Looking out for you, from elsewhere

Ademco Security Group’s Central Monitoring Station is manned round the clock by teams in three shifts. Security staff here monitor everything from fire alarms, CCTV systems to car park gantries. In all the station remotely monitors over 6,000 locat
Ademco Security Group’s Central Monitoring Station is manned round the clock by teams in three shifts. Security staff here monitor everything from fire alarms, CCTV systems to car park gantries. In all the station remotely monitors over 6,000 locations on the island.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
At Ademco Security Group's central monitoring station, more than half a dozen people remotely monitor over 6,000 locations in Singapore.
At Ademco Security Group's central monitoring station, more than half a dozen people remotely monitor over 6,000 locations in Singapore.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Ademco’s Central Monitoring Station is a highly secured facility. Besides needing a pass and a PIN number, staff also need to get through a biometric sensor.
Ademco’s Central Monitoring Station is a highly secured facility. Besides needing a pass and a PIN number, staff also need to get through a biometric sensor.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
All doors within the Central Monitoring Station are monitored by CCTV cameras.
All doors within the Central Monitoring Station are monitored by CCTV cameras.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
The server room of Ademco’s Central Monitoring Station boasts air-conditioning unit (on the far right) that pipes cool air into the server racks (left), and an uninterrupted power supply unit (rear) that will ensure servers keep running even if the
The server room of Ademco’s Central Monitoring Station boasts air-conditioning unit (on the far right) that pipes cool air into the server racks (left), and an uninterrupted power supply unit (rear) that will ensure servers keep running even if the power grid fails.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Security monitoring going off-site, reducing need for guards on-site

At the Tan Boon Liat Building off Outram Road is an office about half the size of a basketball court with just over 40 computer screens.

In it, more than half a dozen people remotely monitor over 6,000 locations in Singapore.

This is the central monitoring station of the Ademco Security Group, and the nerve centre of surveillance for the company's clients in the public and private sectors.

Instead of having their own security guards monitor their premises, these companies rely on Ademco to do everything from monitoring their carparks to looking out for medical emergencies and preventing would-be intruders from trying to break in.

Security companies told The Sunday Times this is what surveillance and security will increasingly look like - with monitoring done off-site, reducing the need for security guards on the ground.

There are about a dozen such remote monitoring sites operated by different companies here.

While security companies estimate that as little as 5 per cent of buildings here have their security monitored in such a way, this is increasing as building owners start taking security more seriously. This is due in part to the increased threat of a terror attack, which is at its highest level in recent times.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam has said boosting surveillance is a key part of Singapore's counter-terrorism strategy.

On its part, the police have been installing tens of thousands of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public areas.

In August, during a counter-terrorism seminar held by the police and Singapore Civil Defence Force for the finance industry, companies were told to enhance security measures such as CCTV and access control systems.

But traditional methods of surveillance - with guards sitting in a building's security room watching CCTV screens - are not going to cut it, said Ademco's group managing director Toby Koh. Modern CCTV systems have video analysis capabilities that can pick out people who have been loitering in an area, for instance, said Mr Koh.

"Now, which security guard would be able to monitor... a person who has been loitering there for more than two minutes? (It's) impossible, but technology can do it," he said, adding that human operators are still needed to verify incidents flagged by machines.

Such systems can also be programmed to play loud recorded warnings and shine blinding lights when there are breaches, said Mr Jeffrey Seah, director of the Security Industry Institute.

"The obvious advantage is that of saving labour and greater 24/7 coverage, especially in remote and expansive locations," he said.

Modern surveillance relies heavily on such systems, which can alert security operators to incidents, reducing the need for "warm bodies" to physically patrol premises, said Mr Ong Kok Leong, group director of business development and operations at Secura Group.

He added that these systems can detect threats faster, allowing security guards to alert the police more quickly. "The sooner you realise something is wrong and call the police, the faster they can react. That is a big change compared to last time," said Mr Ong.

These systems would result in significant costs savings over the long term, he added.

This month, developer CapitaLand started using smart CCTV cameras to monitor its drop-off points at three of its malls, eliminating the need for security guards there.

Certis Cisco, which is handling security for these malls, said security manpower needs for these malls have been reduced by one-fifth.

"An officer will be deployed only during peak periods or when congestion is detected. This frees up the officer to perform other duties like patrolling the mall, managing incidents and doing crowd control," said a Certis Cisco spokesman.

Security companies say this is one way they can deal with the manpower crunch in the sector.

Manpower Ministry data shows that last year, there were 2,010 vacancies for security guards, and 1,440 stayed unfilled after six months.

Mr Koh said the cost savings from reducing manpower are considerable. He added: "I'm not saying eliminate guards, but reduce them... and invest that money into systems that will perform 24/7."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'Looking out for you, from elsewhere'. Print Edition | Subscribe