The Monitoring Control Room – Overhead or Asset?
In the current climate, there are few that have not experienced the cold hand of austerity. In particular, the public space surveillance control rooms which multiplied in the 90’s and early part of the 21st century have not avoided the squeeze on public sector spending. This, despite their significant public safety contribution and the savings in police time and resources. Public space CCTV never solved a crime on its own but it surely provided essential evidence and intelligence on countless occasions.
For some control rooms, withdrawal or reduction of funding has meant partial or complete closure. This funding predicament has forced a rethink of how the role of the control room can be re-shaped to generate revenue.
A Range of Services
Adding security and safety monitoring to the range of existing control room services is one option adopted by a number of public sector bodies. An existing control room already has space and experienced staff, and also very often ready-made clients – municipal buildings, schools and other council assets in need of protection. Typically, there will be an existing working relationship with the local police, if not an actual police presence in the control room. And while alarm monitoring can sometimes be viewed as a price driven commodity service, an inhouse operation can often provide added value.
The local authority control room does not have to be limited to fire and intruder monitoring. Increasingly, council control rooms are providing a range of services, including CCTV and audio alarm monitoring, lone worker protection and telecare. With the right technology in place, many of these services can be integrated. For example, an onsite panel for intruder and panic alarms may be installed alongside a fire system, CCTV and intercom – all of which can be remotely monitored and the data processed within a single ‘account’. System intelligence can process data from multiple inputs and active site contingencies, such as whether a site is closed or open, apply analytics data and report on the status of a device.
Setting a Good Example
A good example of a 24-hour local authority control room which is maintaining and extending its services is run by the CCTV Manager at Bradford council, Phil Holmes, “Bradford’s CCTV system has proved its value over many years, supporting thousands of criminal prosecutions and saving valuable police resources. At a time when the public sector is facing severe funding challenges, we also recognise the importance of exploring opportunities to generate revenue for the control room. So, in addition to public space CCTV surveillance, we have for some years provided fire, intruder and alarm activated CCTV monitoring, building up a high level of experience and capability in this area.
“It is also important to ensure best practice is always observed. To underline that commitment, we went through the BS5979 accreditation process, enhancing our monitoring operations and demonstrating that our services can stand up with the best in the sector. More recently, we also now operate a lone worker protection solution for council workers. This enables those at risk to discreetly send a call for help, with location details and voice verification, using either their smartphone or a dedicated GPS device.
“Working closely with our software provider, Bold Communications, we have been able achieve the level of efficiency needed to achieve a return on the investment in our monitoring facilities. It has also provided the confidence needed to go forward into potential new monitoring activities, using our existing assets and knowledge.”
Innovative thinking for the public-sector control room is essential given the funding squeeze, a challenge which is set to continue.