicit users;
  • deterrence/reduction of vehicle-related crime in the parking lot; and
  • protection of employees who may be exposed to threats or violence at work.

Clearly identifying the objectives of video surveillance provides a frame of reference for the current and future installation and operation of the system. Prior to installing new cameras, the organization should ensure that the purpose of each camera is clearly defined, recorded, and aligned with the stated objectives of the video surveillance system.

Step three: Where should the cameras go?

The first question to be addressed with any camera system is, “What do I need to see?” Types of activity that are commonly the object of video surveillance monitoring include unauthorized entry, violent acts, property crime, unsafe conditions, and threats to public or employee safety. In most cases, a combination of potentially harmful activities are targeted for monitoring.

The identified security threats from Step One now need to be considered in greater detail and ideally, plotted by location on a Floor Plan or Site Plan. A targeted location may be an area where a specific threat exists, or a strategic location away from the threat, but where images of the wrongdoer entering or exiting an area could be obtained. The more detail that can be included on the Site/Floor Plan the better as this will aid in the positioning of cameras.
As mentioned earlier, each camera should have a clearly defined purpose. The purpose of observation can vary between the need to monitor the movement of large numbers of people over a wide area to the need for close-up, high quality imagery to support individual identification. Four general observation categories have been defined, which are based on the relative size that a person appears on a video display monitor. The next step is for the organization to decide which of these four categories aligns with the type of activity to be observed within each of the areas marked on the Site or Floor Plan.

Each location on the Site/Floor Plan should be assigned primary and secondary operational objectives based on one or more of the following four observation categories:

  • Monitor Generally observe/monitor behaviour within a broad area
  • Detect Verify an incident after an alarm or report
  • Recognize Monitor/track an individual, group, person, object or vehicle
  • Identify Capture enough detail to identify a person, object or vehicle

The optimal positioning of cameras can now be specified on the Site/Floor Plan. Operational requirements will dictate the type, number and location of cameras. The use of fixed field of view (“fixed”) cameras ensures that a wide range of activity is captured on an uninterrupted basis. Pan-tilt-zoom (“PTZ”) cameras give the operator the ability to cover a wide area but also zoom in to focus on an incident, providing greater detail and assisting with identification of individuals.

Protection of the cameras is also a priority. The use of camera housings incorporating features to mitigate extreme weather and to protect against vandalism need to be considered. However carefully the type of camera and lighting levels have been considered, if the camera is positioned poorly then all the effort can be wasted.

Step four: How will the camera system be monitored and/or recorded?

Step Four is where the organization decides whether the system will be monitored in real-time and if so, when the monitoring will occur and by whom. It may be that monitoring occurs during regular operating hours but not at other times, or there may be a need for 24-hour monitoring. Requirements may vary by day of the week and during periods of higher-than-normal risk.

A choice needs to be made between several different types of monitoring and recording:

  • Active Dedicated operators conduct ongoing surveillance of key areas/activities
  • Passive Monitoring forms one part of other employee duties and is largely reactive
  • Record-Only System is recorded only for review in the event of an incident
  • Non-recorded System is not recorded

The way that video surveillance is to be monitored will affect the selection and positioning of cameras. Video surveillance systems have a finite storage capacity, so a recording unit operating continuously only retains video for a set period before it is overwritten. When the video recorder saves images it compresses them so that more data can be saved. The total storage requirement for a video recorder should be estimated before a system is installed, so that a hard drive of sufficient capacity can be specified. The cost of storage can represent 15-25 percent of a system installation.

A video recorder provides a means of creating a permanent record of an incident, which can then be provided as evidence. This means that the recorded incident must be copied from the internal hard drive to an external storage medium such as a DVD, before it is overwritten by the recorder. The video surveillance system should therefore be provided with a suitable export facility.

Another decision to be made is how the cameras will be displayed. Some camera views may require constant monitoring and thus need a dedicated screen, while other screens can be split to show 4, 8 or even 16 camera views on a single screen. It should be remembered that splitting the screen reduces the resolution and effective screen height of the target. A rule of thumb is that as the number of camera views per screen increases, so should the size of the display screen(s).

Step five: How will the camera system be maintained

A common mistake following a new video surveillance system installation is to overlook the ongoing care and upkeep of the system. It is normal for repairs and maintenance to be included in new system installations for a period of one year. A maintenance program beyond the initial service warranty period is often overlooked, yet strongly advisable.

Typically, a video surveillance system Maintenance Agreement defines the scope and frequency of preventative maintenance for the key elements of the system. Examples may include:

  • checking performance of key system elements;
  • checking environmental conditions in rooms housing video system equipment;
  • cleaning camera domes/lenses and other equipment; and
  • validating operational effectiveness of cameras.


Video surveillance is pervasive within Canadian workplaces, mass gathering areas, facilities and premises. In the absence of standards that offer implementation guidelines to Canadian organizations, video surveillance systems are often poorly conceived and in some cases, do little to combat the security risks they are intended to mitigate.

This column has proposed a set of best practice guidelines to assist in decisions and actions about video surveillance system deployment. The suggested approach begins with a risk assessment to pinpoint the security threats/problems faced and to ascertain whether camera surveillance is a relevant and appropriate solution. Based on the findings of the assessment, a number of pre- and post-implementation steps are proposed that can assist organizations in designing and operating video surveillance systems that are fit for purpose.

David Hyde, M.Sc., CPC
Owner and Principal Consultant
David Hyde and Associates

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David Hyde

Security and business risk consultant at David Hyde and Associates
David Hyde, M.Sc, CPC is a security and business risk consultant, author and educator with 26 years of broad-based leadership experience. He is principal consultant with David Hyde and Associates and in this role is a trusted advisor to a number of Canada’s top corporations on operational and reputational due diligence matters. Read more
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2 thoughts on “Five steps to a successful video surveillance system installation
  • Aldrich says:

    It’s the issue with 80% world once being installed …maintenance and services remain a far away as if SAFETY has already booked its position and there is no signal of dangers ahead. Positioning and Recording remains the first part to look into once the cameras are set into action.
    FootPrint Security

  • Alen says:

    You make some very good points about viability, camera positioning and camera maintenance. However I did want to point out modern solutions for video surveillance to help with monitoring and especially how you store your videos.

    Solutions like Camcloud automate the monitoring for you and store everything in the cloud. This way you have piece of mind that things are stored and archived in a secure environment without lifting a finger.