Centro Control

Abridged article taken from 'CCTV Image', Spring 2006


NSSC Control RoomCentro is responsible for promoting and developing public transport in the West Midlands. All three modes of transport in the West Midlands are protected by CCTV and other security measures. We talked to safety and security manager, Sheelagh Whittaker, and project consultant Redvers Hocken.

Centro places a high value on passenger safety and security, and to this end they have installed a number of security measures throughout the network of trains, buses and trams to enhance security and make passengers feel safer.

For passengers CCTV cameras, together with other security measures, are a welcome sight and they can be found at train, bus and tram stations, park and ride facilities along certain routes and even onboard vehicles. In a recent survey of passenger priorities, CCTV ranked sixth out of 20 issues, outranked only by concerns such as reduced waiting times, better lighting and cleaner vehicles.

Centro installed its first CCTV cameras in car parks 11 years ago and since then the system has grown and grown to the point where, today, there are over 700 cameras throughout the West Midlands, monitored from a central control room, the Network Safety and Security Centre, in Birmingham, in partnership with the Birmingham City Council."

Expert Advice

As you would expect with a system of this size, expert consultancy is required to design and oversee the installation of the first CCTV cameras 10 years ago. Centro has employed the services of Redvers Hocken Associates, a long-time member of the CCTV User Group

Redvers, who recently was successful in securing a renewal of his consultancy contract (in the teeth of fierce competition from rival firms), began in 1996 by helping Centro to trial CCTV in a number of car parks on the network

One of the things that helped Redvers Hocken Associates to win the contract again was the number of innovations he has helped pioneer. One initiative which gained extensive local media coverage, was the installation of glass break detectors in selected bus shelters - you could say it's like putting ears on a CCTV system except the only thing it listens for is the sound of breaking glass or the impact of something hitting the glass

"It can detect it as someone tries to break it," says Redvers. "It doesn't have to break. There's two technologies involved: one is a very low wave form of where you listen for a thump and the other one is listening for the actual sound of breaking glass. It's both technologies which are employed."

Replacing broken glass is a costly business - on the order of £300,000 a year was being spent on replacement glass. So the glass break detectors were installed which, when activated, are programmed to trigger a nearby camera to pan and zoom in on the bus shelter."

Shout Out

Another Centro innovation is the use of highly targeted public address systems which enable the control room managers to speak to customers if needed.

"Basically we can select any single camera to have PA on it at the end of the day," Redvers says. "In bus stations we broadcast to all in the bus station. On sites in the car parks, we can individually identify which camera to use and then switch the PA on to that camera. Every PTZ has this PA on it."

He explains that the directional speakers have approximately a 40 degree spread, with very low back emissions.

Redvers believes the system may be unique. He says, "I don't believe that anyone else would have as many as we do and control them individually as we can. We have an audio matrix and we can switch to anything within the system. More importantly, we can select a single camera and then that camera and only that camera, will have a voice coming out of it."

Safeguards are built into the system to ensure that operators can only use PA links which are associated with cameras under their control. In addition, there's virtually no chance of an operator accidentally activating the system. "They have to purposefully select PA and then push talk. There is no way you can leave the thing open so people can hear the control room talking," says Redvers.

Exceeding Expectations

The attention to detail - that is, not only designing a PA system but also ensuring that there are safeguards built in to take account of human failings - is one of the qualities which Redvers believes his customers, such as Centro, value about RHA.

As a consultant, he tries to put himself in his clients' shoes, while also maintaining and independent point of view. "I should think that about 90% of everything that we put forward goes ahead because we won't put it in unless it is necessary," he says.