Security

4 tips for designing and installing a surveillance system in your business

There are a lot of factors, including legal concerns, to consider before installing a camera surveillance system. These tips will help you get started.

Depending on the size of the organization, IT professionals may be tasked with performing duties outside their area of expertise.

Where it once may have required a security or surveillance professional to set up a complex surveillance system, advances in technology have made installing a single or multi-camera surveillance system easier than ever.

Here are four tips to keep in mind before installing a surveillance system:

1. Camera placement

The placement of cameras is perhaps the most important aspect of any surveillance system. In order to maximize a system's effectiveness, cameras should be installed in locations that cover the most area with little overlap.

When installing a camera, the technician needs to know what is, and what isn't within the camera's view. "If you need a close up, like for a cash register, make sure that you get a little extra on the sides just in case," said former casino surveillance supervisor Eric Booher.

The tighter the shot, the greater the potential for loss. Therefore, having camera overlap or a wider shot could potentially save a company from theft or lawsuits.

Additionally, a camera's environment is another important thing to consider. For example, installing an expensive Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) camera outdoors without proper protection against the elements will lead to damage and high replacement costs. Also, if a camera is going to be used to cover exterior entrances, exits or lots, it should be able to see in the dark.

See: IT physical security policy (Tech Pro Research)

2. Camera types

Fixed cameras are the backbone of any good surveillance system. They are often cheaper than a PTZ camera with a higher resolution image. However, a PTZ camera can only cover as much area as a multi-fixed camera setup if there is someone there to operate the camera.

"To get the most out of them make sure they are placed in open areas to avoid dead space where nothing will happen like on walls or corners," Booher said.

However, PTZ cameras are a good choice for actively monitoring suspicious activity, zooming in on transactions, or monitoring guest and employee safety. Plus, for employees who review surveillance footage, they help decrease the fatigue that comes with staring at a screen all day.

Fixed and PTZ cameras are just the tipping point, however. There are a vast array of specialty cameras capable of meeting the specific needs of just about any situation, such as 360 and panoramic cameras, fisheye lenses, thermal imaging and night vision, and even explosive and water proof cameras and housing.

"If you place a fixed in a corner facing a room but can't get everything you want, look into a fisheye lens," Booher said. "If your system is compatible with them I would recommend what is known as a 360 camera on large open indoor areas with lots of traffic. Essentially they are four fixed cameras and the system lets you move in review."

3. Systems and set-ups

Basic surveillance systems can often be found in any of the big box stores, such as Meijer, Walmart, or Best Buy. These will generally consist of a few fixed cameras and a DVR or other storage device. For the most part, most of them come with everything you need, including wires and hard drives.

"PTZ cameras are not needed unless there is someone watching the cameras 90 percent of the time," Booher said.

Additionally, some suppliers have specialized keyboards, from touchscreens to joystick controls. However, be aware of the advantages and limitations of these devices. These things cost money, so it's best to have the right equipment beforehand.

"If a joystick goes out parts can be replaced," Booher said. "But if a touchscreen goes out, and it will at some point, that screen have to be replaced, and more times than not it will mean replacing the whole keyboard."

A camera system is only as good as the equipment and the people operating it. If it is going to be unmanned, there isn't a need for PTZ cameras. Furthermore, be careful about off-site monitoring.

"As awesome and convenient as they seem, camera systems that allow you to view them off site, using an app or ip address, are great on paper," Booher said. "But unless they are actively protected by a company, like ADT or Brinks, the threat of hacking is defiantly real not not to be taken lightly."

SEE: Guidelines for building security policies (Tech Pro Research)

4. Legal issues

In addition to the legality of off-site monitoring, be aware of other possible legal restrictions or privacy issues. Obviously, restrooms and dressing rooms should not have coverage beyond an entrance/exit shot, but beware of what else the camera might be capturing. Furthermore, be aware that law enforcement may subpoena any footage of a crime captured on camera.

Although there may be a legitimate reason to have cameras in break areas or pointing towards a neighboring business or residence, be sure the coverage is absolutely necessary. It may not be illegal, but employees probably won't like being spied on in their down time.

The laws for recording audio and video differ from state to state or country to country, so be sure that no laws are being broken. And, as an additional tip, if the cameras are placed in public areas, it's probably best to post signs stating that they may be under surveillance.

Setting up a good security system requires research and an eye for detail. However, if the task will require an extensive set-up or there are potential legal issues don't hesitate to hire the professionals. Companies such as Pelco, Axis, or ADT can provide the resources or information needed for the busy professional.

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About Tony Pacheco

Tony Pacheco is an Associate Video Producer for TechRepublic and a former casino surveillance professional. Tony graduated from Indiana University Southeast, majoring in History and Multimedia Journalism.

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