Riot Raises Questions Regarding CCTV Effectiveness

This week’s riots in London have shown that there is a limit to what electronic security can do: at some point you’ll need a pair of boots and a truncheon. But even then there have been complaints about ineffective deployment of the police; being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
By Ewan D Lamont, (Analyst, Video Surveillance and Security Services, IMS Research August 11, 2011

IMS research: excellence in market intelligneceThis week’s riots in London have shown that there is a limit to what electronic security can do: at some point you’ll need a pair of boots and a truncheon. But even then there have been complaints about ineffective deployment of the police; being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The rioters themselves have maximised the use of technology with social media and instant messaging being used to circulate information and organise their “protests”. This is one of the reasons that the police are struggling. It is hard for them to keep up with the speed of the rioters.

Facial detection VCA (Video Content Analysis) applied to the CCTV footage and cross-referenced social media platforms, such as Facebook, may still be a few years off from being a reliable way of identifying those who need to be brought to justice, but it is an example of where the current technologies that we have may be going.

On a more realistic note, enhancing the effectiveness of CCTV, in one of the most CCTV-covered cities in Europe (London contains around a third of all the CCTV cameras in the UK), could see an increase in police deployment efficiency in response to trouble flaring. However, in this particular case, these existing systems do not appear to be being used to their optimum advantage, still relying heavily (and in some cases solely) on human judgement and awareness. This raises questions about whether their value is truly being realised.

Whilst “Minority Report” style tracking and detection is still very much science fiction, present day advances in video analytics and physical security situation management (such as PSIM) could provide significant benefits to existing systems. Furthermore, this is a lesson for all manufacturers and integrators: usability is a key factor for success in security systems. Technology needs to be applied intelligently and used to its maximum potential. Spending millions on security equipment does not equate to increased security if the system cannot be used effectively.