The million-dollar question when it comes to control room management is whether it should be managed on-site or off-site and whether it should be staffed by in-house personnel or outsourced to professionally trained and skilled operators. The control room is at the heart of security installations, bringing together video surveillance, licence plate recognition, access control, power management, personnel management, and emergency services, for example, into one room. It serves as the central point for a facility or dispersed security service and is monitored and controlled by skilled personnel.

Proactive or retrospective?

The value of a well-managed control room is that incidents can be managed proactively, and criminals can be caught in the act, rather than retrospectively once an incident or breach has occurred.

For a control room to be proactively and skilfully managed, several complex activities and requirements come into play. These include, but are not limited to, staffing, technology, response protocol space and, of course, the all-important budgetary requirements.

Providing space is available, the benefit of an on-site control room primarily comes in the form of situational awareness and local knowledge of the facility or property.

However, the downside includes capital outlay and complex staffing issues that include skill sets and training, 24-hour shift availability and management, relief staff, staff welfare needed as a result of intense monitoring when working in a high-pressure environment, the ability to mitigate against collusion between security staff and criminals, and securing the control room itself, which is prone to targeting by criminals.

The pros and cons of on-site vs off-site management

In many cases, security falls short when low-cost analogue security systems, which are not well managed, are relied upon. However, the capital outlay required to set up a high-tech proactive on-site control room is significant.

Customers opting to outsource their control room services eliminate the need for capital outlay while benefiting from high-tech systems such as thermal and infrared cameras that make use of artificial intelligence with the ability to ‘learn’ environmental threats and classifications, as well as provide detailed analytics and reports.

Off-site control rooms and remote surveillance also offer great benefits in terms of economies of scale, particularly for event-based monitoring. In this case, while personnel are highly trained and available, they only respond when an event triggers an alarm. On low-traffic sites, or at night, this option is ideal because it reduces costs as systems do not need dedicated monitoring around the clock.

Making the most of manpower

Manpower is another major benefit of off-site surveillance. Collusion between criminals and security personnel is always a concern for security managers. Other benefits include the independent deployment of reaction teams and the removal of localised risk. While this helps to keep site-based security teams vigilant, the downside can be the speed of response to events logged from the control room.

Besides the significant requirements to man an on-site control room from a staffing perspective, customers need to consider the costs. These include the legal requirements of maintaining a security operation on-site; staff training; salaries for 24-hour staffing; hardware, software and high-speed data with sufficient bandwidth to cope with a high-tech system; and adequate security for the control room itself.

A mistake often made when managing an on-site control room is the skill required by surveillance personnel. Remote surveillance teams are highly trained for good reason. They can multitask and make complex decisions on the fly under stressful conditions. They have high levels of concentration and good attention to detail, they’re computer literate and

have well developed and usually multilingual speaking and writing skills, as well as report writing, and they have advanced training on the systems they monitor and operate. Several advanced skills such as people profiling and investigative skills also fall within the scope of their training.

Financial considerations play a pivotal role when it comes to choosing on- or off-site control room management, surveillance and response. Customers should fully research their options, as well as remote service providers, before deciding. A few of the major considerations include space requirements, a cost comparison between on- and off-site management, hardware and software requirements, as well as the formidable task of personnel welfare, shift requirements, logistics and costs.

The decision is not simple but should be based on what the system needs to accomplish and how best to achieve this.