Best practices for house of worship video surveillance networks

Apr 25, 2016

House of Worship.jpgUnfortunately, houses of worship such as churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and cathedrals are not immune to various crimes. For example, FBI statistics show that there were dozens of hate crimes committed at different houses of worship throughout the United States between 2009 and 2013, Fusion reported.

This may only be scratching the surface of the total number of crimes and other similar incidents that occur every year at houses of worship. With the Hartford Institute of Religion Research estimating there to be around 350,000 religious congregations in the U.S. alone, the odds are good that crimes such as theft and assault are likely far too common at churches and other such locations.

To help protect property and parishioners, many houses of worship have turned to video surveillance solutions. These systems can go a long way toward keeping synagogues, mosques and other similar locations safe, but they must be installed and used in a way appropriate for their surroundings.

"Church members will feel safer knowing that their place of worship is monitored," said video surveillance professional Mike Haldas, according to Worship Facilities. He added, "Security cameras act as a deterrent; and if there is a criminal event, the recorded video can be used by law enforcement for investigation."

Before implementing a video surveillance network, however, congregation leaders should keep the following best practices in mind:

1) Maintain the appropriate atmosphere

A house of worship, by its very nature, typically inspires awe and provides a place for worshippers to feel physically separate from the outside world. That's why many churches, temples and other similar locations feature large, lofty spaces and artwork like stained glass and paintings. It's critical to maintain this aesthetic, as parishioners likely do not want to see unsightly video surveillance equipment when engaged in prayer. Installing a minimally invasive solution that is not readily visible is typically the best approach in these situations.

"Churches should be welcoming, so a design that works with this priority is important," Jim Payne, senior vice president with Sonitrol Pacific, told Worship Facilities.

2) Consider the parishioners and their unique needs

Houses of worship are unique compared to just about everywhere else in that they are one of the few places that actively caters to a wide range of age groups, SecurityInfoWatch contributor John McNutt noted. A religious congregation, unlike a school, an office building or a nursing home, often has very young people, very old people and everyone in between. As such, a video surveillance network needs to keep the needs of everyone in mind.

3) Keep budgeting and installation constraints in mind

Just about every single house of worship is run as a not-for-profit organization, with most congregations operating with limited budgets. Thus, a video surveillance solution needs to be cost-effective and budget-friendly. Few, if any, houses of worship can afford a system that requires many high-end cameras or expensive trenched fiber. This does not mean than an effective video surveillance solution cannot be put in place, but rather that what works for a large corporation with an expansive budget will likely not fit the bill for a house of worship. In these kinds of settings, a more cost-effective but still robust wireless video surveillance option is a good bet.

4) Prioritize non-invasive options, especially with limited real estate

Many churches and other houses of worship are relatively small, not occupying much real estate. This means they don't have much space for trenched fiber or many in-house servers. Less-invasive options like wireless networking can be a good option under the circumstances.

A wireless solution is also a good idea for older houses of worship. No congregation wants to damage a historic structure during installation, and a wireless video surveillance network has a much smaller and less destructive footprint than a system based on trenched fiber optic cabling.

"Each solution varies depending upon many factors, including building construction and size, wire runs required, indoor vs outdoor cameras, storage size and camera quality," said Payne.

5) Ensure personnel considerations are factored into the equation

The odds of a congregation having a whole team of full-time professionals on hand to oversee and deal with the video surveillance network are slim to none. Chances are good that the house of worship has maybe one or two people to manage the system, and they may be part-time employees tasked with handling a wide range of other duties as well. In addition, McNutt noted that most houses of worship deal with crowds only a few days a week, meaning that it needs to be able to deal with occasional as opposed to constant traffic.

On the personnel front, congregations should consider working with an outside partner that can help them install, and maintain the support the video surveillance network throughout its lifecycle. In addition, Worship Facilities noted that most houses of worship prefer an archival-based solution in which footage is viewed from the cameras after the fact, as they probably lack the resources for real-time video oversight.

6) General video surveillance best practices still apply

While mosques, synagogues, temples, churches and other houses of worship differ from most organizations in a number of key ways, they still have the same core needs from a video surveillance solution as everyone else does. The cameras still need clear lines of sight, with a robust network underpinning all the video data transfers. The same best practices that apply to any video surveillance network should be applied in houses of worship as well.

"The security world is always changing and growing, adapting to new technologies and finding creative applications for the old," McNutt wrote. He added, "[A]s the security tech landscape has evolved, so have the solutions available to church leadership."

What's the right solution choice for religious congregations?

Just about any location benefits from a video surveillance solution, as it can help provide the equivalent of many extra pairs of eyes within a given space. There's a reason MarketsandMarkets, in March 2016, predicted the video surveillance market to expand at a compound annual rate of more than 16.5 percent between 2016 and 2022. For better or worse, houses of worship also benefit from video surveillance. Increasingly, many religious organizations are adopting this technology to protect property, deter crime and keep community members safer.

However, a house of worship is very different than a standard building, and organizational decision-makers must be sure they choose a video surveillance solution that meets the unique needs of the physical facility and their parishioners. More often than not, a professionally installed and maintained system underpinned by wireless networking technology is the way to go at a house of worship.

Before implementing any video surveillance solution, houses of worship should be sure to carefully consider their needs and their available options. To learn more about video surveillance technology and wireless networking, be sure to contact a Firetide representative today for more information.

Category: Public Safety