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How COVID-19 Impacts CCTV Operators


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Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks, such as cloth masks and surgical masks, have been employed as a personal and public health control measure against the spread of the virus. 

In England, as of 24th July 2020, it has been mandatory to wear face masks when going to public transport and shops. While it is a necessary safety precaution against SARS-CoV-2, have you ever wondered how facial coverings affect CCTV Footage? What exactly does this obstacle mean for CCTV Operators?

What does a CCTV Operator do?

Get Licensed described the role of CCTV operators as a group of staff or an individual who protect property, safeguard the public, and ensure the security of data. This job entrusts the public with many responsibilities, ranging from monitoring and operating banks of screens, potentially contacting the police, reporting incidents as evidence, and emergency services when required.

For the role to be accomplished efficiently, a CCTV operator needs to be able to divide their attention to monitor multiple occurrences coming about at a single setting and be exceedingly observant with a high level of concentration.

As the world continues to grapple with the Coronavirus, businesses, governments, and organizations are all seeking technological solutions to help in the battle against the virus.

One area that is making its way towards progress is surveillance tech, also called Smart Coronavirus CCTV, with countries all across the globe using closed-circuit television to help monitor the spread and infection of COVID-19. And this is an adjustment many CCTV Operators had to face.

How Does COVID-19 Affect CCTV Operators?

Mask Challenges That Include:

Difficulty To Analyze The Facial And Emotional Expression

Facial recognition technology has been around for decades, but in recent years, it has been developing rapidly due to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and computing vision, according to BBC News.

It is now being utilized to unlock smartphones, identify people at borders, authenticate banking transactions, and of course, spot criminals. More controversially, a batch of start-ups is providing “emotion detection” for security purposes.

Techs are hopeful that in the future, video cameras on a tube station platform could utilize this technology to spot suspicious behavior and alert authorities to a prospective terrorist threat. Unfortunately, with the implementation of facial coverings during the pandemic, it will be hard for CCTV Operators to achieve this goal.

Recognizing Individuals That May Have Been Formerly Banned

Every property has the right to defy trespass or be banned for staying after being asked to stay away or violating a rule. Small business also added that the charge for “defiant trespass” applies when an individual enters property where fencing or signs are made to keep out intruders. Under some laws in the U.S., a property owner can tell the person face-to-face, preferably with a witness, that he or she is banned, or notify him or her by certified letter with a copy sent to the local authorities. Again, the mandatory implementation of masks can hamper the identification of an individual(s) being banned in the establishment.

Identifying Someone That Has Committed A Crime(s)

By installing CCTV cameras at strategic locations throughout a businesses’ operating area, it helps prevent break-ins, acts of vandalism, and other serious crimes. Based on a recent retail study, many small businesses lose nearly $50k in a year because of such factors, particularly in high-crime areas. With more than 275 million reports of thefts in businesses across the globe, having a CCTV monitoring system is hence highly necessary. 

Not only is the footage valuable to find out and spot the perpetrator of the crime, but also use the same in court as evidence. Oftentimes, judges or jurors make entire decisions according to the CCTV monitoring footage and convict the perpetrator determined from that. The presence of CCTVs in a particular premise is therefore not only beneficial for the property and employees, but also for the community. While it is common for criminals to wear full masks to do crimes, it is still challenging to recognize any individual with bad intentions behind the mandatory facial coverings (i.e., pretending to be a customer)

Muffled Audio

Many video surveillance cameras support external speakers as well as a microphone (in-built, with the option for an external unit). Audio adds value to surveillance content, in certain cases and given it is of a quality that can be comprehended. But with a face mask covering the mouth could hinder the recordings which will make it difficult to understand.

Requirement For Additional Training

New Software Training

As a solution to the issue above, Automatic Facial Recognition Software has caught on with Law Enforcement across the globe. Following, the UK government has announced that it is investing approximately £4.6 million in upgrading facial recognition software.

Amarjot Singh at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues created an algorithm to detect 14 key facial recognition points. As reported in New Scientist, these are the points that the human brain concentrates on when you look at someone’s face. 

This face recognition software is said to help solve the issue about facial coverings as it allows one to see through a covered face. The researchers hand-labeled 2000 photos of people wearing glasses, fake beards, and scarves to detect the location of the same points even if they couldn’t be seen.

The system was noted to have successfully identified up to 77 percent of individuals wearing “disguises” like a scarf, 69 percent wearing a cap and a scarf, and 55 percent with glasses, scarf, and cap at the time. While this isn’t as good as algorithms that see undisguised human faces, this is still the best at recognizing disguised individuals, according to Singh. 

Since this technology is so new, it is difficult to say how accurate the readings will be as time goes by. However, investigation findings are stated to be released in October. The result of this novel software could indicate that CCTV operators may require additional software training of such systems, with role expectations likely being set to a higher standard. 

Thermal Imaging Training

As it was used in Wuhan China, the original epicenter of the virus, Thermal Imaging has also been introduced to the Security System of the United Kingdom. Companies such as Vodafone and Bullitt UK have played a significant role and contributed their developments, designing camera products that are made to capture the temperature of individuals from a distance. 

The camera will serve as a thermal imager and have the capacity to sound an alarm when it reads a temperature that is labeled as ‘dangerous’ on a subject. Vodafone UK claims that each camera can check a human body’s temperature of 100 individuals per minute, and as is the standard for this technology, screens the temperature accurately within +/- 0.3 degrees Celsius.

There are points that argue both thermal imaging’s negatives and positives. Though, some recommend that at the very least, thermal imaging could help prevent a ‘second wave’ from taking place. Resembling how Facial Recognition Technology may affect the Security Industry, Thermal Imaging may also mean additional training for the use of Thermal Imaging for CCTV Operators. 

Parting Words

The Security Surveillance Sector is about to encounter technological shifts and many new challenges. Now more than ever, CCTV operators must explore the options available to learn and upskill new information. If you are a CCTV operator and are concerned about the modifications coming to the industry, staying up to date with the potential technology is a great way to help make certain that you are ahead of the curve. 

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