Surveillance Tapes: Maintenance, Retention and Backup

Surveillance Tapes: Maintenance, Retention and Backup

By Amy Brown

In addition to access controls and alarm systems, self-storage owners are increasing their use of video surveillance for added security and protection. Surveillance cameras can ensure the safety of staff and customers and deter crime. Videotapes have proven successful in identifying intruders, uncovering employee dishonesty and documenting accidents that occur on the premises. Facilities that use video surveillance have a visual record of events, which assists in identifying fault or negligence in liability claims, aiding the claims-handling process and, when necessary, court proceedings.


Merely having surveillance cameras on a premises can sometimes discourage criminal activity; but if cameras are hidden or an intruder isnt threatened by their presence, their ability to prevent misdeeds is limited. In that case, their biggest advantage lies in recording criminal activity and assisting in identification of offenders.

To achieve the maximum benefit from video surveillance, equipment maintenance should be performed regularly and tapes retained appropriately. Perform routine inspections on security cameras and equipment to ensure they are functioning properly. And take care when monitoring and storing security tapes; otherwise, the surveillance system may lack credibility.

When your security system was installed, the manufacturer should have provided a set of instructions about its use, maintenance, cleaning and repair. Adherence to these directions is strongly advised. If you do not have them, call and request a copy. Cleaning, repairing or using your security equipment in any way that contradicts the manufacturers recommendations could damage it or make it less effective. If your system is not functioning properly and you have adhered to the guidelines, inquire about warranty coverage. If the system needs repair, have the manufacturer recommend someone familiar with its line of products.

Tape Retention

Surveillance tapes should be saved for at least 90 days, especially in the event of an accident or crimewhich means having enough tape available to accommodate this time frame. Recycling the same few tapes limits your documentation to only a couple of weeks. Some crimes, such as employee dishonesty, arent immediately noticeable.

For example, at one facility, employees retained copies of tenants keys and used them to access units after hours and steal stored goods. Because there was no evidence of forcible entry, the theft went unnoticed for a few months until the tenants complained of items missing from their units. Since the facility owner retained his security tapes for 90 days, he was able to view the tapes, identify the culprits and turn the evidence over to authorities.

Most people prefer to recycle tapes to limit space needed for storage and minimize costs. This is understandable and practical; however, overuse of tapes can result in their destruction or demagnetization. After reusing a tape for the fifth or sixth time, the qualityalong with the credibilityof the tape deteriorates, and it becomes virtually useless for the purposes of identification. Do not reuse a tape more than four times in one calendar year. If you retain tapes for an average of 90 days, you lessen the chance of overusing them.

If there is a criminal incident, the tape on which it was recorded should be retrieved and saved, no matter how slight the occurrence may seem. Storage owners should also save tapes that recorded any accidents for insurance reasons and proper claims handling. Taped surveillance can be beneficial when determining fault and negligence in liability claims by giving the claims adjuster video documentation of what actually occurred.

Backing Up

No matter how well your surveillance system is cared for and maintained, it is important to make regular, reliable backups of your video. The data on tapes can never be guaranteed safe if it exists in only one place (consider, for example, tape theft or a fire that destroys a tape collection). Tapes should be stored in a secure cupboard or cabinet, not only so their integrity can be maintained but to avoid the possibility of accidental damage or use. It is best to store a set of back-up tapes safely away from the facility.

There are many reasons facility owners and managers neglect the important task of making back-ups. First, they do not understand how important they are, because they have not yet had a disaster occur. Second, they do not know how to make them and will not take the time to learn. Third, they forget to make back-ups because they dont have a routine for doing so; or performing the backup is a time-consuming chore and they cant be bothered.

To ensure a security-surveillance system is an effective tool for deterring crime and recording possible incidences at your facility, care should be taken when handling and maintaining the equipment. Retaining tapes for an adequate amount of time will help you avoid overuse and make documenting more credible. Storing tapes in an appropriate space and creating back-up copies ensures data is readily available when needed. Keeping track of your facility with surveillance is a great way to give you and your insurance company peace of mind.

Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd. offers a comprehensive package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needs of the selfstorage industry. For more information, or to get a quick, no-obligation quote, call 800.844.2101; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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