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You need to know what your CCTV is protecting: Dave Gorkshov

admin September 7, 2013

Dave Gorkshov is currently the elected Chairman of the US CCTV Standards group responsible for publishing the latest standards on CCTV and related citywide communications networks and an adviser to a number of major Transportation and Communications companies on technology solutions including advanced IP CCTV and Video Analytics systems. SECURITY TODAY Group Editor GB Singh spoke to Mr Gorkshov on various issues relating to the use of CCTV for security.

What is the role of a consultant and his utility in security designing?
The security industry has traditionally been a box industry. You know, buy DVRs, buy 16 cameras and put them where you like and that will solve everything. These days what you need to do is to do this in conjunction with the security manager, in conjunction with the insurance company depending on what sort of business you are in. What needs to be done is to have a risk assessment. What is it that I am protecting? What is it that I need surveillance for? And how does bringing in all this help? In some cases it reduces insurance costs. Which is why, assessment of why you need the security apparatus in the first place is important.

In the UK and the United States how much would anyone save on insurance by enhancing electronic security?
It is difficult to quantify because it depends on their risks. But if you take a transport entity, the biggest Return on Investment (ROI) for a transport authority is protecting themselves from insurance claims. Having a CCTV system on their stations, on their platforms in buses, trains – a part of that benefit is mitigation against such claims. The insurance company will see that now that you have a CCTV system, there will be a reduction in frivolous or fraudulent claims, so your insurance premium can be lowered. And that has a significant effect on you operating costs. I know of an instance where a bus operator in a West American city installed wayside fixed cameras on the roads for their bus rapid transit lanes. This was a massive 10 million dollar investment. Within three months they had saved that amount of money in claims. Because they had CCTV evidence to disprove the claims made by claimants which otherwise they would have had to pay up with no evidence in their defence. So it is income while preventing loss. The same is true for department stores, where someone might claim there was no warning sign for, say a wet floor and they claim damages for having slipped on the wet floor and hurt themselves. Such claims happen all the time and with no video evidence to back it up, often they are able to claim compensation successfully. With CCTV evidence all other claims except the genuine ones can be thrown out in court.

This is different in India, because litigation is such a slow painful process and the common man does not believe that he would be compensated if he stakes such a frivolous claim. The law enforcement machinery has not evolved. So the confidence of the public is dipping.

The opportunity for security products like CCTV is growing because of the awareness that the media are creating. But then again, even the media tend to act the specialist and expert when a crime takes place, and the limited knowledge they have on the issue indicates their belief that CCTV is the panacea for every security problem. Which is why when a buyer wants to buy a security product, the first thing that flashes across his mind is CCTV. He just doesn’t think of alarms, he doesn’t think of access control or perimeter security. Did that happen in the UK and US also when the market was evolving?

No, it was different there although the expectations from CCTV remained high. And Hollywood contributed and gives an altogether inflated idea of utility of CCTV. CCTV reliance is high but it is also effective. Not just in London as is popularly believed, it’s all through the country. So we’ve grown up with the technology. And we know it has an effect in controlling crime. Now, how effective it is also depends on the quality of the system and how it is used. It may be used as a deterrent or as a tool to gather evidence. We have also grown up watching the CCTV cameras everywhere. That has also given rise to talks of how intrusive it is. That’s fueled a misconception about CCTV, a ‘Big Brother’ kind of a watch, and the invasion of privacy. In fact, it is not quite as intrusive as that. Again we need to understand what one needs to do with CCTV and what risk it is mitigating.

Is it mitigating thefts, is it watching over cash points. In most cases, it is an evidence gatherer to ensure against litigation. So it is important for insurance companies to get involved. And even judiciary to get involved as to whether CCTV footage is required as evidence or accepted as evidence. I wouldn’t say every household has it in UK but I would say most commercial establishments have them to act as a deterrent against crime. If it’s a bar or a club as per local licensing regulations you have to have a CCTV that works so that later evidence can be taken if there is trouble. During the London Metro bombing, evidence was taken from CCTV in local stores, roads and other places to gather evidence, all that was stitched together to go forward in the investigation.

Does CCTV prevent crime?
Possibly. One cannot say it doesn’t. Because from a terrorist to a normal thief, they would all want to stay away from a CCTV focus. Maybe the terrorist doesn’t care that much but other criminals would take care and target an area where there is no CCTV. The potential of being detected is critical and a CCTV can detect. For any other criminal, if they see a surveillance camera in place, they may prefer to try elsewhere. Even during 7/7 in 2005 (London Bombing) we were able to discover the group, within four days, and possibly that’s why we were able to prevent further attacks. Similarly after 9/11, the entire conspiracy was unraveled and further such acts were prevented by Homeland Security. These were milestone events. And even my standards committee was formed following these events. And we were able to bring quality to the existing systems. We were able to reveal that the systems in place needed a standard because they were not giving the quality of images needed to deliver the solution. So we put that quality in process for these systems. We can now have more effective license plate recognition technology, more effective video analytics.

In UK, is there a government stipulation on license plates? In India we have just started the process of high security number plates for vehicles.

The difference is that in the UK, police can use this method of high security number plate recognition effectively because of an efficient back end database. In India, possibly the database existence is questionable and such tracking would take far too long a time because of the bureaucratic system in operation. Identifying the number is an easy part. How do you get the rest of the information about the owner of the number? You need a database for that. We have had the system of database, size of plate and other issues for a long time and the US is also the same in this sector. Most police cars in UK, US and Europe do carry ANPR cameras on board to track down a suspect within a few seconds. They were initially expensive but now they are a part of standard equipment.

India is also adopting projects like the CCTNS where all police stations will be on a common network to form a data base that can be shared. Similarly there is the UID project of a common identity card for all Indians. But there needs to be a common political will to see these through. How is it in UK?

Well, we faced a similar problem in a national identity card where people felt that they were giving out too much personal information. That project is on a slow burner because of objections of it intruding into an individual’s privacy. But I don’t see any problem, since people have already given the information when they take credit cards and so forth, so I don’t see the problem in giving the same information again. But yes, political will is essential since that acts as a catalyst.

These networks of cameras that you spoke about. Are they state cameras or are they independent network cameras that the state also has access to?

See, privacy laws in a number of countries do not allow access to privately owned camera by the police. In countries like Germany, Italy, Spain there are a lot of cameras but privacy laws do not give their access to anybody. In the UK, we had domestic terrorism threats for a long time, so we have state operated cameras everywhere. Then there are privately installed cameras at shops and commercial establishments. Now these cameras are not generally accessible to the government as such. Police do not even have direct access to municipal cameras unless it is through municipal authorities. So we have a system wherein police can have access to any cameras through appropriate channels. And it normally is not a huge problem to do this.

Is that direct inaccessibility because of legal issues or because of technical reasons?

Well it’s because most cameras operated by various sections are for their own personal safety. The Municipal cameras are there to ensure that buses run on time and there is no traffic congestion caused. Police have their own cameras too for a different purpose of crime control. But as I said, they can have access, if really needed, for crime control.

It was said that during the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai, police should have had access to Taj cameras to log in and watch the events unfolding inside. What do you think holds back this kind of system?

Well I have been involved in safe city projects. There has to be a will of the legal system to allow that to happen. But in most cases it will be seen as an intrusion to privacy. I mean why would the police want to look inside the hotel. There are certain countries where state is allowed to carry out a certain level of surveillance on the sly if it is needed. A shopping mall public space would be surveyed by police and they would have a system wherein the police would have access to those cameras for security. That is a system that acts everywhere where the public area can be accessed by police but interior CCTV cameras are in private hands .

With so much IT and technology coming into CCTV, does the future belong to IT experts or the physical security guys?

It’s important not to put barriers. It should be remembered that it is the solution or remedy that is important. Who does it or who maintains it is a secondary issue. This turf war needs to be moved aside. Agreed, that a lot of information that goes on is traditionally maintained by IT but we have to question whether the IT department understands security. Generally not. The IT guys would consider themselves a cut above the physical security guys. The IT persons are a means to a solution. The two need each other because either will not be able to do the job in isolation. They need each other’s inputs for a solution. I agree, in a lot of organisations, the IT guys are expected to operate the security system with the security department merely a watchdog. That’s not correct. This turf war is not good for security and has to stop. And as we move on to higher levels of surveillance systems with data bases and information on analytics we are also seeing major IT companies coming into the security industry.

Are people aware of security designing?

Take traffic surveillance for instance. All you need is one good camera with good resolution to do the task. You don’t need 20 cameras with poor resolutions which will be pushed away by a court of law because it doesn’t meet minimum resolution levels to be considered evidence. They need to know what the camera is needed for. If the link is for an officer to sit there and see if there’s something going on, that’s fine. But if he says I need that image to go to court or forensic analysis, it wouldn’t be enough. So basically you need to know what are you using your system for? Mostly, people who buy these systems, don’t understand what they want it for. You need to know what the CCTV network is going to do. That’s where the security guy needs to sit with the IT guy and decide what he needs in the imaging. So integration here is necessary between IT and physical security.

Basically it all comes down to designing a security system to tell you what you want, how much you want and whether you really need the number of cameras that you have wanted. Also to tell you what you need from the cameras – just surveillance or you want image clarity for legal evidence and forensic evidence. And you definitely need a close integration between IT and physical security.

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