Gentoo is a not for profit organisation that manages tenanted housing of over 36,000 homes, among which are 23 tower blocks – situated across Sunderland City. Originally built in the 60s, the towers had become rundown as a result of on-going vandalism, tenants being harassed and under occupancy.
In 2002, challenged with a situation to demolish or refurbish the towers, Gentoo’s chief executive Peter Walls took the least likely option and decided that the towers would be regenerated, and assigned considerable investment for the task. Peter Walls initiated sweeping changes with the desired outcome to massively improve the quality of living for tenants and the local community in the surrounding areas. His goal was to create accommodation that people aspired to live in; where they would take pride in their home, a place with a real sense of community. 23 of the 27 towers were selected for the refurbishment project that would take six years to complete.
Gentoo’s resident policy states that tenants should be over 35 years of age, but in reality this is far exceeded, as most tenants are closer to 50 or 60 years of age or older. SHG needed to consider the needs of this age group, of which a main priority was to provide a safe and secure environment. In addition to the internal and external overhaul, the refurbishment plan required that each tower should have a modern security system connected to an on-site concierge; to reduce crime by keeping intruders out, to catch and prosecute vandals and trouble makers and give tenants peace of mind. Up to this time the towers did not have any specific security measures. The security equipment specified for the refurbishment included the following:
- External CCTV using Honeywell KD6 domes with PTZ, to monitor the car park area, access roads and perimeter of the building up to the main entrance.
- Access control at the vehicular and pedestrian entry gates and the main entrance of each tower using the Honeywell WIN-PAK™ system with proximity access
- control cards or key fobs.
- Internal CCTV – Honeywell fixed cameras fitted in the lobby, the lifts and in communal areas such as the living room and laundry room.
- Intruder alarms– using the Honeywell Galaxy/IntelliSense products for the communal areas on the ground floor and for the emergency exits.
- Bespoke video door entry – with modified CCTV camera and apartment monitors.
- Fire alarm system.
- On-site concierge control room to manage all security applications.
- The security system at each tower was required to be fully integrated.
Although tenants unanimously agreed the changes were much needed, some were rather sceptical, at the start of the project, that the refurbishment would make any difference. It was important to get their buy-in to agree to the changes, as tenants were required to vacate the buildings during the 11 months of refurbishment. A massive culture change was needed to convince residents about Gentoo’s ambitious plans. Through a communication programme tenants were informed about what was going to happen and what the outcomes would be. Surveys were conducted with residents, including public consultation and the use of a mobile exhibition unit to show all the improvements that were being offered; at all times encouraging feedback from tenants and making adjustments accordingly.
The security element went out to tender through building services consulting engineers Davies Tindale who were responsible for managing the project. It was awarded to 2020 Vision Systems Ltd, who are specialists in systems integration and complex security projects. 2020 Vision demonstrated how the initial security tender document, proposed by SHG, could become even more effective – by installing a concierge control room, with the capability to manage the integrated security and 24 hour monitoring and control for all towers from one remote location. This would provide additional benefits of greater system control, and cost savings of reduced manpower and overhead costs.
SHG considered this change in approach, but waited to see the outcome of the security system at the first tower block, before deciding on a central concierge system.
Zetland Tower was the first building to be refurbished. Located on the edge of the city centre, in the middle of a residential estate comprising of sheltered housing and with other towers within walking distance, Zetland Tower provided the test site; used to monitor the effectiveness of the on-site security concierge. The benefits of the integrated system resulted in a quick reduction in crime and vandalism. Within two weeks of the system going live there were two convictions, secured through video evidence recorded at Zetland and supplied to the police.
The Concierge System
Sunderland Housing Group followed 2020 Vision’s proposal and decided that having one main concierge control room managing the entire security function for every tower block would be the best approach. A bespoke concierge control room was installed at Leechmere, located within a six mile radius of the towers, the security control centre at was opened and fully operational in 2005.
The individual security systems from each tower are networked together using wireless IP communications over a secure LAN. Bandwidth is throttled to 1Mb broadband per link, providing high quality transmission of voice, video and data and fire alarm, simultaneously and in real time – to one user interface.
Wireless IP has enabled considerable cost savings; compared to cable based “Honeywell is our partner of choice because they are continuously developing products with backward compatibility that will protect the initial investment of the project and keep it working well into the future. It is a future proof platform onto which other technologies may be added.”