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Video Surveillance: A Necessity in Our Times?

Video Surveillance: A Necessity in Our Times?

Having a second set of electronic eyes at your facility can help deter crime and can add another layer of protection to your children's ministry.

A band of thieves that made a late-night call on a suburban Atlanta church were positively identified thanks to the recording from a recently installed video surveillance system.

At a north Dallas church monitoring of real-time video streams helps security personnel de-fuse minor incidents before they grow into problems.

These are only two examples of video surveillance systems at work.  Better known in pre-digital-revolution days as closed-circuit television (CCTV)

these combinations of video cameras and other electronic gear keep an eye on what's happening in and around a facility and have an established history of helping deter, detect, and investigate crimes against people and/or property.

Protecting people, property and children In the church setting, these systems are also increasingly part of security efforts aimed at protecting assets and their congregations.

Physical assets within a church needing protection from theft and/or vandalism can include unique building components, such as stained-glass windows; expensive audio and audiovisual systems; musical instruments; relics and archival materials; money from collections and fundraising activities; and even air conditioning units, which are increasingly targets of theft due to the value of the metals they contain. 

On the people side, video surveillance is one way in which churches have responded to the growing incidence of violence on church properties, according to Chris Allen, corporate liaison and general manager of Sentry Surveillance Inc., a Kennesaw, Georgia-based provider of video surveillance products and services.

Video surveillance has also become a near-compulsory item for the many churches that provide any type of childcare. "A childcare facility operating without reliable video surveillance is a recipe for disaster," Allen says. Legal and liability issues aside, "these days, most parents simply don't want to leave their children in a childcare facility that is not equipped with video surveillance."

Active vs. archival

Generally speaking, areas that should be covered by church video surveillance systems are led by property and building perimeters; building entrances and exits; and important rooms, including those where children are cared for or money is handled, according to Michael Adams, director of safety and security for Park Cities Baptist Church, located in north Dallas, Texas.

Deciding whether to go active (actively observing data generated by the cameras) or archival (recording data and reviewing later or as needed) is an important first step in planning a system. Adam advises, "It's a decision that will determine where you are going to put your cameras, how much video data storage space you are going to need, and all sorts of other things."

Park Cities, a large church encompassing an entire city block, uses an active system. "If we are open, we pretty much have someone watching what's happening on the cameras," tells Adams, "because we have found that many times we can see something coming,'" through active surveillance, enabling security personnel to intervene early.

Those cameras were being watched over the course of Worship Facilities' brief telephone interview with Adams for this story. During that period, video surveillance picked up two incidences of suspicious-looking individuals walking into the church facility, alerting security personnel.  The situations were quickly resolved.

Strategic camera placement

Meanwhile, Rockdale Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia, a suburban church where attendance averages around 450 every week, has adopted an archival approach, wherein "We don't monitor the only times we do are when something happens, or something is broken or missing," says education pastor Dwayne Jones.

Strategic placement of surveillance cameras monitoring locations, including entrances, offices, and (particularly) driveways leading to and from the facility, provided valuable crime-investigation data when the church was broken into a couple of years ago.

Cameras inside the church recorded images of the people walking through the building; some of them facing the lenses as they reached to unplug the cameras, Jones recounts.  And better still, driveway cameras were able to record the make, model and license tag numbers of their car coming into and leaving the property, providing valuable information that was handed over to police investigating the incident.

A few tips.

Keep in mind that the higher the frames-per-second and resolution at which your cameras record play a big part in the effectiveness of a video system in capturing fast movement and a higher level of details. Adams recommends a minimum of 10 frames per second, with a minimum of 720 x 480 pixel resolution.

At the same time, also remember that higher recording speeds and resolutions are going to increase archive storage requirements, Adams adds, noting "Pretty much anybody that does this [video surveillance] is going to keep a minimum of thirty days-worth of records."

With plenty of out-of-the-box video surveillance systems available from retailers, does it make sense for a church to use outside consultants/vendors to set up their systems?  Yes, says Jones.

"There are maintenance concerns. What if a camera breaks or a hard drive crashes?" he asks.  By leasing their system "We never have to worry about fixing anything, which makes the system one less thing for us to worry about."

"It would have been much cheaper to buy equipment at Sam's or Walmart and do something on our own," adds Jones. "But you've got to remember that nothing is more important to people than their security and feeling safe when they come to church and you have to decide how much that's worth."



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