Town centre surveillance automatically conjures the image of CCTV cameras covering a relatively restricted and localised area, monitored by a nearby control room. The Hertfordshire CCTV Partnership, however, builds on a much wider approach – utilising existing control room equipment and maintaining video quality. This has resulted in a strategic and long term project plan which has created an impressive integrated surveillance solution covering town centres, schools, recycling sites, golf courses and other leisure facilities spread over approximately 500 square kilometres.
The Hertfordshire CCTV Partnership comprises Stevenage Borough Council, North Hertfordshire District Council and East Hertfordshire District Council, all equal partners in terms of investment into the project. Outside of that, the scheme is now reaching further and have incorporated three ‘pay per use’ clients; Central Bedfordshire District Council, Letchworth Heritage Foundation and Aberdeen Properties.
How to grow into a large scale surveillance system
CCTV Manager at Stevenage Borough Council, Robert – Robby – Holgate explains; “The original surveillance solution ‘only’ covered the towns of Stevenage, Hitchin and Letchworth – located approximately seven miles north and north-west of Stevenage respectively. From the onset we opted for uncompressed digital transmission of the camera images back to the control room in Stevenage, building on a fibre optic backbone using AMG’s Guardian 2800 Series to link the individual local area systems with the control room. Individual cameras are linked in using AMG’s Vision 2000 range, a very cost effective solution for local area camera networks where all the cameras are within eight kilometres of the control room”.
Since 2005, however, the surveillance solution has expanded massively, and the network and transmission solution has expanded accordingly. The expansion has been facilitated by close co-operation between network provider Virgin Media, systems integrator Quadrant Security Group and the CCTV Partnership.
A future proof transmission network
Field Support Engineer Mike Summerfield, Virgin Media says, “Today the scheme covers Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock, Hertford, Ware, Bishops Stortford, Stanstead Abbots, Royston, and Knebworth, as well as two business parks – Roaring Meg Stevenage and Letchworth Business Park, encompassing around 500 square kilometres with the longest distance from camera to control room being approximately 30 kilometres, as the crow flies. All in all, we have more than 130 CCTV links running on Virgin Media’s high speed fibre network”.
The uncompressed video can travel virtually unlimited distances going via suitable repeat nodes. E.g. Royston cameras are going to Cambridge, then onto Bishops Stortford, then to Ware and onwards to the Control room in Stevenage. Resilient dual routing has been implemented to ensure no loss of signals should a fibre breakage occur. Another important characteristic of the transmission solution is that by using CWDM (Coarse Wave Division Multiplexing) technology within the links, one single fibre can carry up to 128 uncompressed video signals as well as providing Ethernet, data and audio signals around the county for use with IP cameras, help points ANPR and more.
“The network structure is such that the CCTV transmission primarily uses single mode fibre for long haul cameras and multimode fibre for short haul, i.e. below four kilometres. In the larger towns we continue to use AMG’s Vision 2000 series on multimode fibre to each camera location and then we feed the signals back to a collection point in each town centre, where they’re multiplexed onto AMG’s new Guardian-Lite 4700 digital transceivers and onto trunk fibres back to the control room, where they’re multiplexed into a Synectics matrix for viewing. This solution is replicated for the majority of the towns, apart from the community areas where we have chosen AMG’s 2900 series for point-to-point transmission”.
“Our main concern – as the scheme has by no means stopped expanding – has been to provide a future proof solution which can cater for the continued expansion in terms of adding more geographical areas, and cameras, but which can also deliver data transmission such as ANPR monitoring, audio for shop and community officers as well as Pub Watch links. We have found that not only is AMG always on the forefront of technology, they also make for a great partnership which allows us to maximise the high speed fibre network to the benefit of the entire Hertfordshire town centre surveillance solution”.
Robby Holgate picks up the story, “With the introduction of new partners and clients into the surveillance scheme, it has been necessary to invest in the control room. Today, we have more than 400 cameras broken down as 160 partnership cameras, 69 client cameras, 165 Adpro cameras, 8 ANPR and 20 mobile units. The vast majority are Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) cameras. The increase in camera count meant that we had to increase the number of monitors in the control room. We have also introduced digital recording of images. Significantly, the introduction of Police Airwave Radio, which affords direct communication between police officers out in the field and the control room staff, has meant that we have increased our arrests in comparison to incidents. We used to have on average one arrest for between two and seven incidents. This has now improved to one arrest for between 3.5 and five incidents”.
The increase in the number of arrests per number of incidents is a very tangible measure of the success but more importantly, it also creates a deterrent. Tony Morgan is the Control Room Manager in Stevenage, and he has a wealth of examples which shows how the efficiency of the scheme can be measured.
“We are unique in the sense that we have two resident police officers on site and they have access to a reviewing suite where they can call up any footage relating to an incident”, says Tony Morgan. “If a police officer on the beat wants to review certain footage they can put in an e-mail request with a unique reference number. We have to make sure that a crime report is associated with the reference number, but outside of that, they just have to provide date and time, and the area they would like reviewed. The resident officer will then – depending on workload – either review the images then and there, or send the footage on a disk to the police for them to review themselves”, he continues.
“We also work directly with local authorities and communities to try and reduce the number of incidents. In Hitchin for example, they have introduced a trial with town rangers. The rangers liaise with the retailers and the town council and other third parties. They’re all equipped with radios and quite often they call us up and steer us towards shoplifters so we can capture the relevant images. The annual music festival in Hitchin, which takes place over a weekend in July, is another good example. The music festival used to be associated with a lot of trouble. Especially a place called Windmill Hill was notorious, and in previous years there had literally been dozens of arrests. This year we set up some of our mobile cameras and I think they said they reduced the number of arrest to just one”.
Sometimes it is necessary to act fast, and the systems integrator, Quadrant Security Group, who is responsible for the installation and maintenance of the entire scheme, has taken the initiative and posted onsite engineers at the control room in Stevenage.
Sales Manager Ian Moore of Quadrant Security Group says, “We’re out there when we need new – or mobile – cameras put up or if there is a problem with a camera in the field. We have recently introduced a database where the control room can record jobs they need to get over to Quadrant. It automatically e-mails the engineers via their PDAs. This saves a lot of time and reduces driving distances as well. If an engineer is on a job and something needs looking at close by, they can simply move to the next job without having to come back to the control room. In the main, we will always try to fix a problem on the spot, but should a camera need replacing the Partnership holds a stock of spares and it’s just a question of swapping to a new camera while the faulty unit is sent off for repair”.
“Outside of normal working hours and over the weekends our engineers are on call. This means that should there be a problem with a server, for example, they can dial in and fix it remotely or in some instances they can talk the control room staff through the necessary procedure. The system currently runs with 8 servers so there is plenty of back up capacity”.
Tony Morgan adds, “The mobile cameras sometimes have to go up really fast. Recently there was a lot of trouble with boy racers in the parking lot at Tesco’s in Baldock. The racers simply turned up with their cars and burned rubber off their tyres. The local residents were up in arms both because of the noise, but they were also weary of the potential danger with out-of-control cars. We gave the local residents a direct phone number to the control room so they could alert us when the boys showed up, and we then had a mobile camera in place to record the evidence. Sure enough – the word spread like wildfire and the problem has ceased”.
The introduction of the schools surveillance into the CCTV Partnership is an interesting success story. According to Robby Holgate; “Currently 23 schools and 15 other sites are included in the scheme. We monitor schools in Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City, Broxbourne, Cuffley, St. Albans, Watford, Rickmansworth, Abbots Langley, Letchworth and Hemel Hempstead. Other sites include waste sites in Dunstable and Biggleswade, car parks in Letchworth and Hitchin, sport clubs in Baldock, Hitchin and Stevenage, and play centres in Stevenage. For the moment we hope to add five new school sites this year”.
Tony Morgan continues, “Unlike the public surveillance system which works with 24 hour surveillance, the schools solution works akin to an intruder alarm. It runs on its own internet network – Hertfordshire Broadband for Learning – using Adpro as the medium. When people leave the premises they arm the system and we take over. There are external detection devices which automatically trigger the CCTV cameras to send pictures back to the control room where we can capture the images and pass them on to the police if necessary. The cameras are equipped with tannoy devices, which allow us to talk to the intruders directly from the control room. Often we simply tell them that we have captured their image, and if they do not go away immediately we will alert the Police and send over the image. This has proven to be extremely effective, and the problem with intruders at the schools has all but disappeared. Similarly, we previously had a lot of nuisance disturbances at the village halls and the golf club. Once the tannoy messages have gone out a couple of times word spreads through the community and the problem more or less dissipates overnight”.
Control room routine and training
Control room routine works according to a scheme, but it’s not as structured as you may know it from air traffic control for example. The CCTV Partnership is very mindful that the success of their CCTV system to some extend obviously rests on the vigilance of the controllers. 17 operators take turns to man the control room in 12 hour shifts. It takes a certain type of personality to be a good control room operator and they all work differently according to their flair for the job in hand. Usually three controllers are on duty and at peak times this increases to five. The work rota gives the controllers four days on and four days off as well as 28 days of mandatory holidays. It should be kept in mind that when the rest of us have bank holidays and so on this usually means that the control room is extra busy. The exception is Christmas Day where it’s noticeably silent – until mid afternoon, when the airwaves start to crackle with domestic incidents. Luckily these are dealt with by the police as the CCTV scheme for the moment doesn’t cover residential areas.
The control staff spans all age groups, gender and race and all are subject to a training scheme with feedback reporting. Some have the job as full time occupation others, like one of the older controllers, takes shifts as a part time occupation as they are retired. Recently a controller left to have a baby, and now she comes in part time on shifts which fit with her new family situation. Everyone brings something to the job because of their different backgrounds and life experience.
Tony Morgan explains, “Training is always work in progress. We have ‘The Training Manual’ which is modular, and this basically checks that the controller understands the procedures. But we found that to be a bit too black and white, which is why we have introduced feedback reports, where we can better point out if there are certain areas where there is room for improvement. When we take a new controller on board they get two weeks of one-on-one training. The first week they will do guided tours around the estate with an experienced controller. They need to see the ‘rat runs’ where the suspects typically go if they’re on the run, see the street names and spot the busiest and most strategically located cameras. The second week they will start working alongside an experienced controller in the control room, start working through their procedures and actually get their hands on the controls. Because of the sheer size of the estate we believe that it takes at least six months for someone to really stand on their own two feet. Learning the radio procedures, locating and manipulating the ‘hot’ cameras as well as all the other procedures we work with.”
There are a lot of incidents every day. Much of it is routine, such as being able to spot a serial offender.
Tony Morgan says, “The professionals are really clever and they think they can throw us. They will show up in one camera wearing a blue anorak and next time we see them, they’re in a red pullover. However, the police supply us with intelligence which is regularly updated, including a snap shot library. We can therefore look up a picture of ‘Fred’ and add from the intelligence that he is known for doing drugs and keep an eye out for him. Because we’re using uncompressed real time images, it’s simply a question of zooming the camera to identify facial features. We’re also really good at catching people throwing stuff, such as drugs. Many a drop-and-pick up arrangement has been foiled by us because we can direct the police to the place of the drop so they’re there waiting for the pick up to arrive. Interestingly, we also catch many people in cars. People seem to think that just because they’re in that little metal bubble nobody is watching them”.
What really gets any controller fired up – and particularly the female controllers – is when children go missing.
“We have missing persons every week. However, you have to quantify ‘missing persons’ to be fair. We have people from mental or other institutions who have gone walkabout that we need to find for their own safety. We have the ASBOs where people have gone missing from the police and people who have jumped bail, and then we have children who have gone missing from their parents. We probably have a child go missing every two weeks on average. When that happens the adrenaline kicks in, in the control room and all hands start looking. Luckily we usually find them really quickly”, Tony Morgan says with a smile.
As mentioned above the CCTV Partnership will continue to expand in the future. Robby Holgate’s outlook is ten years.
“The short term future includes plans to introduce more partners and clients and to continue our expansion with the schools projects. In the more long term future we will look into new technology such as video analytics. Because we use uncompressed real time images intelligent video analytics is very feasible. We’re also looking to continue to secure top quality service, working on better communications between the Partners, clients – and more importantly – the police. We’re looking into different types of sensors and cameras to compensate for the large number of activations we receive. This is mostly due to the large number of Adpro sites coming into the system in such a short timescale due to its popularity. In the control room we’re continuing our efforts in reducing our revenue costs by looking at the different data technologies available and we hope to achieve this without reducing our capacity so we can continue to provide our current level of service” Robby Holgate concludes.