If you're the subject of a 999 emergency call to the ambulance service in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk or Suffolk you can expect one of 100-plus frontline vehicles operated by the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust (EAAT) to come to your aid in double-quick time. But the Trust also has a duty of care to its staff. Around the clock, 24/7, staff at the Trust's new Norwich control centre respond to thousands of 999 and other calls. Not before time, a new CCTV system now allows their movements to be monitored, to ensure their, and the premises', security.
New Year's Day, 2006, East Anglia - and in just three hours after the stroke of midnight, ambulance crews have responded to a staggering 325 emergency calls.
Most of the calls to the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust were a result of drunkenness, assaults and overdoses. They made up more than a quarter of the 1,407 emergency calls received at the new control centre on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, up a fifth on the previous year.
Of course, crews do not celebrate a rising toll of emergencies. But generally, they can take satisfaction in reaching patients faster than ever before, having cut response times to reach callers to just 7 minutes and 42 seconds. Better patient care is the result.
At the core of these achievements is the Ambulance Trust's new Norwich control centre, the heart for responding to calls in a 5,000 square mile area, using more than 100 emergency ambulances - 120 ambulances in all - as well as 60 rapid response vehicles, a helicopter and even, in Norwich city centre, a bicycle. But until recently, an old CCTV system was the only way to monitor and maintain the centre's security.
Comprehensive renovation of the control centre provided the opportunity to invest in more sophisticated surveillance, to protect property and staff alike, around the clock.
Securing the emergency control centre
To secure its Norwich control centre, the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust opted for the new SOLARIS surveillance system from access security specialist, Siemens Building Technologies Security Products, linked to the powerful, reliable and flexible Bewator Eventys DVR (digital video recorder). For installation of this system, the Trust reviewed a number of security companies and in the end chose Chris Lewis Security - a leading provider of security installations in the UK. The company installed the system within two weeks.
The new centre, with the 16-channel Eventys DVR, five integrated Bewator SOLARIS dome cameras and three fixed mini-dome cameras, opened for business on 4 July 2005.
Head of IT at the Trust, Ian Arbuthnot, said: "Before, we had some CCTV cameras linked to a video recorder, but bluntly we had realised for more than two years that this solution was less than ideal. The monitor was a small eight-inch black-and-white TV screen in the corner of the control centre - hardly state of the art, or flexible."
"We wanted the new control room to be efficient, but comfortable and secure, so we took the opportunity to update the security. Externally, the building was vulnerable to vandals, and staff on shift entered and left the building at all hours of the day and night. Our old system simply couldn't cope. It was well past the right time to replace it, so we did."
Bewator's SOLARIS offers unique levels of accuracy, speed and configurability, which strongly appealed. SOLARIS is easily connected, its specification is high, and installation and maintenance can be quick and effective. Testing to IP67 means it is very robust, and given the risk of vandalism on public property, that was unfortunately an advantage.
The Eventys digital video management system is uniquely capable of supporting IP and analogue cameras simultaneously, and hence is compatible with Bewator's analogue CCTV solutions, as it is - with excellent results - at the East Anglian Ambulance Trust.
Chris Lewis Security's IT director, Justin Rhodes said: "Eventys is at one and the same time seamless, powerful, reliable and of high specification. For instance, each camera can be set individually to record in different modes at different times of the day or days of the week, offering the potential to vary security where activity levels alter between night and day, and between weekdays or weekends. It can even be programmed to change recording modes for holidays."
"This outstanding flexibility ideally suits Eventys for a wide range of uses, in premises such as retail and corporate venues, museums, banks, education buildings and logistics centres. It allows control rooms that monitor many cameras - such as those in airports, casinos and sports grounds - quickly and efficiently to identify and investigate incidents."
The system includes superior motion detection with frame progression and advanced search facilities. Recorded video can be duplicated, sent and stored anywhere using standard IT and network storage solutions, offering cost effective, secure and virtually limitless storage capacity.
Emergency staff feel more secure
The perimeter, access to the control centre and the Ambulance Trust's reception are all monitored. Added Ian Arbuthnot: "Like any public service, we have unfortunately had instances where individuals have threatened staff. People cruise past the building and turn up unannounced in the early hours. Monitoring these activities is very reassuring."
"When staff members finish their shifts in the early hours, we are able to ensure, if necessary, that they get to and into their cars safely. They, and we, feel more secure."
The beauty of the software-based Eventys system is that each camera can be programmed individually and controlled remotely, said Justin Rhodes: "Anyone with control can access the system on their personal computer - even a laptop - over the Trust's network. They can log on from anywhere, and control and monitor the system without using the old dedicated, inflexible, monitor."
On the strength of results to date, the Trust now plans more CCTV installations - using Bewator equipment. The aim is to install Internet Protocol (IP) cameras to expand the system to monitor the Trust's 34 ambulance stations and other remote sites over the next few months. Initially, up to eight will be monitored.