In a few weeks time, Bexley’s new CCTV control room will be up and running. LINDA PIPER has been taking a sneak preview.

AFTER signing a £7m 10-year contract with one of the world’s top technology companies to run the borough’s CCTV system, it is hardly surprising Bexley is pleased.

The deal with Siemens is the first of its kind in the UK and is already attracting attention.

Under the contract, Siemens and its partner Wilson James will not only build and maintain the system and generate all the CCTV images, Bexley Council employees who currently staff the old control room will move over to become Wilson James workers from April 1.

Terry O’Brien, from Siemens has been with the project since the beginning in October 2008, said in the last five years technology had moved on rapidly.

Bexley’s old control room was full of banks of television screens with video recorders, tapes and hardware.

The room had to be kept cold, to keep the machinery cool and if there were any problems, engineers had to work alongside the CCTV operators to carry out repairs.

In contrast, the new control room is light, airy and warm.

Banks of TVs and video recorders have been replaced by a large flat screen display operated from desktop computers.

The necessary hardware is housed in a separate room so engineers can service and repair it without disturbing anyone.

There is also a viewing room next door, separated by a two-way mirror, so in the event of a major borough incident police, council and other interested parties can view developments without disturbing the operators who are monitoring events.

The new control room provides high definition real-time images 24 hours a day.

Mr O’Brien said even the older CCTV cameras would provide better images than in the past because, unlike the old video equipment, the new system can take every bit of information the cameras can offer.

The system is fitted with auto-tracking to follow a particular incident and a privacy zone which screens out sensitive areas such as people’s windows.

Cameras can be automatically turned to monitor events in hotspots at certain times of day and there is a map system, so operators do not have to know the area and where the cameras are, to monitor a particular location.

Operators are also able to track back 18 hours if needed and there is the ability to turn one screen to 24-hour news channels to keep track of a major incident.

A new separate review suite has been created where police or other authorities can view footage involved in confidential enquiries.

Anything they do or touch is also recorded.

And built into the contract is the phased replacement of cameras.

Bexley also hopes the Siemens’ deal will open up opportunities to make money, by using system capacity to win contracts from business parks, shopping centres and public services, to monitor their cameras.

Council leader Councillors Teresa O’Neill described the contract as “innovative and creative” and said it would help allay residents’ fear of crime.

She added: “This is another great first for Bexley.”