Choosing a CCTV system - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Choosing a CCTV system

Veterinary Practice looks at the various options and what needs to be considered when monitoring people or premises.

GEORGE Orwell was accurately prophetic about the surveillance state – CCTV is everywhere. But as the technology has advanced, so its uses have diversified.

Indeed, the take-up of the technology in the UK has made us the most spied upon nation in the world – there are more cameras in the UK, per person, than anywhere else in the world. So what began as a method of watching V2 rocket testing has rapidly morphed in the fight against crime.

Some use a CCTV system to keep recorded video footage of criminal activity. This can include shoplifting, vandalism, break-ins and hold ups. Another purpose is to keep an eye, and recorded video footage, on staff.

Think of the manager or practice owner who suspects that staff are stealing from the till, or even taking goods out the back door. Managers also want to have evidence if they suspect that their staff are slacking off, or smoking where they are not allowed to do so.

Another major reason businesses put in a CCTV system is for public liability. This might include a customer slipping on the premises who then tries to sue the owner. Having your main walk areas covered by CCTV cameras can save you in a situation such as this.

Buying a CCTV system for your practice can be much like choosing a new computer. There are too many to choose from and you will be overwhelmed by various brand names and the jargon.

Technical considerations

There are countless technical considerations to bear in mind when choosing a CCTV system and a good specialist – Google and Yell.co.uk can help you find suppliers – will help you through the maze. In general, though, you need to consider:

  • Cost. How much do you want to spend? A really basic four-camera kit can be had for £250, but you get what you pay for – don’t expect much or a long life product. You can spend hundreds on the camera alone. It’s best to shop around. One business was quoted between £4,000 and £9,000 for a seven-camera installation. Obviously, the cost will depend on the system and number of cameras required.
  • Range. How far the cameras can zoom in and so on. Some cameras are good for covering general areas, while you may want a camera on the front entrance zoomed in to just cover a person’s face and torso. You may find you need a larger lens than standard to zoom in specifically on a certain area. For example, instead of 2.5-8mm lens you may need a 5-50mm lens. These larger lenses are commonly used to zoom right in to catch number plates or facial features.
  • Type. For a basic set-up, a standard camera will do for most situations. Of course, if you need the cameras to record at night or in dark areas then you would need to look at infrared (IR) cameras or “true day/night” technology cameras. IR cameras will turn from colour to black and white when it gets too dark. The true day/night cameras can do one of two things: they will either turn black and white when it gets dark or they can stay colour. These cameras give a better black and white after-dark picture than an IR camera, but the colour option may not be very clear at all.
  • Style. You can choose, in general, from full body cameras, which need a separate lens, bracket and secure enclosure, and dome cameras which come with an in-built lens and the camera, lens and dome enclosure and are sold as one item. Consider if you need weatherproof or vandal-resistant dome cameras and outdoor enclosures.
  • Analogue or digital. Analogue systems record on, say, a three-hour tape, which the machine stretches to last 12 hours. This means two tapes per day. Further, with a VHS tape you manually search for an incident. Most digital security systems will let you type in a date and time and go straight to the incident you are looking for. Check that motion detection is built into the system. Without this you will store up days of useless footage and doing an event search by time and date will take longer. Another way to increase the amount of time you can store is to decrease the quality or frame rate of your camera recording. Many manufacturers of digital video security systems produce simple calculator guides which can help you determine the expected recording period of your hard drive at various frame rates. Check the recorded image. What looks good live on the monitor may be unusable on playback. Digital video systems also watermark all the recorded footage with time and date. This ensures the evidence will hold up in court – or can at least aid the police in securing a conviction.

Remote access

There are two types of remote access. One is simply from another computer in your workplace through your network. The other type of remote access is from another site, such as your home.

You can connect via an “open virtual network”, but this needs a computer-networking expert and can cost thousands. Here your remote computer behaves as though it is in the same building as the CCTV, via a telephone where you plug a normal telephone line into the back of the digital system and also plug a phone line into your home computer. You then dial in.

Connections are slow and you can only view one camera at a time; alternatively, you can connect via broadband and in most cases all you need to do is have your broadband modem set to allow port forwarding and you have to have a Static IP Address (or fixed address) provided by your internet service provider.

Monitor

Some recorders can connect to a normal computer monitor (CRT or panel) with a VGA connection. Some systems have multiple types of monitors you can connect to – this is certainly preferred and gives you more choice. And others only have a BNC or RCA output: BNC can only be used with very expensive professional security monitors.

In summary, a CCTV system can be an excellent investment. Not only do the visible cameras act as a deterrent, but if you do have an incident you are reassured that you have a video of it.

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