The recent announcement of Logan City Council’s $1.2 million CCTV monitoring centre upgrade got me thinking about the use of surveillance footage. As all public safety officers know, you can’t stare at a screen waiting for a crime to be committed. How can governments and public safety agencies make the most of CCTV footage? What must they do to make this information accessible, usable and readily understandable?
The more cameras you have, the more footage you have to store, making it increasingly difficult to manage and use it. But when stored and used properly, video surveillance footage can make a very real difference. Richer, more comprehensive and more timely information empowers decision-makers and those on the frontline.
There is little point in recording and storing video security footage without an overarching policy and an accompanying set of procedures to ensure it can be retrieved and used to make the public safer.
Connecting the dots – Metadata the Superhero
The ability to connect seemingly unrelated, and sometimes contradictory, pieces of information is paramount. This has been well-understood for years in criminal intelligence and counter-terrorism (you may have seen the social network of the 9/11 plotters). The true value of video footage is only realised when it is combined with other sources of information. A video clip may not appear to mean anything now, but one year or even five down the track that particular piece of information could help to crack a case.
This is where the use of metadata is vital. By ‘tagging’ surveillance footage (in other words, adding metadata to it), it becomes possible to join the dots more easily, connecting numerous pieces of information to build a more complete picture. Metadata tags like a person’s age, gender and height, or a car’s make, colour and registration number, could later be pivotal in connecting important pieces of information, perhaps a CCTV video clip, a police officer’s report and a photograph taken by a member of the public, to solve a crime.
Citizens are more involved in public safety than ever before – think of the London riots, the 2011 Queensland floods, the Black Saturday bush-fires. A combination of information sources like social media posts, police tip-offs, statements and images captured by the public can all add up to something far more useful if the information can be found, retrieved and connected quickly and easily.
Overall, for major disaster or security events the objective should be to combine all of this disparate information, including video footage, in a ‘common operational picture’ (COP). This is a geo-spatially referenced ‘compendium’ of the available information, organised in a way that supports time-sensitive interpretation and helps decision-makers become situationally aware. A COP provides decision-makers and frontline responders with an invaluable tool to make informed decisions.
It’s all about connecting the dots.