UCL News


Watching the watchers

1 May 2006

Hina Keval [UCL Computer Science] is a graduate student working towards her PhD.

… As part of her research into "human factors", she is examining control rooms and CCTV operators. She presented some of her early findings to the [CCTV Image Spring] conference. …

A lot of CCTV research focuses on whether CCTV works, is it a deterrent and what are public perceptions of it? There is also a large body of research on data protection.

But, said Hina, what's missing is whether the technology deployed in CCTV control rooms is actually usable. Are we actually assessing the performance of equipment from a user point of view? …

Hina … chose CCTV because it's an important topic, there's a lot of money being put into it, and she thinks it's important to take a step back and measure performance and see if it's cost-effective.

Hina visited five control rooms and interviewed managers and operators. …

She found that local authorities are adding more and more cameras into their control rooms without matching it with the number of operators. This is leading to problems of information overload.

Operators identified a number of problems with the control room environment, including being unable to see the screens due to poor positioning, screens not working, and poor quality image transmission, which meant that operators were concerned about missing important events. …

Operators reported … that there was a lot of information flowing into the control room apart from video including radio, emails and telephone, and they were concerned about potentials for missing incidents or making errors. Operators said they were often too busy to go on breaks and they were doing 12 hour shifts. …

One of the biggest problems had to do with camera search and selection. If prompted by a police officer to track someone on camera, operators sometimes didn't have a clue as to where to go because they weren't from the area and had no local knowledge.

'CCTV User Group'