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A conversation with John Stewart, pictured, division director of the installation company SPIE (which acquired the Scottish-based Scotshield Fire and Security in 2014, to enter the security market); and Tonia McBurnie, the managing director of Town Centre Activities (TCA) Ltd. Briefly, TCA is a ‘social economy company’, based in Coatbridge, founded in 2010, that works with North Lanarkshire Council, to deliver services in the district. That includes public space CCTV monitoring, from a control room that covers seven town centres (such as Motherwell) and tower blocks, recycling centres and schools. TCA provides services that are common to many towns, such as a Shopmobility service.
As Tonia said, TCA is a ‘arms length external organisation’ (ALEO); that looks after the CCTV for North Lanarkshire council (to the south-east of the Glasgow conurbation). TCA monitors some 850 cameras, 24-365. While originally set up to provides services for the area it’s based in, it could take on monitoring for other councils, or indeed monitoring cameras from private industry. To leave Tonia and John for a moment, North Lanarkshire is not the only council to look to do that, for it would make sense for all sides – whichever councils gave their monitoring to TCA to do could get as good if not better a service, with the prospect of it costing less, as it’d be more efficient all round; rather than each council having to spend capital and revenue budget on equipping and staffing a control room, TCA’s (like others around the country) could be a hub, with up to date kit. To do that, the TCA control room would have to have the capacity to grow, to take in the extra ‘business streams'; and there the installer SPIE comes in.
As John said, SPIE is finding that a lot more councils are looking to go digital with services, to tie in with a move towards ‘smart cities'; councils may tend to have a mix of analogue camera running over copper cabling; and John pointed to a growing trend of councils starting to review transmission methods. To return to that general point, rather than a council pay for a full upgrade of everything, it may choose to go for wireless transmission, and outsource the monitoring to a larger control centre elsewhere. In local government generally, let alone in a time of austerity, the temptation can be – and has been in many places – to let CCTV run down before switching off altogether. And to return to John, he admitted that it was not easy for North Lanarkshire to agree to its seven-figure spend on new infrastructure; with the prospect however, of six-figure savings per year: “It was a true spend to save exercise.”
SPIE had experience of TCA’s infrastructure already, as the maintenance contractor. A trial scheme saw some cameras transmitting over a wireless link. As North Lanarkshire has high-rise blocks of flats, throughout the council area, wireless transmission equipment could be fitted for line of sight across the region, and a back-haul wireless network configured, which gave the system resilience, for if one leg of the network went down, it could find a return path to take the video signal back to the monitoring centre – and giving more resilience than through the traditional fibre network. “All in all,” John said, “it’s been a success on several fronts.” As he said, the main aim had been to ‘spend to save'; but it brought a higher performing network; which means extra cameras can be deployed, quicker than in a traditional fibre system – which would mean digging up streets, and involving other service providers, and disruption to the public.
To leave John and Tonia for a moment, monitoring rooms can be notoriously warm, thanks to all the video monitors and recording devices, pumping out heat; TCA has had installed the Coldstore recording from Veracity, which has meant less need for air conditioning – another cost saving. And returning to resilience, TCA has several back-up rooms where it can record data. As for image quality, Tonia recalled a recent case of a missing elderly lady, reported over the police Airwave radio, that the control room picked up; it was able to track her down to a bus; ‘and that’s how clear the images are’, Tonia said. TCA can do and does more than just watch town centre streets; it (in fairness, like other major council control rooms) monitor high-rise corridors and lifts, including audio from help-points; and car parks and park-and-ride.
To return specifically to TCA< SPIE under a framework agreement has a dedicated project manager assigned to the works, and a dedicated engineer, which offers the prospect of SPIE seeing and suggesting ways to develop the system, ‘and that’s something that has been encouraged’, John said. “If there is a smarter way to do things, our project manager would support that. I have to say the client also has some excellent technical knowledge. The partnership works quite well.” Tonia seconded that: “It wouldn’t have been possible without SPIE. The communication is on-going all the time. You really have to have a partnership that can deliver the goods, at the end of the day.”