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Concierge Control

by msecadm4921

A security installation has helped make a group of Southampton tower blocks a better place to live.

Southampton City Council (SCC) asked residents what should be improved in a group of run-down tower blocks. "We wondered whether people would want the exteriors of the blocks to be brightened up, but that wasn’t their top priority," says SCC service development manager Paul Paskins. "They gave us a really clear message that the most important things were safety and security – they wanted to feel safer." The control centre dealt with more than 200 incidents in the first three months of operation. Typically: property damage, crime, breaches of tenancy conditions and youth nuisance. Installed as part of a £3.5m investment in the towers at Weston Shore View were Dallmeier electronic digital CCTV products, a GDX door entry system, round-the-clock monitoring and better lighting. "We had quite a lot of flexibility within the scheme," says Paskins. Focus groups, surveys and open days were used to establish what tenants wanted. The consultation also allowed residents to view other improvements including the replacement of all of the kitchens in the council-owned flats. "The objective of the scheme is to make the neighbourhood and blocks a better place to live," he says. The scheme covers six buildings that contain 664 flats. The buildings offer views across Southampton Water. There were problems with crime, vandalism and anti-social behaviour, though the true extent was unknown, as incidents were under-reported.

Tender

Tietjen Clark Ltd was the project’s technical consultant and produced a specification working with the council. The tender was advertised and The Alarming Company won the design and installation contract covering the five identical 13-storey blocks and one 24-storey tower. There are two key aspects of the new system – a network of internal and external CCTV cameras recording onto Dallmeier’s DLS range of hard disc recorders and a GDX5 Commissionaire door entry system. There are 80 internal fixed cameras, to cover doors and foyers. All 16 external cameras are pan-tilt-zoom models. The door entry system also has cameras to show who is seeking entry and a further set of cameras is being installed in the lifts which are being refurbished. The area is, in many respects, rather cut off, standing as it does on the opposite side of Southampton Water to the city. This isolation also presented considerable technical challenges. CCTV and voice communications needed to go to the control centre in the city centre. "We looked at various ways to send the signals back, including microwaves and radio," says SCC technical project manager Paul Howard. "We even thought of putting in our own fibre." And Dallmeier electronic sales manager Jason Piggott adds: "There was no easy way of getting the camera footage back individually at a reasonable price.” It was better – and cheaper – to collect the feeds, rather than have separate fibres carrying signals from each camera or recorder. The CCTV manufacturer suggested installing a local area network within the site and then using a single BT fibre for transmission from one of the towers. Each block has one or two DLS recorders each containing between 600 and 900GB of hard disc space to record its fixed cameras, while the external cameras are recorded by two DLS recorders at a single central location. The CCTV product firm has also supplied some of the cameras. Its DF2000A Ultra Wide Dynamic fixed cameras were chosen for the foyers as they give clear images even against the extreme sunlight shining through the glass in the doors and windows. Other cameras chosen for special purposes include the external Forward Vision pan-tilt-zoom cameras housed in vandal-resistant housings designed to withstand the extremes of coastal weather conditions and other threats such as external attacks.

Door entry

Door entry is controlled using the GDX5 Commissionaire door entry system from GDX Technologies, now part of Stanley Security Solutions. The system provides voice and video communications between the entrances, flats and concierge. "It is PC-based and can be interrogated to give reports on any aspect of activity," says GDX business development manager Rob Wilson. Access control tokens give residents automated entry, while visitors use the intercom to ask to be let in. Video cameras in the external GDX panels enable residents to see who their visitors are. This video is also integrated with the Dallmeier recorders which provide the recording locally as well as the remote display of these images. Additional integration is being explored and this could include automatically tying the video recording to GDX’s data to identify which flat was being called and which token was used.

Recorders

The recorders were chosen to provide sufficient capacity for up to 31 days, though incidents can also be archived if they are needed as evidence. "Perhaps a car has been broken into, or there has been criminal damage to a block," says SCC community services manager Lisa Dacruz. "We can then review the footage, collate what we’ve got and then pass it on to the relevant agency." Something needing police attention might be spotted during routine monitoring. "Officers from the local station come here to view the CCTV – either live pictures or recorded footage – and we have a radio link with the police," says Dacruz. "In one instance, someone was seen entering a block with what appeared to be a gun." Suspects have been identified following assaults and cases of criminal damage. But it is not all about law enforcement and preventing anti-social behaviour, adds Dacruz. The scheme is also aimed at providing a service for residents. The decision to site the scheme’s control in the housing department highlights the difference in emphasis compared with the council’s main CCTV centre. "That is focused on safety, security and crime," says Paskins. "We’ve got a slightly different focus, which is about making decent places to live in." Dacruz adds: "A major part of our role is to be a friendly neighbour. We keep an eye on the elderly and more vulnerable residents." Camera footage and access token usage can be reviewed if someone has not been seen. Residents can call the concierge around the clock. "They can even dial in from a mobile if they are feeling a little vulnerable walking home," adds Paskins. The concierge can control the CCTV using the Dallmeier software to watch them come home. "It gives them an added sense of security," he says.

Control centre

The control centre runs three Dallmeier software tools as well as the GDX concierge system. Dallmeier’s PView remote control software manages the recorders and its PGuard system handles alarms. The SmartGUI interface gives intuitive control of the recorders connected to the network using maps designed by The Alarming Company and icons. The feed from Weston also includes a single analogue signal, which is used to display camera images in real time on a large wall-mounted screen. This is proving useful for demonstrating the system to the many people who are interested in its operation and is also used where several people may need to view more serious incidents whilst they are in progress.

Full service

"This project has proved to be a prime example of partnering and collaborative working at its best," says Vic Clark, Tietjen Clark technical director. "Bringing in the equipment manufacturers and installer at an early stage meant that the team was able to draw on the vast cumulative knowledge of all parties concerned. This ensured that the scheme took full advantage of leading edge practice and emerging technologies that offered best value for the client’s requirements." Paul Howard at the council is pleased with the way the project team has worked together. The Alarming Company director Ian Austin agrees. The performance specification named Dallmeier electronic recorders, although The Alarming Company could have chosen another supplier. "This brief really required a top-end, high-spec product," says Austin. "The perceived premium price of some Dallmeier products is justified by the excellent quality support and service always available." The CCTV manufacturer reports that it includes with all its DLS recorders a Life Cycle service program that provides a three year warranty with an advanced replacement of any faulty unit within 48 hours of a reported fault. "There may be occasional issues with digital recorders," says Piggott. "We ensure by design that these are kept to a minimum and respond efficiently if and when anything happens." One of the Southampton machines did develop a problem and Howard was very impressed with the response. "It was absolutely incredible. A new machine arrived from Germany the following day," he says. "We just opened the box, plugged the new one in, put the old one in the box – even the tape and labels were included – and they sent a courier to collect it at their expense." A further project to extend the scheme to a further 14 blocks, subject to resident consultation, is out to tender following the success of the Weston scheme. This is set to use radio-based transmission as the towers are dispersed across the city. "The council’s decision to extend the project to other blocks is a tribute to how well this first scheme has turned out," says Paskins. "People have seen very quickly how successful it has been."

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