How Many Video Cameras Are Enough?

Too many cameras can be just as harmful as too few.

Video surveillance is a valuable part of any campus security program, as long as the need for each camera is fully justified. Although campus protection professionals might be tempted to take a “more is more” approach with this technology, there is a real danger in installing more cameras than are absolutely needed:

  • Too many cameras in an Internet Protocol (IP) video surveillance system can slow transmission rates to a crawl. Video cameras are notorious data hogs.
  • Too many cameras can become a costly maintenance nightmare.
  • Too many cameras can distract the operators that monitor them. A subset of Murphy’s Law guarantees that the action that should be monitored will be captured on a camera that that is not currently being watched. More cameras = more distraction.
  • Too many cameras will shorten the available recording time on your digital or network video recorder.

Advances in video technology can mitigate many of these problems, but the basic premise still applies. No camera should be placed without a strong valid reason for its existence.

Here are a few good video camera justifications:

  1. Protecting personnel: This involves the surveillance of areas where staff members interact directly with clientele, particularly in areas with potential for conflict. In hospitals, these would include ER, intake and psychiatric facilities. For schools, administration offices would head the list. For colleges, the first location might be dorm entrances/exits or animal research laboratories. Cameras should be placed to monitor general activity and get facial recognition of persons approaching these areas.
  2. Protecting core assets: Cameras are valuable at capturing facial images of persons entering areas that contain expensive, vulnerable or core assets. Area monitoring cameras may also be appropriate. Cameras can also be valuable at cash collection points as a safeguard against internal theft.
  3. Monitoring secluded or problem areas: Most campus environments have one or more areas where problem activities take place. General monitoring of these areas can be valuable only if the system is able to gain a close-up image sufficient to identify persons who may be involved.
  4. Monitoring vulnerable sections of the campus perimeter: Enclosed campuses will generally have a few identifiable locations along the perimeter fence that are selected for unauthorized access after-hours. Properly placed cameras can help identify these unwanted visitors.
  5. Facial recognition: All of the areas cited above have one common theme: capturing the activity is of little use if the system cannot provide an identifiable image of the culprit. This can only be done by placing cameras at choke points, where individuals must pass, either going to or leaving areas of interest. The choke point must be narrow enough to allow the video camera to capture a detailed image with sufficient quality for facial recognition.

Bottom line: keep it simple and put each camera on trial for its life. 

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About the Author


Jim Grayson is a senior security consultant. His career spans more than 35 years in law enforcement and security consulting. He worked for UCLA on a workplace violence study involving hospitals, schools and small retail environments and consulted with NIOSH on a retail violence prevention study.Grayson’s diverse project experience includes schools, universities, hospitals, municipal buildings, high-rise structures and downtown revitalization projects. He holds a degree in criminal justice and a CPP security management credential from ASIS. He is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on a wide range of security topics.He can be reached at Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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