A core goal for any housing organisation is to provide a safe and secure environment for its tenants; the deployment of CCTV is an essential tool in achieving this goal. However, meeting this need while also rolling out other services and ensuring that social inclusion objectives are met is likely to be financially unviable unless innovative strategies are adopted.
If we look at the need for security in isolation, a housing organisation with tens or hundreds of sites needs to see in real time where and when anti-social or criminal behaviour is happening so that the appropriate response can be triggered immediately. There is also a constant need for non-key holders to be granted or denied access. Stationing security guards at every location round-the-clock might be the ideal solution, but it is not economical in most cases. CCTV and controlled door entry are therefore the most effective methods for meeting this need, in terms of both cost and security provision.
Organisations are then faced with a choice of analogue or digital CCTV. For housing associations, implementing IP CCTV and access control at each location and then connecting these devices via a wireless metropolitan-area network (MAN) to a central control room is a far more effective means of meeting customer needs. Ealing Homes and Swindon Housing are two examples where networked video has given the security monitoring centres real-time visual information on remote sites. Using wireless transmission between locations not only gives these organisations greater control over their CCTV infrastructure, but it also enables the service to be rolled out at a much lower cost. Using wireless gave both housing organisations a sub-twelve month payback period, compared with using traditional analogue-cabled alternatives.
To cite further the example in Swindon, there is now an extensive wireless network covering tens of square kilometres and supporting around 250 camera feeds. The association has now deployed ‘talking’ wireless mobile cameras as an integral part of its crime prevention strategy. The result is a facility where cameras can be deployed anywhere in the town and the immediate area at a moment’s notice.
This can go beyond security and surveillance applications as well. Because everything is now IP-enabled, a full range of other applications could use the wireless MAN. The Digital Britain team led by Lord Carter should be looking at these assets as way of delivering cost-effective broadband to public-sector tenants, many of whom are at risk of digital exclusion.
Further challenges are emerging, such as managing the digital television switchover in public-sector housing. Using interactive IP-TV platforms, digital television can be rolled out with no need to re-cable entire apartment blocks, with the wireless MAN providing the ‘backhaul’ link. Already IP-TV platforms are available that support IP-based telecare applications and other ‘push-pull’ services. An elderly tenant could push a panic alarm that wirelessly sends a signal to the television’s set-top box and a message is sent instantly to the carer or warden via the wireless MAN. As telecoms operators upgrade their core networks, many of the legacy panic alarm applications will no longer be supported so housing groups will need to upgrade these systems anyway. IP is now the de facto standard for all networks, so IP-enabled telecare is a natural step to take.
Other healthcare and support management tools, such as reminders to take medication and renew prescriptions, could be displayed on tenants’ television screens. All this technology is available today and is designed to improve the quality of life, without inducing fear.
Embedding wi-fi access points in strategic locations, such as the reception areas of housing blocks, can also help mobilise IT services for employees. For example, a health visitor could securely log onto the wi-fi network while on-site and be connected to the corporate network via the wireless MAN. This helps avoid unnecessary trips back to the office, as well as improving their efficiency in dealing with patients.
Traditional analogue CCTV is a single, closed application architecture. Because of this, it cannot be used to support the additional applications and services which could potentially add huge value for the housing association. However with a wireless and IP-based network, these applications can be added; an open approach must be adopted with co-operation between different stakeholders within housing associations, as well as other public sector stakeholders. From a technical perspective, it is possible to allocate and guarantee sufficient capacity for each application if properly planned, ensuring all services are satisfactorily delivered.
With a large number of private- and public-sector companies already using wireless IP CCTV, this is proven from a technology perspective and the rapid return on investment makes it one of the most obvious purchasing decisions that a housing association can make. The ability to add a myriad of other applications in future to improve services and promote social inclusion makes the business case even more compelling.
Tim Close is managing director of 802 Global.