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  • Willy Allison

The Four Pillars of Surveillance Part 1: People & Operations

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

How do you rate the health of your surveillance operation? A few years back I developed a model for surveillance management called the Four Pillars of Surveillance. The model was essentially a guide to help review and measure the state of the operation. It gave us a snapshot of our strengths and identified weaknesses that needed to be treated. The model also provided a way to rate my own performance as a manager. After years of going through the same old standard company performance reviews, I convinced my boss to incorporate this model into my own annual review so I could get feedback based on goals specifically tied to the department. In essence it became a regular health check for me and the operation.

The Four Pillars of Surveillance is developed around the foundation of: People, Operations, Information and Communication. Within each pillar there are 5 key areas of focus. Each area of focus has its own checklist of items that are ticked off if deemed to meet a defined standard.

When measuring the health of the operation I would periodically review and assess our performance in each key area using a simple scoring system. Each of the 20 key areas was rated from 1-5 (5 being the highest). The maximum possible score for the entire operation was 100. If you choose to use this tool to measure your own department, keep in mind that the scoring is subjective and up to you to make an honest self assessment.

In this series of articles I will discuss each pillar and outline the 5 key areas of focus for each one. I will also give my take on why they are important to the success of a surveillance operation and how to maintain a healthy score.

Four Pillars of Surveillance


Remember that old saying "Gun's don't kill people, people kill people"? In surveillance, "Cameras don't catch bad people, good people catch bad people." People are the core of any organization and it starts with leadership.

1. Leadership

High performance surveillance machines are driven by high performance drivers. Without them the car will not respond to certain road conditions and may even run off the track. Often the back of house departments or "non-revenue producing" departments are placed way down the list when the finance controllers are typing the numbers into their budget spreadsheets at the end of the year. It is essential that a surveillance manager is a strong leader and able to communicate to senior management what is needed to get the job done and stay one step ahead of the bad guys.

2. Clearly Defined Objectives

Clearly defined objectives are important in surveillance and they should be written down. Most employees in a casino know exactly what they have to do when they come to work. Deal cards, serve drinks, clean the ash trays, cash chips, and validate jackpots. Surveillance is sometimes like that "box of chocolates". With a whole casino to watch, they never know what they're going to get. Knowing what the correct monitoring priorities are at any given time can mean the difference between catching a cheat on a blackjack game or being hypnotized by a wheel of fortune slot machine. Priorities change on an hourly basis. Make sure everyone is on the same page.

3. Recruitment

It all starts with recruitment. A recent study found 80% of employee turnover can be attributed to bad hiring in the first place. Is there such a thing as a natural surveillance operator? Is everyone cut out to be a surveillance operator? Over the years I have noticed that some operators are a little more productive than others. Some have a knack of being in the right place at the right time when it comes to catching bad guys. Others couldn't spot a whale in a swimming pool. I believe this is not by chance. I believe it is because of desire.

For some reason there are people that think if you've dealt on the floor or worked as a security guard this qualifies you for a job in surveillance. It may get you in the door but it doesn't guarantee that you will be a good surveillance operator. Because of the cost of training a new recruit, sometimes management assesses that it is less costly to let non- performing operators stay.

The company I worked for injected science into the recruitment process. We hired a psychologist to come up with a process that could identify surveillance talent. We came up with an idea to introduce video games during the recruitment process. An applicant would be asked to sit at a computer for 2 hours and go through a process that would test the applicant's mathematical ability and analytical skills. The process also tested the observation skills and the ability to concentrate in a confined area for a long period of time.

The experiment was quite successful. Apart from having one person get up and leave after 30 minutes, the people that passed the test and went through a successful interview and screening process went on to become productive members of the surveillance team. Interesting enough, we discovered that ex-bank tellers made great surveillance people. They're good with numbers, customer focused, security focused and used to working in a confined environment. They're usually underpaid so surveillance is very appealing to them.

4. Training

If you are serious about high performance in surveillance you need 4 primary training programs. 1) A surveillance induction training program. This is a mandatory training program for surveillance operators when they start the job. It ensures everyone has the basic knowledge needed to perform the function. 2) A continuous training program. This ensures everyone stays up to date with cheating techniques, scams and technology and 3) A technicians training program. This ensures technicians stay up to date with technology. 4) Management training. This develops leaders in the department and ensures a succession plan for the future.

When it comes to induction training I believe everyone should have to do it whether they have prior experience or not. This way you know everyone has exactly the same basic training and has met your department's standards. Until a national standard is developed in our industry we will never know what we're getting when an applicant from another property applies for a job.

Continuous training programs make sense. Just like a regular gym routine, regular training keeps the mind fit and energized. The big question is where do you get the training? I recommend that every surveillance department has a dedicated training manager. If there are budget restraints then there are a few good training companies out there that can provide customized training programs for individual casinos. A word of warning - who trained the trainer?

5. Performance Management

A challenge in surveillance is keeping staff motivated. Unlike other areas of the casino, surveillance people do not receive or are permitted to receive gratuities from the customers. Surveillance is a salaried position and often has a limited scope for promotional advancement. If a surveillance operator doesn't genuinely enjoy his or her job it can become difficult to stay motivated.

Performance management is important in a surveillance department. If you have a non- performer in the surveillance room it can be contagious if allowed to persist. You need to act quickly and remove the problem. A bad egg in surveillance can not only stink up the room but permeate out onto the floor. On the positive side, you can use performance management as a motivator.

My company took an innovative approach to this issue. We introduced a performance management program in surveillance called the "Black Chip" program. The Black Chip program recognized knowledge, loyalty and the performance of surveillance operators and rewarded them financially. This is how it worked:

When an operator successfully completed their induction training program they were certified as a "red chip" operator. At this point they were set training and performance goals over the next 18 months. At the end of the 18 months if they had successfully achieved the goals they were invited to take the "green chip" test. If they passed the test they were awarded a promotion to the green chip level and given a substantial pay increase. If they didn't pass the test they could try again in 6 months as long as they maintained their performance levels.

At green chip level they were once again given performance and training goals for the next 18 months. This time the goals were set a little higher. If they achieved these goals over the next 18 months they were invited to take the "black chip" test. The test was tough but achievable. Successful completion demonstrated expert knowledge of surveillance techniques, gaming and game protection. Once an operator had reached this level they were considered lead operators and placed on the highest salary tier. Black Chip operators were expected to maintain the performance levels and if they dropped off they would be tested again to keep their status.

The Black Chip program set expectations and standards within the department so everyone new what was expected of them and financially rewarded those that had the enthusiasm and desire to perform well. For those that struggled, we used the green and black chippers as mentors for the others. The program provided a real incentive for surveillance operators who liked their job.

When it comes to building a casino one of the highest priorities for an architect is the design of the surveillance system. Camera locations, cabling, monitor room design are all important considerations and usually have to be built to comply with strict regulatory gaming standards. In fact the failure to comply can delay the opening of a casino. I know a lot of surveillance directors who have opened new casinos that know the meaning of insomnia.

Not many would dispute the need or importance for surveillance in a casino. I still remember being told by my boss on the first day of my surveillance career to "think of a casino as if it was a bank without receipts". Often the priority of management is to get it up and running so the casino can open and start making money. Unfortunately, sometimes in the frenzy of a casino opening, not as much time is given to the role of the surveillance department after the casino opens.


The role of surveillance is dictated by senior executives and to a certain extent, influenced by the regulatory environment. But to have a successful asset protection program the hard work is done in the monitor room. The way in which a monitor room is managed determines whether a casino has a surveillance operation with a ROI (room of intelligence) or a ROR (room of recorders).

1. CCTV System

I remember vividly the first time I walked into a surveillance room. A wall of monitors illuminated the entire room. If they hadn't I would have been standing in a very dark room. A supervisor was seated in front of a console at the back of the room and three operators were stationed near the front of the room. Two of them were on the phone, one was watching a baccarat game and the supervisor was working on the employee schedule for next month. I asked the operator who was watching the baccarat game how much the player was betting and she replied "oh about 20G's a hand". The people in the room could see everything. It was like they were flying around the casino with a jet pack on, only faster. This was my first experience with a close circuit television system.

The CCTV system is obviously an important tool for monitoring a casino although some of the old timers still argue that they could do a better job surveiling on the catwalks back in the 60's and 70's. I must admit, I broke into the business in a casino with a catwalk and I didn't mind having the option. The trouble is I wasn't getting paid enough to pay for the dry cleaning that was required from spending my working days in the casinos dusty ceiling. I still subscribe to the theory however, that surveillance agents should regularly get out of the surveillance room and smell the cigars of the players from time to time.

CCTV has come along way since the invention of video recorders in the 70's. The digital world is upon us and surveillance is currently going through a transitional stage from analog to digital. Almost all casinos that are built now use digital recording equipment and older casinos are upgrading their systems.

Surveillance personnel use different criteria when rating the performance of a CCTV system. There are so many different features to a system now that choosing one can be quite confusing. I was privy to a market research study a couple of years ago that surveyed 100 surveillance directors across the U.S. The survey asked the question what are the most important things you are looking for in a digital recording system. Respondents rated the top 3 in the following order:1) Picture quality 2) space requirements for storage 3) searching capabilities. I think that is a good place to start.

2. Operating Procedures.

The surveillance manual should spell out exactly and precisely how management wants things done in the monitor room. This very important document is usually written in one of two ways. The first is for management to sit down and collectively look at best practices for performing necessary tasks efficiently. The other is to photocopy them from somewhere else. I suggest implementing a combination of both. It doesn't hurt to use proven practices from somewhere else but standard operating procedures (SOP's) should be developed and amended on an ongoing basis to reflect a new working environment, management philosophies and monitoring priorities of the organization.

When assessing the health of a surveillance department the surveillance manual is a good place to start. The surveillance manual allows you to take a peek into the management philosophy of the department. It is the playbook for the coach and everyone in the team is expected to know how to run the plays. Check to see if it is comprehensive enough to cover all of the day to day tasks. Check to see if it explains precisely how a task should be completed. Check to see if employees understand what is required of them and last of all, check to see if the procedures are being adhered to.

3. Scheduling Efficiency.

One of the hottest topics in any 24 hour casino operation is scheduling. The surveillance department is no different. Due to the nature of surveillance, there are many theories as to what is the best way to schedule surveillance operators on shift. The job requires a high level of concentration for extended periods at a time. There are sometimes long periods of boredom followed with periods of intense activity.

Unlike most departments in a casino, surveillance activity is not always dictated by patron levels. Schedules are generally designed around expected busy times in the casino but it is very difficult to schedule for possible criminal activity. Some of the busiest times in surveillance are often times when there is hardly anyone in the casino.

One of the biggest debates regarding surveillance scheduling is how long an operator should work. Most people would agree the job is not physically demanding but it certainly can be mentally demanding if surveillance is carried out at a consistent intensity level.

The standard shift is 8 hours with a break every 2 hours but it is not uncommon for surveillance operators to work 10 or even 12 hour shifts. I have tried them all. All have their pros and cons but if I had to choose one of them I would personally choose the 10 hour shift. I look at it this way. For a little extra time on the end of a normal 8 hour shift I get an extra day off a week to recharge the batteries.

I realize that this view is not shared by everyone. Personal preferences are different with every individual (just ask the scheduler). It's like a workout routine and nutrition program. Some things work for some and other things work for others. 12 hour shifts were the trend for a while. 4 days on, 4 days off. This shift is definitely not built for everybody. In the beginning employees are excited about getting 4 day breaks but after a few months the lack of rest during the 4 days on shift pays a toll. By the end of the work week productivity was found to wane and some people looked like they had aged a year for each day worked.

In my opinion, individual preference for the 8, 10 or 12 hours shifts comes down to enthusiasm for the job and personal life and activity outside of work. Staff motivation has a very important effect on surveillance performance but from a management perspective, it can be challenging to design a schedule for surveillance that balances the needs of the department and the individual wishes of the staff. Productivity, efficiency and customer service should not be compromised because of a schedule that does not meet the practical needs of the organization.

When assessing the effectiveness of a new schedule you need to review your key performance indicators (KPI's) and monthly statistics. Some of these may include incident detection rates, dispute resolution times, investigation successes, observation reports or analysis studies. Monitor them frequently to determine if there is a drop off in productivity. A more informal way to find out if your department is productive is to ask your customers within the organization. Hopefully you have a relationship with your customers that encourages open dialog.

4. Work Environment

Is your monitor room conducive to maintaining staff motivation and productivity? I have had the opportunity to visit a number of surveillance departments around the world. They come in all shapes and sizes ranging from the brig of the U.S. Starship Enterprise to the casino owners office.

The space and design of a monitor room usually indicates one of two things; the age of the casino or senior management's attitude towards the importance of surveillance. The modern day casino usually has a monitor room that can be shown off like a new corvette. It is not uncommon for owners and senior executives to take distinguished visitors for a tour of the room. In contrast, the aging or struggling casinos usually prefer to keep their monitor rooms in the closet (some unfortunately are literally the size of a closet). In fact, I have found it is not uncommon for potential buyers to list the monitor room as a high priority when viewing a prospective property. The condition of the monitor room is like the lumberjack's way of counting the circles in the trunk of a tree to see how old (fashioned) it is.

The point here is that when you walk into a monitor room you get a sense for what senior managements attitude is towards gaming integrity and asset protection. Technology should be updated on a regular basis to stay in line with the hard ware and software that individuals have access to at home and everyday society. Going from Windows 2003 at your home to Windows 95 at work is not the best way to keep intelligent employees motivated.

5. Maintenance Program

No doubt the unheralded superstars of a surveillance operation are the Technicians. "Da Techs" keep the CCTV system up and running smoothly. Often found hanging from casino ceilings or trying to find innovative ways to mount cameras between palm trees and Harley Davidsons parked on the tops of slot machines, the Surveillance Tech's are called upon constantly to challenge the boundaries of common sense and patience.

Like a well maintained car, a surveillance department should carry log books. The log books should consist of at a minimum; system drawings, schematics, equipment inventory, service and repair records and an ongoing maintenance schedule. This information is usually a mandated regulatory requirement.

One of the challenges for technicians is the always changing layouts of the gaming floor and expansion of property amenities. These types of projects usually put a strain on in- house resources and often result in the day to day ongoing maintenance program being neglected. This is where the training of surveillance operators to be able to conduct simple routine preventative maintenance tasks is a good option. My last word of advice on system maintenance: Check the log books regularly. The boss doesn't like to hear the words "Systems are down".

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