Three-dimensional (3D) design in CCTV & Security

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In the security industry your job is risk reduction. You already knew that, but linger here to see an idea for being even better at it, writes independent consultant Simon Lambert. If you’re an end-user it’s risk reduction for your assets. If you’re a security provider (equipment or services) it’s the risks inherent in your business which profit depends on. Reducing all these risks further is surely a payoff worth staying a couple of minutes to the end of this page.

Think the world is flat?

Would you laugh at someone who believed the world is flat? Of course. You’re so much more switched on than those 15th century folk. But look in the mirror! Aren’t all of your security proposals designed in a completely flat world? Think. The CAD plans on your desk, alongside the sketches you made while walking around site; each has left & right, front & back. But, just like the crucial faults in those Flat Earth journeys, your designs don’t take into account the vital risk factor called up & down.

The simple features on Fig.1 appear on a CAD plan where you plot a camera:


You could reasonably presume that the architect meant what is shown in fig.2


But what’s the risk that on-site reality is actually fig.3? Much egg on face.


This purely stems from 2D failing to convey the real world that exists in 3D. Years ago the flat earth maps had “here be dragons” to warn of the dangers of 2D thinking. Do your 2D security drawings have “here be only ⅔ of a proper design” written on them to warn others of the risk they carry? The risk is one you can reduce.

Real successes with 3D

The more we lower risk the more likely we’ll get what we want. Again, you already knew that. Ok, you say, if this 3D palaver is capable of reducing our risks, show us the proof of the pudding. Fine, let’s begin back in 2000. I’m CCTV consultant on a tall new building. Extra camera required to spot intruders in the garden. Only realistic vantage point 8m high on wall. Absence of scaffolding or cherry picker prevents look-see, but spec details needed by installers quickly. If my instruction to them is faulty fixing it will cost a lot of money and delay.

That risk gets me thinking hard. Answer: create a model in 3D CAD (rare back then) including: building, ground area and camera’s point-of-view from 8m up. This model predicted that a 12mm lens gave sufficient coverage and ‘10% Rotakin’ all around. What did we see after they installed it? Bang on. Risk to the bank balances of end-user, installer and me eradicated. Project management is in large part expectation management. 10/10 here.

Now I knew we needed to use 3D more often. In 2003, and again in 2004, a client hired us because we worked in 3D and their non-technical staff were far less likely to misunderstand these computer images than they were the CCTV jargon that everyone else foisted upon them. 2006 & 2007 brought two control room redesigns. The flaws in the 2D ‘expert CAD design’ of the well-known console manufacturers posed potentially expensive risks that were averted by checking in proper 3D. 2009 saw us model an emergency control room proposal then recreate it within an online virtual world (fig.4) so that collaborative design meetings could be held ‘standing in it’ and ‘what ifs’ could be tried there and then.


Using the regular sort of 3D CAD, current projects include models of key areas where a client’s CCTV cameras’ fields-of-view can each be tried out, explored further with the client’s team on a laptop at meetings, then they sign-off prior to installation beginning. If that’s not low risk for the client, installer (and consultant) then I don’t know what is.


The software and tools you can use for these risk-lowering methods have never been easier. The de facto standard for 3D modelling is Google Sketchup, and it’s free. That said, I’ve spent appreciable time teaching myself the skills needed for this 3D working, bending it for the job of CCTV design. That’s why I’m now offering to teach people how to use all this for themselves too. Just how you value time spent on your professional skills governs the speed of payback that you’ll see through reducing your risks.

Simon is one of the U.K.'s foremost independent technical CCTV consultants and a specialist in the utilisation of 3-D graphics in CCTV design. His work is greatly appreciated by organisations requiring a visual representation of what their proposed CCTV system will be able to achieve, taking into account the location of the camera and ground contours. Simon's expertise is available through The CCTV Information Website, please contact us for details. (Please note that as a specialist consultant his time would be chargeable on an hourly basis.)

Simon Lambert-all rights reserved