Integrators Australia has installed 300 Axis cameras, Genetec Security Center VMS and Inner Range Integriti at the Charlestown Shopping Centre in Newcastle. With the surveillance system 99 per cent completed, the CCTV and access control solutions are in line for integration later this year.
GRINDING up the F3 from Sydney through what seem like endless roadworks gets me to Charlestown Shopping Centre 30 minutes late. Doing a stressed-out lap of the place trying to find the closest entrance to the security office is instructive. After driving a kilometre, I surrender to the tyranny of distance and dive into the nearest driveway. My guestimate turns out badly. As I walk all the way back through the long retail precinct of the centre, certain fundamentals of this application become obvious. Charlestown Shopping Centre is large and very busy.
The centre contains 240 stores – including big retailers and speciality shops, and around about 15 million customers come through the site annually – about 30,000 per day. These numbers make Charlestown the largest shopping centre in the Central Coast, Newcastle and lower Hunter regions. It’s also an historical shopping centre, the first stage of which was built in 1973 by Lend Lease for always-owner GPT. A key thing about older sites is that they expand in layers of rebuilds. At Charlestown, there have been 5 major rebuilds since 1973, the most recent and most comprehensive took place in 2010 and increased the overall size of the centre by about 65 per cent.
According to GPT Group operations manager, Andrew Hungerford, it was during the big 2010 upgrade that a hybrid surveillance solution comprising analogue cameras and DVRs was installed. Hungerford says at the time this offered the best balance of performance and price. But there came a time when an upgrade was not only scheduled but required to retain the surveillance system’s operational functionality. An upgrade was also needed to open the system to future expansions and enhancements as the pace of technological development increased.
There is always a catalyst for an electronic security upgrade – new cameras with higher resolution and better low light and WDR performance, more diverse camera form factors, greater functionalities on the management side, improved compression – but in this case there was more to it than performance.
“After 8 years, we needed to upgrade our surveillance system not only to take advantage of the improvements in performance the latest devices and networks offer but to ensure we avoided future failures of old equipment,” Hungerford explains.
“Another issue for us was moving away from a proprietary solution to a system that was more open and that gave us more options to control our own destiny,” he says. “We had also decided to install Inner Range Integriti access control, so we wanted something that would integrate with that, and we knew data analytics was somewhere in the pipeline and wanted a solution that would deliver those enhancement as well. After considering our options, we decided we would move to a more open system architecture that offered wider options for installation and support. We elected to go with Genetec Security Center and Axis IP cameras on the surveillance side.”
Same as most shopping centres, the operational imperatives of Charlestown Shopping Centre’s surveillance system are diverse. The system is constantly used to manage intercom at carpark entries and exits, and is also vital for slips and trips, as well as tracking persons of interest.
“The surveillance solution gives us a record of any person of interest who has been involved in shop lifting or might be of interest to police,” Hungerford explains. “And the system is interfaced with the carpark intercom system, so staff can see who they are speaking to. We also have rooftop coverage and we view carparks, entry ways, loading docks and have an overview of surrounding areas that are relevant to our security.
“The system is certainly much more capable of ID than the previous one and it’s certain to assist us with insurance claims as well. When it comes to carparks when we have incidents like tailgating or confrontation, we can now see entire events clearly. When it comes to faces, security officers can see who is speaking and almost lip-read, so when managing intercoms at entry points they are better informed so more efficient.
“Importantly, we don’t have a 24-hour monitored security room,” Hungerford explains. “Our security staff are often on the floor and will come into the security office to use the cameras if they need to. However, the capability of the new system sees it more fully at the centre of our security operations.
“For instance, if there’s a fire alarm activation on site we can jump very easily into the system and see what’s happening using icon-based mapping. This gives a quick overview and ensures from a management perspective we are not flying blind – if there’s a real issue, then security staff on the floor can be contacted via radio to respond.”
Open-ness is another major advantage of the upgrade.
“Something the new solution does give us is the ability to expand in completely new directions with things like analytics – we’re just starting to work this into our pipeline – LPR and face recognition,” Hungerford says. “Something we are also piloting is a Wi-Fi integration between an in-store surveillance system and the centre system using metadata.”
The ability of the system to federate video inputs from multiple sources has allowed the security team unexpected flexibilities.
“We have been trialling 5 Edesix body-worn cameras for 4 weeks – video from these cameras is streamed to remote nodes via the shopping centre Wi-Fi,” Hungerford says. “Operationally, we can watch a live view from a body worn camera as the security officer walks around, or they can hit a panic button/distress button that will alert officers in the control centre to an issue they can then follow on the body worn camera on the video wall.
“There are other shopping centre security departments using body worn cameras and while this is a trial, there have been such positive results we’re now working on selecting an appropriate vest, so we can add them to our application. Instead of exacerbating issues as officers thought they might, the body worn cameras seem to end arguments and issues. Offenders look at the cameras and just walk away – it’s acting as a real deterrent.”
From an operational perspective how easy was it for the security team to learn Genetec Security Center?
“I was surprised at how quickly the team picked up the new system,” Hungerford says. “I certainly find it more intuitive than the old system and the team got straight into it. The security officers responsible for managing the carpark picked it up fastest as they are on it all the time. The functionality is comprehensive, use of the timeline makes investigating incidents easy. The ability to click, zoom in and track is great – we have external PTZs – in the forecourt and on roofs.
“The new cameras are a major step forward. In the past I’d often hear – ‘I can’t make out that face’, or ‘I can’t see that numberplate’ – but I’ve not heard any comments like that since the upgrade. The ability to handle difficult light is important, too, as the site has its challenges – bright lights, low light, backlight. Night time in the carpark when light is very low is especially difficult for the cameras – any car coming through can be just a halo of headlights.”
While Genetec Security Center is a powerful video management solution, Hungerford points out that it’s also the way information is delivered that makes a difference.
“A neat piece of functionality of the Genetec Security Center Solution is an app, which in operational terms makes a mobile device almost as functional as a head end – it’s way more functional than I thought it would be,” he says. “The app means the security team can take a mobile device to show a retailer or emergency services footage of an event, but it also changes the way management can drive the entire security function.
“In the first week of operation we had an incident in which a troubled person self-harmed at the shopping centre and we had a camera viewing the scene that provided clear footage of the incident to police investigators. Local police were very happy with the quality and I was happy, too. As chief warden I was able to sit in the office and watch the entire event and to manage the closure of multiple entries fully informed, not making decisions on the fly. This functionality was very beneficial and to experience its capability in the first week – I was impressed.”
Hungerford says the VMS has another trick up its sleeve.
“Another strength is Genetec Visual Track,” he explains. “We regularly do practise runs where we track high risk persons of interest through the centre – the person might be a shop lifter or a potential threat to customers. Visual Track is so helpful operationally. You follow simple prompts on the screen to keep the person of interest in sight – the team have found it very useful.”
A core aspect of the upgrade was that the surveillance system be capable of integrating with the new Inner Range Integriti access control system.
“The main reason for this CCTV and access control integration is back of house access,” Hungerford explains. “Charlestown Shopping Centre is a big asset and we don’t have 50 security officers walking around opening and closing hundreds of doors. Using an integrated solution, we will be able to handle door access securely, remotely and efficiently. Something else we’re looking to ensure with the integration is that when an event happens – say a door is accessed to the roof – we can put eyes on it and respond immediately, it’s not something we become aware of 24 hours later.
“The integration is about being proactive rather than reactive but it’s as much about safety as security. We want to know when a tech accesses a switch room and to be able to keep an eye on them. We want to know if someone is working on the roof – we want to be able to put eyes onto workers at risk, as well as onto members of the security team and customers who might need assistance. Using the integration, events that can be ignored during the day might generate alerts after hours. Finally, an access control system integrated with CCTV is so much more powerful and valuable than a masterkey system, no matter how well managed the physical keying system is.”
The Process of Upgrade
To bring any application to fruition on a site this size always involves a lengthy timeline and a complex process of planning, and Hungerford says Charlestown Shopping Centre was no exception to this rule.
“Typically, an upgrade like this has a lead time of around 2 years from start to finish,” he explains. “We did all the briefing and tendering in 2016 and began delivering in 2017 and we’re just finishing the project now. As the old system began to fail at the end of its life we found ourselves adding new DVRs with encoders. These failures were motivational – we knew we needed to get the new system operational as quickly as possible.”
The heart of the upgrade involved the installation of a serious network. Bob Firth from ACAD Services acted as consultant and project manager for this project.
“This network connects multiple services across the site including CCTV, access control, BMS and digital signage,” Firth explains. “With plans to add other services to this network, it needs to be very robust and have capacity for plenty of future expansion. Every switch is backed up by UPS and monitored off-site to ensure that we maximise the uptime.”
“The first step in the process of upgrading the surveillance system was upgrading our servers and our network,” Hungerford says. “The network backbone is fibre with a redundant loop around the entire centre and we have good coverage in terms of nodes so most places in the centre are no further from a node than 100 metres – that includes the carparks. The centre also has free Wi-Fi. There’s now lots of data being captured and transmitted, management and storage is centralised. Integrators Australia monitors this system for us and gives us reports of system health.”
Another core aspect of any electronic security upgrade is that at some point the old system and the new system end up running alongside each other and that coloured the upgrade process at Charlestown.
“Having the old analogue system and the new IP CCTV systems running side by side in one control room was the hardest aspect of the process – it got difficult for the security officers to know what was working and what wasn’t working, and they were constantly jumping from one system to the other,” Hungerford says.
“You can imagine that the physical process of installation and commissioning generates constant faults and system events that become white noise. In a live control room there are also difficulties for security officers following a person of interest across 3 cameras on the old system who then switch across to a new system they know will offer better coverage or much better resolution,” he explains.
“We positioned most the new cameras near the old ones, which went some way to reducing the need to view cameras across systems but there were inevitable crossovers that caused a confused user experience. It would have been better to install the new system while using the old system and then one night to simply cut the entire control room across to the new system with no crossover at all, but it was hard to avoid doing so in our situation.”
Walking the Site
We start in the network room – it’s well organised and nicely installed – the racks also give a clear idea of the nature of the installation. There’s fibre at the top for the multiple VLANs that comprise the security network, there are storage servers to handle recording, management servers to handle the video wall and a rack-mounted UPS. The system is designed to give full resolution, full frame rate recording for 30 days and appears solidly provisioned in terms of hardware.
Next, we take a walk through the centre. Something that stands out immediately is the range of camera form factors that Integrators Australia has installed at Charlestown. The first that catches my eye is an Axis 360-degree but there are also plenty of domes, as well as some full body cameras.
As well as varying form factors there are varying resolutions, from 720p installed internally in locations where a longer lens gives least pixel spread and best rendition of faces at secondary access points, to 4K in areas where larger angles of view need to be combined with serious depth of field. In one external location, there’s an Axis 360-degree camera (4 x 720p fixed cameras) incorporating a 1080p PTZ camera mounted underneath.
Most entry points have full body cameras – there are about 8-10 across the site. The camera layout design put together by ACAD Services provides coverage that is thoughtful and extensive across retail areas, as well as around stairs and escalators. I notice variable lighting conditions throughout the application, but the redevelopment has delivered a considerable amount of natural light, which helps CCTV performance.
Something else I notice is that like most mature shopping centres which have evolved over time there remains some sense of structural demarcation at Charlestown, which limits sight lines. This plays out most fully in the carparking areas but the nature of the site, with long retail chambers and multi-level foyers with floor to ceiling voids, shapes camera selection and positioning.
In addition to monitoring front of house areas, the CCTV system also provides monitoring of back of house areas such as loading docks and critical plant. There are also PTZs installed across the rooftop for monitoring contractors work activities. Something else that’s evident while on the hoof is a factor that came into play when I was trying to find the closest entrance to the security office upon arrival. Geographically, this is a very large and very complex site.
According to Brad Johnston of Integrators Australia, the integration posed challenges, one being that it was impossible to work on the public side of the system during opening hours.
“The majority of the work was night work,” he explains. “Getting access to tenancies was another hurdle we had to overcome. The hardest part was general access for running cables – there were issues with ceiling spaces, getting access to certain areas, it was intensive. The food court was another challenge, thanks to very high ceilings and the fact many speakers and light fittings had to be moved.
“Because of the age of the site, there’s not a complete wiring schematic, so that was a factor as well and the installation process was also quite long. We started out in August last year, but the first job required was to install the very large fibre network and that was a lot to get through before we began work on the other parts of the system.”
Even at the tail end of the commissioning process, that early challenge of cabling looms large in Johnston’s mind.
“There was a lot of cabling, a lot of fibre runs – it’s a huge and complicated site and the topology of the network reflects this complexity,” he explains. “Most the camera cabling goes back to the node rooms within a radius of 100 metres of the camera point – for instance, in this area there’s a node room just behind into which all the local cables feed.
“A lot of the new camera points are in existing locations because the security team was happy with the coverage that those angles of view had provided them over many years. But there are some situations that need ongoing consideration – for instance, there are live plants in the centre and over a very short time these have grown so much that foliage has
begun to obscure the views of some cameras.”
Brad Johnstone, Integrators Australia
According to Johnston, there was an average of 4-5 installers working on the site during the night and towards the end when the commissioning team began working in conjunction with the techs, there would be a team of 6.
“The IT department was not involved in this application at all – Integrators Australia built a dedicated CCTV network and installed the entire fibre backbone to each network node with a pair of 24-core fibres coming in and coming out to give redundancy, 6 cores at each node with a total of 25 node rooms,” he says. “The way the network is built is that if one node goes down it doesn’t impact on any other node in the centre – it’s not daisy-chained, it’s very smart – a lot of fibre and a lot of thought, planning and work went into this solution.”
Johnston has plenty of praise for the management solution.
“I’ve used many different VMS platforms on large applications during my career, but I’ve found that once you get your head around Genetec Security Center, it’s quite easy,” he says. “There have been a few little things related to the camera side that required careful optimisation of settings and are now resolved. More complicated things like setting maps up in Genetec Security Center – that’s a very simple process. When it comes to mapping, you import the map then drag and drop the icons onto it – it’s in depth and you can add things like angle of view.
“Visual Tracking setup is also simple – it’s a feature of Genetec Security Center that you configure same as mapping – you put a coloured block on all sides of the camera view and programme the system so the video wall moves seamlessly to the next camera view as you track a POI by clicking the block in the direction of travel – it means you don’t have to go out to a camera directory, then come back in. It’s quite handy.”
According to Johnston, the Integrators Australia team put in a lot of work behind the scenes to streamline the installation process.
“A lot of the cameras were pre-configured in Melbourne – the centre wanted to minimise downtime between cameras so the less work that needed to be done during the commissioning process, the faster everything could transition,” he explains. “As you’d expect, we did end up running the surveillance systems side by side and that was a bit cumbersome, but it allowed us to fill all the coverage holes in the new system while retaining coverage in the old system. The difficulty with 2 systems in one control room was tracking events – inevitably, officers would use whichever system they thought offered best performance or best coverage of an event.
“The way the installation went, we started out by adding all the new cameras, so we had 2 complete systems and then bit by bit, we started turning the old cameras off. A lot of thought went into the way the transition should happen, everything was fully documented and the team in Melbourne did a great job of setting out the necessary processes. Their planning including IP addresses and detailed drawings, as well as photos of where each camera would go. This meant the installation team knew exactly what needed to happen every step of the way. There were a few little mix-ups relating to exact camera positions but nothing you would not expect on a site with around 300 cameras. But it all came together nicely in the end.”
According to Johnston, the overall challenges of the site were more about the network installation and the process than elements like lighting conditions.
“Light across the site is not too bad but it does vary – some of the old cameras were installed right beside light fittings – we have been able to minimise a lot of that with the latest Axis cameras but there are a couple of locations where having light falling on the scene is beneficial – I’m thinking of challenging locations like carpark entries,” he explains.
“Having said that, the Axis cameras in the carparks have IR so they will switch across in very low light, though given the combination of natural light and internal lighting, the cameras mostly stay in colour. Frankly, I like the contrast of black and white for number plates but to get the best from colour it’s a matter of putting in the time on camera settings during commissioning and to continue working to get the best performance from cameras installed in challenging situations.”
Johnston says he thoroughly enjoyed the process of the upgrade.
“I’m very finicky and meticulous – I spent a lot of time on planning and it’s great to be able to plan a solution then come to the site, see the system working and to hear that’s how all GPT sites will now be – it makes me feel good,” he says. “The security officers working in the control room love the new system, too. They can bring up a map, bring up an icon, see a camera, follow an event, hop to another floor. This process is quick and efficient – operators are not left wondering what angle of view a camera has in a busy moment – they just move through the map icons, bang, bang, bang.
“In fact, Andrew likes the mapping so much as a management tool he wants it on the mobile device as well – that’s how intuitive it makes viewing cameras on a large complex site like this. The Integriti integration with Genetec Security Center is something else the security team here is really looking forward to. I’ve always been a fan of Concept and I love integration, so I’m looking forward to that as well.”
At the end of our tour of the shopping centre we head back to the control room to take a look at the video wall and the mapping functionality. Is the new system better than the old one? I ask the operators.
Yes, they reply, hard at work juggling intercoms and camera views. I can see immediately how capable the vector mapping is – operators open the map and drill down, with the mapping getting more granular as they go. The site is huge, and there are layers, so being able to find views using icons makes the entire process way easier for operators.
In the control room we also look at Visual Track, which allows you to go around the site and click to the next camera in a person of interest’s direction of travel by hitting a coloured panel depending on which direction you need to go. Viewing this on screen shows how simple a process it is.
Taken as a whole, the new surveillance system at Charlestown Shopping Centre is an impressive solution and Hungerford has good advice for other end users interested in upgrades of this magnitude.
“The first recommendation I would make to other end users planning a serious upgrade is having an in-between technical adviser who can project manage and consult throughout the design and the deliver stage of the process,” he says. “It certainly assisted us having consultant Bob Firth from ACAD on board as a technical project manager – his knowledge was vital.
“From the point of view of an end user of complex technology you often don’t know what you don’t know. Bob was able to litmus test the integrators, to be our interpreter in relation to what was working and what wasn’t working for us in real time. We will apply the same model to the access upgrade.
“I would also recommend doing as we did and making sure you get the new network completed first and don’t try to do it on the fly. That’s a big thing – you never want to assume your network has the capacity to handle an upgrade then find it’s not able to cope during the commissioning process. You want to find and fill all your network gaps in advance.”
Having a quality integrator committed to the cause is also vital.
“Integrators Australia supports us across other parts of the GPT portfolio – having an integrator which knows you and knows your systems is a real benefit and with a liquidated damages agreement there was a mutual interest in making the system work as well as possible. Finally, if there’s a way to deliver the system in a way that offers a clean cutover, then I would be implementing that if possible – though when there’s an old analogue system and a new IP system running in the same control room imposing that restriction is easier said than done.”
What does Hungerford wish the new system could do?
“I think a combination of facial recognition and the ability for the system to search through footage and track the movements of an individual – a shop lifter or a lost child,” he says. “That would save us huge amounts of time. Obviously, cost is a factor but if we can include that sort of functionality in the future it would be a major enhancement to an impressive surveillance solution.”