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All about control rooms

Offsite Control Room

Offsite or Virtual Control Rooms


Over the past few years great progress has been made in combating crime with the aid of CCTV cameras linked to sophisticated control rooms in applications like City Surveillance, Casinos, Airports and Traffic control centres.
Unfortunately, the same progress has not been evident in many market sectors that make up the very core of the economic engine of South Africa. CCTV systems deployed in Manufacturing, Warehousing, Logistics, Commerce and our biggest non moveable asset base, Property, are totally under utilised.
CCTV systems installed in these market sectors are normally monitored by the loss control manager (normally responsible for Environment, Health, Safety and Security) who cannot dedicate their full time to their CCTV systems. Subsequently, their company's investment into CCTV systems is not fully realised. These systems are typically utilised for less then 10% of the day and are normally used reactively, in trying to establish what happened in past events.

H.264 Video Compression Technology


With the advent of better video streaming technologies and compression techniques like the H.264 compression algorithms, these white elephant CCTV systems can now be more proactively utilised by linking them into independent third party virtual CCTV control rooms. From these virtual or offsite control rooms, trained CCTV operators can monitor and manage remote site activities based on certain client requirements and site procedures. These site procedures could include stock control at goods receiving and despatch points, enforcement of SHE standards in the work place, remote access control, general monitoring of perimeters and strategic areas like cash offices and high risk areas to name just a few of the current applications.
These offsite control rooms are quite different from City Surveillance applications and needs to be implemented with different operating criteria and external triggers. Digital inputs and outputs for status monitoring, control of doors and gates as well as voice communications to these remote sites are key components in effective remote site control.


Motivating Factors


What are the main motivating factors to consider before implementing offsite CCTV monitoring?

  • Firstly better utilisation of existing CCTV installations
  • If you don't have a CCTV system yet then design it with a view for offsite monitoring as well as your day to day operational requirements.
  • Your current manpower guarding compliment is not meeting you security expectations for a number of reasons:

-> Not patrolling premises as per site procedures.
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> Not conducting access control inspections and searches.
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> Sleeping on duty after hours.
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> Collusion with intruders and criminals.
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> Allowing unauthorised access.
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> Allowing unauthorised removal of property.
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> Incorrect postings.
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> Conflicting stories when questioned about incidents.
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> Incorrect response in event of an incident.
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> Test driving client vehicles after hours.

Positive Aspects to Offsite Monitoring


There are of course positive aspects about your current guarding compliment which we know will improved guarding efficiencies:
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> Guards feel more confident about doing patrols knowing they are being watched via the cameras and as needed get audio instructions from the control room about impending dangers.
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> Guards have an immediate second reference with the control room operator to consult with in sorting out site issues.
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> Guarding efficiency in all aspects improve by about 300%. You may think this is a lot but it is astonishing to see the improvement in security after only 2 months of offsite monitoring.


Choosing Your Service Provider


How would you choose your offsite monitoring service provider and what is the necessary technical performance criteria that such a service provider should meet?? This is a very interesting question as there is no specific South African standard that CCTV control rooms should meet.

  • A good starting point is the SAIDSA Bylaw 1 which details the requirements for alarm system monitoring control rooms. All aspects of this bylaw should apply with the exception of the alarm monitoring equipment for intrusion systems. This bylaw covers things like

-> Access control to the control room
-> Door interlocking which is a part of access control
-> Physical construction of the walls, doors, ceiling, and windows.
->Fresh air ventilation and air conditioning

In addition to the Bylaw, CCTV offsite control rooms should also have:

  • A 220VAC stand by generator capable of continuous operation for at least four to 6 days. The complete control room power loading should be calculated and the standby generator should be capable of this load plus at least 30% spare generating capacity. The generator should switch over power to the control room automatically within at least one minute. The generator should also be capable of handling any future expansion plus 30%. The generator should be in a safe and secure well ventilated area. Heat build up, exhaust fume extraction and noise factors should be considered and the installation should be signed off by a registered electrical engineer
  • A UPS (un-interrupted power supply) of sufficient loading should be connected between the in coming mains supply (Escom or genset) to facilitate the smooth change over of incoming power in the event of Escom power failure and restorals. Again it is advisable that the UPS sizing is calculated against the loading of essential services plus future expansion plus 30% spare capacity for redundancy.
  • A sub electrical distribution board where all services in the control room including the generator, UPS, essential and non essential services are controlled.
  • A LAN (local area network) network, preferable operating on a 100/1000 Gigabyte bandwidth which is controlled by a network manager with formal IT skills and qualifications to ensure that proper administrator access, security levels and anti virus protection is in place and controlled to minimise down time due to virus and operator fiddle factor.
  • A WAN (wide area network) network, connecting remote client sites to the control room. The structure of this and the choice of the monitoring software technologies ultimately effects two critical factors, the quality of pictures received in the control room, the update rate of these pictures and the volume of all the traffic (data) coming into and leaving the control room. The service provider, primarily Telkom, should have in place a SLA (service level agreement) which outlines the type of service offered and most importantly the response time to repair a service which may have gone down. There are Bronze, Silver and Gold service levels available and a prospective client should know the worst probable down time by the WAN service provider.
  • A telephone management system should also be installed to monitor and manage all incoming and outgoing calls. This can be used as an internal audit trail to follow the sequence of events after an incident.

Picture Quality and Update Frame Rate


The second most important thing is the quality of the picture received in the offsite control room and the update frame rate of these pictures. In technical terms it should be possible to receive a 4CIF picture with either 2 or 4 frames update per second. There are a lot of factors that make this possible or not possible and ultimately determine the quality of service a control room vendor can supply.
Factors that effect this are:
The compression technology employed from the viewing station in the offsite control room to the CCTV recorder on site. As mentioned before, the H.264 compression technology deployed in Dallmeier CCTV recorders has two main advantages:
1. More quality pictures stored onto local storage media or longer recording times because of the small picture file size in comparison to JPEG and MPEG compression technologies.
2. Sending these pictures over limited bandwidth WAN services without compromising the picture quality or transmission frame rate. This is the most important technical consideration for offsite control room vendors. You can just imagine getting numerous CCTV feeds into a control from sites all over the country over a WAN. The networking considerations, bandwidth usage and IP addressing are completely different to directly wired or megabit LAN networks
In layman's terms the picture below is the picture quality we receive in our control room. This is a 4CIF picture and we can select any pictures per second update required, typically 4 pictures per second. The multi image screen updates of cameras makes the Dallmeier PRemote H.264 advanced software one of the best software suites for offsite monitoring.

This is typical of the picture quality in our control room

4 images being transmitted simultaneously

9 images being transmitted simultaneously

Control Room Management and Proceedures.


The third most important global factor in a control room is the paper work and the adherence to local control and remote site operational procedures.
Control room procedures should include:

  • Routine hourly tours of the client sites by checking the visuals of cameras covering inspection points about the site, we call this "Virtual guard tours".
  • Alarm re-active inspection which is the visual verification via the on site cameras of alarms which may have been triggered. These could be from outdoor PIR and IR beam detectors, electric fence systems and building intrusion detection systems. Other alarm triggers could be Escom power failures, level control of strategic raw materials critical to production processes, bottle necks on production conveyer system, high and low temperature control in furnaces and refrigeration plant.
  • Procedures to be followed in the event of an alarm condition with all the necessary contact people required to attend to the alarm condition.
  • The maintenance of an OB book to record routine inspections observations and actions taken in event of alarms or site procedural violations.
  • Recording of technical problems and implementing the necessary remedial works.
  • Carrying out routine functional tests on alarm systems to ensure the proper interfaces are working and that they are electronically logged in the offsite control centre. This will also include routine running and testing of control room backup systems.
  • General controller's time and attendance and shift rosters.

House Keeping.


Another global factor in a control room is housekeeping and how the place has been wired and erected. Special attention should be given to the control ergonomics, which includes:

  • Operator seating.
  • Monitor position taking cognisance of monitor size and quality
  • Separation of operator workstations but also ensuring communications between operators
  • A shabby "server come communication" room is a sure sign of inadequate planning, no redundancy, no structure and low reliability. Numerous offsite control rooms are a wiring nightmare and an absolute mess and have technicians trying to sort out problems continuously.
  • Control rooms should comply with the highest standard of wiring, redundancy and ergonomic design. There should always be space for at least 100% increase in capacity which will ensure proper structured growth of the control centre.


Modular Communication's offsite control room is based in Port Elizabeth and monitors sites around the country. The control room is a model installation of how a control room should be constructed, mechanically and technologically as well as clear control room and site specific operational procedures. The control room is based on the Dallmeier range of recorders which utilise the H.264 video compression technology. The picture quality reproduced in the control room is of an exceptionally high quality with selectable frame rate which is managed through the operator interface, PView. Similarly, alarms are handled through the alarm software, PGuard.

Modular supply the complete CCTV surveillance solution which includes: design, installation, maintenance and offsite monitoring services.

Call Cliff Rose on 083 456 9542 and we will be happy to assist you. Even if you want your own control centre built, we will engineer and project manage the whole thing for you


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