Integrating control rooms and response

SMART Estate Security 2023 Integrated Solutions, Residential Estate (Industry)

Control rooms (onsite or offsite) have become a standard in large estates, and remote control rooms (or cloud-based control rooms) are finding a home even in smaller estates due to cost efficiencies and the increasing reliability of analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Using technology and even the best AI to identify events and raise alarms in emergencies is one thing, and we have all heard about the constant battle to deal with false alarms before personnel are dispatched, and the difficulty in ensuring that real alarms are not categorised as false. The communication between the control room and the personnel on the ground who will have to respond to emergencies is a critical issue to ensure people get to important events quickly and are prepared for what they will encounter.

SMART Security Solutions asked WatchManager’s Rob Gillespie for some insights into how control rooms and security personnel can be integrated to deliver the peak security operation residents expect (as well as other operational functions supported by the control room). With over three decades of operating in the industry, WatchManager should have some answers as it is the most installed control room alarm monitoring system in Africa (according to the company).

Control rooms are all about management, integrating alerts coming in from cameras or other devices in the field and the responses from control room personnel and those on the ground. What is the best approach for an estate to get the best service possible? Do you run your own control room or outsource?

The onsite/offsite question

“Alarm and camera monitoring software is a highly specialised business these days, and as a supplier of these systems, we have to embed ourselves into the client’s real time, live scenario,” says Gillespie. “In other words, what would I like to be able to control and manage in order to keep my residents safe and secure? Having a monitoring control room onsite and managing your own environment is highly preferential to farming it out to another service provider in the area, who will simply lump your residents into their database.

“Yes, they will respond accordingly, with all the capacity they have in store, but you will be able to respond quicker, with a lot more ‘local area’ knowledge. Of course, you will have to maintain a staff complement to effectively manage your control room as well as the reaction officers to respond to the alarms, but that is a decision that the trustees must weigh up. Is it beneficial to do it yourself? Yes.”

Using AI, and especially cloud-based AI analytics, is all over the news these days, and it may be the standard method for analytics in the future but, at this stage there are still questions surrounding AI’s evolution.

“Currently,” says Gillespie, “AI and cloud-based analytics only apply to camera/video systems. Defining analytics on a camera is a very tedious, usually unrewarding, and more often than not, an inaccurate exercise. Analytics usually reside on cloud servers or in local controller boxes on site.”

He adds that several of these are available, reliable and easy to install, even if they are not 100% accurate. “Being blunt, they are better than having nothing. Of course, you could always have the standard alarm trigger video verification devices linked to our monitoring software. When a trigger occurs, the relevant images and/or a short video clip are attached to the trigger, and the control room operator can immediately verify whether there is a real problem or not.”

When it comes to alarm monitoring in general, cloud systems are not used much, as these are still 98% physical transmitter and base-station-bound in Africa. The IP-based transmitters and alarm panels are becoming more robust and sophisticated, but Gillespie says local Internet services are the restrictor and problem. “They are simply not reliable enough yet. So if you have an IP-based system and your local internet goes down, your control room is deaf and blind.”

Despite the IP limitation, WatchManager has numerous direct video product integrations, enabling the control room operator to both verify the trigger incidents and view other available cameras on the scene in live mode.

From start to finish

As noted in other articles in this publication, getting an alarm notification is only the first step in the process. The management/monitoring systems of today need to have the ability to receive the alarm and then follow through until the case is closed. Gillespie says WatchManager’s software includes everything needed to track an alarm from the time that the trigger is received and handled by the operator and their response team. “It is an all-inclusive workflow process, encompassing all the different possible scenarios. We have been in this business for more than 30 years, so there is nothing that we have not come across that is not covered by our system. We ensure operators can be confident that everything is well under control.

“This extends from the signal hitting the operator’s screen to the reaction officer’s responses from his phone, vehicle or GPS device. Naturally, full history, management and audit trails are available for management to use to constantly improve their operations.”

WatchManager is also integrated with WebFleet’s server and TomTom units. Signals can go to groups or individuals, and their vehicle statistics are also available for analysis. These units can also be used for other functionality, such as scheduling jobs for technicians and tracking their whereabouts and time spent at locations.

A dedicated guard monitoring module on the system is also included to manage and control the different guarding requirements in real time. This provides real-time tracking of patrol points, missed patrols, panic situations, etc. WatchManager is about to release GuardManager, a self-contained, fully integrated, real-time guard monitoring and management system.

The company also has a Telegram module, which is more economical than sending SMSs as there is a fixed monthly cost per keyholder. The module also offers a GPS-based panic button, a fault reporting system, and a technician’s test system. Other functionality will be added in due course.

Dreams versus reality

Of course, as everybody in the security industry knows, we all want the best, most advanced solutions that cover every possible aspect and angle. Then, the conversation about budget starts, and those dreams are hit by an ugly dose of reality. Every perfect plan is always stabbed in the heart by budget restraints. WatchManager has found that many estates start by saying they want the full spectrum but most often do not get anywhere near implementing it.

“In most cases,” notes Gillespie, “the basic control room functionality with reaction people patrolling, along with perimeter surveillance is where they stop. It is always a function of budget, and typically, most estates are on a tight budget, so they only use the minimum. One also has to remember the competency level of the people employed in the estate to handle these tasks. Many are simply not up to it, and the estate trustees often do not want to spend the money to put competent staff in place.”

While talking about the topic of budget, Gillespie notes that one aspect of a control room monitoring system that many clients do not consider (for more reasons than budget alone) is their backup system methodology. WatchManager offers a number of solutions for this problem. If the client has a second system onsite or at another location, a real-time data synchronisation module is available to keep both systems fully in sync with each other. In addition, WatchManager offers a service that performs a daily offsite backup to its cloud server. This same service also caters for a spare backup system licence, which in itself is a great saving.

He ends by saying, “In this industry, service and support is everything. WatchManager has dedicated staff providing this service on a 24/7 basis, and there are also trained agents available all around the country, as well as outside the borders of South Africa. We use technology ‘to the max’ to provide rapid support to any client in need.”


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