Chester Zoo has grown rapidly since its foundation in 1930 so that today it is spread across more than 125 acres, and is home to more than 15,000 animals and 500 different species. It attracts more than 1.9 million visitors each year - making it the most popular UK visitor attraction outside London.

 With further growth planned, Chester Zoo began a site-wide vulnerability assessment, led by the zoo’s then head of security, Nigel Peers, out of which flowed a series of recommendations for modernisation of the zoo’s security.

Zoo security requirements

The Zoo needed a fully-integrated and networked camera system to enable the security team to spot and act on all threats faster; tighten perimeter security; improve visitor and staff health & safety monitoring; and support keepers in assuring the welfare of the animals in their charge.  

The new system needed to be centralised to support the fully-professionalised security patrolling team. However, video also needed to be distributed effectively to enable health & safety officers, keepers and researchers, to view specific sets of camera images when necessary. All this was only possible working in close partnership with IP video specialist systems integrator NW Systems Group.

Improving image quality and coverage

NW Systems, once on site, initially discovered that many of the legacy CCTV cameras were generating poor images.  NW Systems replaced approximately 60 faulty CCTV cameras with new Axis network cameras. Meanwhile, all remaining CCTV cameras were networked using AXIS M7016 and M7014 Encoders, alongside all new network camera transmissions. A total of 160 new Axis cameras were installed and networked by NW Systems across the original or ‘core’ zoo, The Islands and elsewhere, together providing much more comprehensive coverage site-wide.

AXIS P3225-LVE cameras were installed in numbers across The Islands, partly because of their versatility and robustness making it possible to site them both inside and outside animal enclosures. 

Special attention was paid to siting of cameras for total discretion. Where surroundings required, camera housings were camouflaged, thereby offering highly unobtrusive surveillance. In addition, the newly centralised control room was fitted with the very latest video management software (VMS) from Milestone Systems.

State-of-the-art IP camera system at Chester Zoo UK
The new IP video system also supports post-event follow-up - including supplying timely, high quality video footage to the Police when necessary

Tightened security at main entrance and car park

NW Systems also provided increased coverage across the recently renovated Jubilee Quarter, the Zoo’s main entrance and large car park serving it. It also installed several Axis Q6000-E PTZ Dome Network Cameras, alongside Axis C3003-E Outdoor Network Horn Speakers, clamped onto existing lighting masts throughout the car park.

This enables the Zoo’s security team to monitor activity around the 1000-vehicle capacity car park, for the protection of visitors and their belongings. The loud speakers can be used to transmit live messages to arriving visitors to guide them towards the entrance and to deter any potential wrong-doing.

Animal welfare and keeper safety needs

NW Systems was also called in to help solve a specific concern of the Zoo’s Lead Elephant Keeper, associated with opening large gates to let the elephants out of the Elephant House into the wide-open habitat and back into the elephant house at night.

The existing remote door control system was now supported by high quality live views provided by five-megapixel AXIS P1357-E network cameras covering the doors. These same cameras were also being used to capture the magical moments of elephants giving birth to their babies – three baby elephants have been captured on these cameras over the last 18 months. The video sequences were shown live via the Zoo’s website and recordings have been also been kept for marketing purposes.

Rationalise, network and centralise security operation

Over a three-year period, working in close partnership with the UK’s largest visitor attraction outside London and largest zoo in the UK, NW Systems has helped Chester Zoo to rationalise, network and centralise its security operation, underpinning the professionalisation of the Zoo’s security team. NW Systems has also provided the right platform for distribution of high quality video images to meet zoo keepers’ specific operational and research needs.

The new system also now supports keepers’ animal welfare and behaviour research requirements - helping them to spot and discourage inappropriate visitor interaction with animals. It provides vital evidence in case of any incidents which might result in insurance claims.

The IP cameras spot and discourage inappropriate visitor interaction with animals
The new system also now supports keepers’ animal welfare and behaviour research requirements

Potential threat identification

From a security perspective, helping the Zoo’s security team to identify potential threats more rapidly – using video images to brief patrolling officers on where to go and what to anticipate on arrival. The system enables the security team to assess and prevent escalation of any threat by moving rapidly and effectively to the scene and then, once there, acting in a way that is proportionate with a pre-identified threat. The new IP video system also supports post-event follow-up - including supplying timely, high quality video footage to the Police when necessary.

The result is a state-of-the-art IP camera system which transmits video from nearly 300 Axis cameras to a modern, IP-based centralised control room. It also offers the potential to deliver live and recorded video to patrolling officers’ mobile devices on the ground when the time is right. Vanderbilt networked intruder alarms have also been installed by NW Systems to further protect key buildings around the site.

"Chester Zoo now has a video security platform
which is highly reliable, expandable and future-proof"

Beyond standard security surveillance

Nigel Peers, Security Manager, Chester Zoo, summarised: “Chester Zoo now has a video security platform which is highly reliable, expandable and future-proof. We know that whatever our requirement in terms of intelligence, video analytics and integration with other physical security systems such as intruder alarms or access control systems; it’s possible to bring it all together with our new IP video system displayed in the Zoo’s new security control room. Speed and appropriateness of response to threats is now assured.”

Frank Crouwel, Managing Director of NW Systems, added: “I’m very proud that we’ve been able to work with Chester Zoo every step of their three-year journey to upgrade and harden their physical security provision; while also creating a camera system which supports many other operational requirements from visitor and staff health and safety, to animal welfare and behaviour research, as well as retail management and loss prevention.”

Gareth Simpson, Head of Site Operations at the Zoo said: “I’m very pleased that we selected NW Systems to help transform our security provision, working alongside our Security Manager Nigel Peers and the rest of my team.

They’ve been highly responsive and sensitive to our unique, multi-dimensional needs which go way beyond standard security surveillance: using cameras for everything from visitor and staff safety, animal welfare monitoring and behaviour research studies, right through to meeting and exceeding tightening Crowded Places terrorist-threat mitigation requirements and supporting the Police with any enquiries. NW Systems is a great long-term partner for us.”

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