With technology behind the hardware and software becoming more advanced, and at the same time less expensive, small and medium-sized churches can more easily and economically employ video surveillance systems
An important element of a church security plan can be the use of video surveillance systems as a means of deterring, detecting and investigating crimes against people and property.
With technology behind the hardware and software becoming more advanced, and at the same time less expensive, small and medium-sized churches can more easily and economically than ever employ video surveillance systems as part of efforts to protect both assets and their congregations.
"Surveillance can be a great tool as part of an overall security management program," says Jim Payne, senior vice president with Everett, Washington-based Sonitrol Pacific, a Sound Security Inc. company.
Discourage criminal activity
"Properly designed surveillance can provide a great level of deterrence, and potentially provide evidence of crimes," says Payne.
A video surveillance system is just as important for a church as it is for a commercial property, notes Mike Haldas, co-founder and managing partner of CCTV Camera Pros, a direct supplier of security cameras, video surveillance systems and CCTV equipment to homes, businesses, government, and other organizations.
"Church members will feel safer knowing that their place of worship is monitored," said Haldas. Meanwhile, a video surveillance system with recording capability helps to protect a church," Haldas also notes, because "Security cameras act as a deterrent; and if there is a criminal event, the recorded video can be used by law enforcement for investigation."
Video surveillance can be an important tool for a church wanting to protect property containing a wide range of physical assets, such as expensive audiovisual systems, unique building components, musical instruments and money from collection and fundraising activities.
On the people side, video surveillance is also an important way in which houses of worship and other faith-based facilities have responded to the growing incidence of violence on church properties.
As is the case with other building types, the areas that should be monitored at a church include all entrances and exits; general congregating areas; and any areas with valuable assets that need to be protected, Haldas explains.
In a similar vein, "Sanctuaries, classrooms and offices are primary targets for burglars," according to Payne, "while entry doors and parking lots are high-risk areas for personal safety related issues."
Exactly where and how to place video surveillance cameras is something that is specific to each church, Payne notes.
"Churches should be welcoming, so a design that works with this priority is important," according to Payne. Common locations for cameras include primary entryways, as well as those overlooking parking lots, he notes, adding "A camera inside an office, tied into a panic button system, can provide security to staff on-site."
That said, churches, like all other organizations, need to be keep in mind that when it comes to protecting personal safety, video surveillance is just an initial step, and needs to be accompanied by other measures.
"Caution should be used relative to people protection unless someone is actually able to view [the video produced by the system] in real time, whenever people are on site," says Payne. At the same time, "Integration [of a video surveillance system] with a quality intrusion and access control system can provide alerts, either locally and/or to a monitoring center, for verification of an incident."
Protecting our children
Video surveillance systems have also become "must-have" technology for worship facilities that provide any type of programs or care for children.
"We have supplied systems for churches that are also used to provide a live video display for infant viewing areas," says Haldas, noting that some churches set up cameras with the dual purpose of providing both video security coverage and live viewing for members wanting to keep an eye on their young ones.
The basic components of a video surveillance system include, of course, cameras; a recording unit in the form digital video recorder (DVR) that can record video in a digital format for storage to a disk drive or some other device; and a monitor with which to view images generated by the cameras.
In most instances, the connections between the cameras and the DVR are hard-wired; the latest technologies allow for various ways of remote monitoring via the internet.
One decision that needs to be made early on is whether to go with "active" [i.e., individuals viewing camera-generated images on a live basis] or "archival" [images stored for later viewing] video surveillance.
Active viewing "is very seldom practical for a church environment," Payne notes. One hybrid solution is "event-based" viewing, he says, "where a signal is sent upon some type of motion or trigger, and would be viewed by either a church designate or a professional monitoring center."
Shopping for surveillance
When shopping for systems, the most important considerations are quality and service, according to Payne. And while he notes that a security professional can advise on best options, he does have a few tips on features.
"The most expensive system is one that doesn't work when it's needed most," says Payne. Once installed, video surveillance systems need to be taken care of, he notes, explaining that "Cameras need regular cleaning and adjustments, and the recording devices that are running 24/7 need periodic service and replacement also."
Also, "Make sure that the viewing software is user-friendly—-and that that your chosen vendor provides adequate training," Payne adds.
Camera quality varies, from low-resolution to very high-definition megapixel cameras, he notes, advising that churches "Choose the camera type that best fits your needs."
You also need to make sure that there is sufficient storage space for "archival" viewing at high quality recording speed, Payne says, noting that most systems will have capability of at least two weeks image storage."
HD is the new standard
Keep in mind that "Everything has moved to high definition over the last two years," adds Haldas.
"The price of HD (high-definition) security cameras and DVRs has come down to the point where standard definition CCTV no longer makes sense for a new system," Haldas says. With this in mind, his company recommends 1080p HDTV systems. These should be anchored by a DVR capable of archiving at least two weeks-worth of video, he notes, adding "Sometimes there is an event that occurs and it is not discovered for a while, so you want to have the ability to go back in time' to see what happened."
The ability to monitor what cameras are recording from an off-site location is also important, according to Haldas.
"Most users want to be able to check in on their property and view a live feed from their security cameras remotely over the Internet," he notes. To that end, he recommends getting a system that has apps for remote viewing using iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows operating systems, adding "This will cover 99 percent of the users out there that need to login remotely."
Cost-wise, Haldas says that the equipment for an eight-camera system that includes 1080p HD cameras, HD DVRs with enough hard drive space to record at least 2 weeks of recording, cables, connectors, and power supplies starts at about $2,500.
"Professional installation varies quite a bit by location, the complexity of the building and the length of the cable runs back to the DVR," says Haldas. These are low voltage systems, so they can be installed on a do-it-yourself basis, he notes, adding "Most churches have many skilled members that are capable of running cable and mounting cameras."
Keep in mind that the system that's right for one church may not be so for another.
"Each solution varies depending upon many factors, including building construction and size, wire runs required, indoor vs outdoor cameras, storage size and camera quality," says Payne. He advises that churches "Be very cautious about buying based on low bid. There's a reason that the pricing is lower, and that reason is typically quality and service."