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Panasonic CCTVs and DVRs ensure old stays gold at the National Archives in London

Panasonic IP surveillance solutions installed at the National Archives protect 900 years of UK history
The National Archives has installed a total of 58 static cameras and 41 PTZ cameras from Panasonic
The National Archives, based in Kew, London, houses 900 years of UK history. From the Doomsday Book to present documents, it has records ranging from parchment and paper scrolls through to recently created digital files.

The National Archive building has recently undergone a change, with the family records centre moving from Islington into its premises to create the largest collection of UK historical documents in the country. With this change came the need for an improved security system to protect the thousands of priceless documents. Security and Operations Manager, Jack Lincoln, prepared a non-technical spec for the requirements of the new system and put it to tender.


Where historical records of government are released into the public domain, the National Archives then provides a function to provide access to the documents by the public. Once a member of the public has gone through its registration process as a reader, then they are entitled to have that access to any document they need. If a document has an element of damage to it and requires special care then there is an invigilation room where Lincoln and his team pay even closer attention to how the documents are handled. The ethos of the National Archives is to maintain documents for future generations as well as existing generations. The Archives therefore needed a security system comprehensive enough to be able to effectively manage the use of the documents.

Lincoln explains: "The required system was dedicated to public access and solely operated through the public opening hours. The general building and external areas are operated by a different control room and kept very separate as they are two very different functions." West London Security headed by George Rohan won the tender based on their interpretation of the non-technical spec through specifying a complete end-to-end Panasonic surveillance system with a total of 58 static cameras and 41 Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ cameras).

Panasonic CCTVs are mounted directly above the stands to see what's happening with the document

The solution

Most of the cameras were required within the reading rooms mounted above reading tables and camera stands where the public can photograph their own copies of documents. The Panasonic CCTV cameras are mounted directly above the stands so that what's happening with the document can be clearly seen. George Rohan explains: "The Archives had experienced issues in the past with the handling of the documents and has a much smaller surveillance system; therefore they were more reliant on staff walking around undertaking invigilation to keep an eye on the documents. Due to the major refurbishment that took place as a result of the family record centre moving from Islington into the building, it meant we could specify a brand new system that could watch over the documents much more efficiently than the previous system or from just a passing member of the security team."

Lincoln takes up the story: "The old system relied solely on PTZ cameras. This time round with WLS we looked at a system that had coverage with fixed cameras supporting the PTZ cameras. This combination of fixed and PTZ gives us a close view of the table using PTZ whilst the fixed cameras provide a view of three tables per camera. So it gives us a general view of what's happening with the ability to bring the PTZ into play if we see something we are a bit concerned about."

For the installation of the Panasonic system a shut down period of one and a half weeks over Christmas was utilised in which all cabling was installed. Rohan explains: "The first step was to cable all 99 cameras. However it was impossible to get all of the cameras installed at the same time so it was completed in two stages, with the old camera system and new system working together at the crossover stage to ensure Jack and his team were never without coverage of the documents."

Quality images for effective surveillance

When the family record centre moved, there was the need for a redeployment of staff including security. Additional security staff was required elsewhere which meant the redeployment of their existing numbers as opposed to recruiting staff. Lincoln explains: "We still have staff within the reading room undertaking invigilation but they are smaller in number than in the past. We have radio contact with them and if we see something happening on camera, we are in a position to alert that member of staff to go and deal with the issue that was identified. This new security system has given us an excellent tool to undertaken invigilation within the reading room."

Lincoln and his team were extremely impressed with the quality of the images and of the zoom lens on the PTZ, which makes the invigilation of the documents much easier. Lincoln continues: "With the overhead PTZ you can almost read the text of the document that is being used. We are not just looking for malicious damage of the documents, we are also looking too make sure the documents are being supported correctly with appropriate tools we provide. The cameras are used for document handling as well as criminal damage. If a document is seen to be mishandled, one of the invigilation officers would go and give advice to explain how it should be handled."

"This allows us greater coverage and knowledge into what is happening in the reading room and has allowed us to pick up issues that perhaps in the past wouldn't have been picked up. The Panasonic cameras give us a better tool to deal with issues. We had an issue where a student was underlining in pencil on the original document whilst undertaking research, but this could have caused major damage to the document if it hadn't been picked up on the cameras in time. In which case it has to go to our collection care department to be restored which is an expensive process."

"The documents' value varies to priceless, but the value of the document doesn't determine what level of access is given as we, as a function, don't put a monetary value on them - they are there to be used by the public and treated as normal documents. It's our job using the new system to control and minimise any damage."

Modern surveillance solutions from Panasonic help to protect old documents at the National Archives
The control room at the National Archives housing a part of the Panasonic surveillance system
An additional benefit of the Panasonic system is the visibility of the cameras, although the Archive has rarely experienced theft, cameras are deliberately on show to perform a deterrent value as well as an operational value.

Operational requirements

The control room is only manned during the opening hours of the reading rooms, therefore recording capacity needed to match these requirements. WSL were provided with an empty room to install the cables and racks containing the Panasonic WJ-RT416 digital video recorders (DVRs). The WJ-RT416V encompasses high quality and high compression for economical longer recording. The MPEG-4 compression method enables smooth recording of moving objects allowing system supervisor the ability to play-back footage without loss of picture quality. WLS specified the system to record at the highest rate of 25fps during opening hours and 25fps set on motion detection out of hours with storage duration of 31days. Jack Lincoln explains why the recording period is so important: "The footage is kept for 31 days because we might have a document that is discovered to be damaged after the event, so we need to be able to go back and look at that. If you think of the amount of documents we house, at last count it was about 3.5 million, and the amount of public viewing those documents, there could be damage to it when it is handed back as we can't check every document."

For the design of the rack room George Rohan incorporated both the Archives' current and future needs: "Our idea was to install two big racks in the middle of the room as it's vital to keep the kit cool and separated this from all the cameras. Positioned in the middle of the room we used the mini ducks in the ceiling to allow us to cable down from the ceiling. We also made sure that there was enough space in the room to add additional recorders and another rack if the Archives were ever to increase the recording capacity to six months storage, therefore all storage is kept in the same area."

Additionally the system is backed up by UPS which WLS saw as a necessity due to the area regularly experiencing spikes in the power and thus they needed to make provisions for these instances so that no data was lost. In the dedicated control room Jack Lincoln and his team utilise 4 x 42" plasmas and 4 x 20" LCD monitors controlled via two WJ-CU650 Panasonic joystick keyboard controllers. Lincoln concludes: "Overall it's a very pleasing situation. From the non-technical specification which I presented to West London Security of what I wanted to achieve, this turned into the actual technical specification by George and his team in putting this together and we now have a very effective tool here for invigilating and keeping the documents safe."

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