Security managers, installers and integrators look into a wide variety of factors when selecting a remote video monitoring receiving centre to provide continued real-time surveillance of their sites. But there’s one factor which isn’t often taken into consideration, when it really should be. That’s the welfare of the CCTV operators who are tasked with responding to alarms and ensuring on-site incidents are dealt with appropriately.
The fact is, in most UK monitoring centres those operators are working extremely long hours: typically 12-hour shifts, often four days in a row. The cumulative effect of that regular extreme shift pattern can be a level of fatigue which is detrimental to the performance of the operators, as well as to their own physical health and mental wellbeing. The result is a reduction in effectiveness of client video security systems. If the operators are compromised when it comes to clear decision-making, the entire monitoring operation suffers.
The central aspects of concentration and alertness
I’ve worked in monitoring centres for most of my adult life, starting just out of school. When I had the opportunity to begin my own CCTV and security alarm most In UK monitoring centres, those operators are working extremely long hours: typically 12-hour shifts, often four days in a rowmonitoring centre with my business partner Andy Saile, we were clear that operator welfare was a priority. After all, the operator’s job is literally to be alert and responsive, so why would we want to do anything to detract from that?
That’s certainly not the case at all remote monitoring centres, though. The vast majority follow the 12-hour shift template, usually in four days on, four off patterns. Anyone who has done any job knows that at the end of a 12-hour shift, fatigue kicks in, and the ability to focus diminishes. That’s particularly the case in roles where concentration and alertness are central to the job.
For a CCTV operator in a monitoring centre, fatigue starts to affect the ability to work effectively during the stretch between 9 and 12 hours. That’s the danger period. If an operator misses a criminal incident because of fatigue, that means the security system the client is relying on is not working. The operator is the link between the technology and the police. They are a key component of the whole system.
|If an operator misses a criminal incident because of fatigue, that means the security system the client is relying on is not working|
After working in remote video monitoring centres and experiencing what we considered both good and bad practice, when Andy and I established our business, we were clear that our operators would work in shifts that were no longer than nine hours at most. This delivers the best results for our customers and our staff.
Our feeling was backed up by UK government guidance on designing CCTV control rooms. The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure has produced a detailed publication called 'Human factors in CCTV control rooms: A best practice guide'. This publication says: “12-hour shifts, although common in many settings, rIf the operators are compromised when it comes to clear decision-making, the entire monitoring operation suffersepresent a greater risk to health and performance than 8 hour shifts in terms of higher perceptions of workload, fatigue and stress, risk of more errors and accidents, and higher health risks.”
Negative impacts on health and wellbeing
It further says: “Research confirms that the interruption of circadian rhythms (the 24 hour natural bodily cycle) by shift work can have a negative impact on both general wellbeing and physical health (short and long term), as well as on performance due to general fatigue (i.e. an increased likelihood of errors). Shift-patterns are often designed to meet commercial and operational requirements, but serious consideration should be given to minimising negative effects on health and well-being by the use of appropriate shift patterns.”
The majority of our shifts cover seven or eight hours, and our operators never work more than four in a row. That allows for an average of three or four days between each batch of shifts. The idea is to avoid running staff into the ground, and that in turn makes our company more efficient and effective in the service of our clients. We’ve seen the results in practice: our operators only took four sick days in the past year. That’s four sick days in total, not per operator. It’s a CCTV operators have intense jobs, responsible for monitoring and responding to CCTV and intruder alarm events from commercial and domestic propertiesremarkably low figure in the remote video monitoring industry.
CCTV operators have intense jobs, responsible for monitoring and responding to CCTV and intruder alarm events from commercial and domestic properties. They liaise with the police, the customer keyholder, end users and any relevant authorities as required.
Our customers are equipped with both cameras and motion sensors, which generate alarms on movement. When a movement in a specified zone occurs, the alarm is raised directly with the operator responsible for that site. The response differs from customer to customer depending on their own protocols. If there are dome cameras in place, for instance, they can be utilised to provide additional situational awareness.
Traditional intruder alarm monitoring centres required the operator to react to an alarm by calling a keyholder, who would then respond to the incident. But remote monitoring requires concentration, focus, and deductive skills. The information required to make an informed decision isn’t immediately obvious – the The operator must be able to snap to full focus at any point over the course of their shift, and it’s tiringoperator must work out what has moved and establish its cause. There’s no one to provide extra detail. The operator’s art is in working out for themselves what is relevant information in a scene and what isn’t. That requires their full attention.
When operators work four days of 12-hour shifts in a row, risks escalate as a result. The risk that the wrong decision can be made. The risk that customers or police are not notified when they should be. There is a real-world cost associated with those decisions. The operator must be able to snap to full focus at any point over the course of their shift, and it’s tiring, whether there’s an incident to respond to or whether the operator is simply prepared to act.
Operator skills are diluted if their shift patterns are not considered. Why would you hire someone based on their skillset, and then work them into the ground until they’re too tired to execute those skills?
Choosing a monitoring centre
Security systems and modern technology are crucial ingredients in protecting people and property, but they also require interpretation. A CCTV operator is an Security systems and modern technology are crucial ingredients in protecting people and property, but they also require interpretationinvestigator and a conduit, bridging the divide between images, alarms and authorities, be they police, security guarding operations or keyholders. To run them into the ground is to diminish their ability to make intelligent decisions.
It makes sense, then, to opt to work with a monitoring centre which puts the welfare of its operators at the forefront of its business. Start by asking your prospective RVRC about their shift patterns. A monitoring centre with respected and happy staff is a monitoring centre best able to provide a fully effective service, optimising your security systems and maximising your investment.