Zada’s expertise provides optimal security for The Mall Blackburn
When The Mall Blackburn needed to overhaul its CCTV security system, it turned to shopping centre security specialists Zada Technology to provide a comprehensive upgrade and maintenance programme
The Mall Blackburn is the home of shopping in Blackburn. It houses 100 retail tenants in 600,000 square feet of shopping space, including big names like Debenhams, Primark, Argos, H&M, Topshop and Next.
It attracts 13.1 million visitors a year, with each visitor spending an average of 56 minutes at the centre. As well as the retail shop spaces, The Mall Blackburn features a market, and parking spaces for 1,300 vehicles.
With that many people coming through its doors every day, safety and security is of paramount importance.
When The Mall Corporation took over the former Blackburn Shopping Centre, it inherited a CCTV system with some serious issues. To tackle the problem, and as part of its £66m redevelopment programme, The Mall’s management called in shopping centre security specialists Zada Technology to provide a solution.
Zada’s Technical Director Adam Parsonson-Smith explains:
“We’d worked on one of The Mall Corporation’s other sites and they asked us to come in and take a look at the CCTV system at Blackburn. The equipment selected was good, but there were some underlying issues with the network.”
A dedicated network
With the maintenance contract for The Mall secured, Zada had close to 90 percent of the system back up and working within the first two months.
But, as Parsonson-Smith says, because the underlying issue was network-based, the full solution was going to require a coherent plan which would be implemented over a number of years.
“Once we had shown that the system was well on the way to recovery, then we had the trust of The Mall Blackburn’s management. So together we came up with a five year business plan.”
This future-facing approach is a cornerstone of Zada’s approach to shopping centre security.
“We ask the customer to visualise where they’d like to be with their security system in year six. What will it look like, and what is it going to do? That way, when we start in year one, we’re not selling a system that will be redundant by year five.”
In cases like The Mall Blackburn, Zada likes to work with a fully comprehensive maintenance contract, as it allows the Mall’s management to have a fixed cost service over the life of the contract. There are no peaks or troughs when it comes to the security system budget.
At the centre of Zada and The Mall’s collaborative strategy was a plan to install a fibre optic cable network throughout the shopping centre. This would be the main ‘highway’ for any data traffic.
“With the fibre optic network, it doesn’t matter if it’s used for CCTV, intercoms, access control, EMS or whatever else – it’s theirs. It’s a flexible, dedicated high-speed transmission system that allows us to add to the network as needed.”
The fibre optic equipment was provided by networking specialists AMG Systems, and included its managed network switches.
Camera and recording in focus
The next step in the process was to upgrade the analogue portion of the existing system – around 60 percent of the cameras – to HD networked cameras. The new cameras, provided by Hikvision, included static cameras, pan-tilt-zoom cameras, and Darkfighter low light models.
The interior mall spaces were migrated to HD camera coverage in the first year. Then, in the plan’s second year, Zada upgraded The Mall’s external service yard areas and back of house facilities as well. Year three has seen the focus switch to upgrading the cameras which cover The Mall’s extensive car parks.
While the cameras have been undergoing an upgrade, Zada has also been paying attention to what happens to the images that those cameras capture. The recording system has been expanded with an extra two Nuuo Crystal Titan CT-8000 network video recorders. These each include 24 terabytes of storage, bringing the total system storage to 120TB.
“The aim was to increase the recording capacity but decrease the number of cameras recording to each NVR. So they have gone from 52 cameras to 34 recording to each NVR, helping to lower the throughput and stress and increase the retention of the recordings. There was never a question of reducing the recorded frame rate or resolution. Currently The Mall Blackburn is recording 140 cameras, all at 25 images/second in HD resolution, and those recordings are kept for 32 days.”
Zada prides itself on its close working relationship with its manufacturer suppliers, as evidenced by the fact that Parsonson-Smith worked with Nuuo to develop a new keyboard specific to the Blackburn control room.
And that confidence in the quality of its suppliers is also starkly apparent in Zada’s unique five year warranty on all the products it installs to customers with maintenance contracts – even if the manufacturer itself doesn’t offer a warranty that extensive.
“We will take the risk that we might be honouring a warranty beyond that of the manufacturer, because we know that we have installed the equipment correctly. And we’ve maintained it correctly, so we are confident that its longevity will be for 5 to 7 years. It’s another reason why we work with the suppliers we do: because we are confident in the quality of their products.”
The control room at The Mall Blackburn is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it also communicates proactively with Zada’s helpdesk, providing emailed reports each week that allow Zada to address potential problems before they have a chance to have a significant impact on performance.
“The software doesn’t send us images, just reports on how the system and its components are running. It allows us to call them in the first instance, to say that we’ve noticed something like a hard drive is looking likely to fail, so we’ll be by this week with a spare. It means that they don’t have to call us because they’ve discovered they don’t have the footage recorded that they thought they did!”
The software system allows Zada to identify issues right down to the component level – a situation which has arisen at Blackburn.
“We had an issue with a specific manufacturer and a component which was in that manufacturer’s equipment. It was when we started to look at our callouts to The Mall Blackburn that we identified that there was a common, recurring issue. We spoke to the manufacturer and told them what was going on with this specific product, and they acknowledged there was an issue, and let us know what we needed to do to repair them all. So we were able to proactively repair the products before any problems occurred, and under our maintenance contract.”
Proactive working relationships
The relationship of trust between Zada and the centre’s management is reflected in the comments of The Mall Blackburn General Manager Loraine Jones.
“Our relationship with Zada continues to go from strength to strength. With a professional and dedicated team the company proactively works with The Mall to enhance and improve the CCTV and associated technical equipment on an ongoing basis.
“Since we started working with Zada we have increased the number of CCTV cameras from 40 to more than 140 and the company has been extremely proactive in identifying and trialling innovative cutting edge technology.
“All the improvements have helped The Mall’s security team and the police to detect and deter crime. Their staff are committed, professional and extremely knowledgeable and we know we can count on them to provide reliable, round the clock assistance. I would not hesitate to recommend Zada, its products, services and, of course, its team.”
As part of the ongoing business plan, Zada is looking at integrating surveillance with other systems, such as carpark intercoms, over the next year.
“It’s a process that allows us to grow and adapt with the customer. After several years of Zada working with The Mall Blackburn, the customer has a very stable solution which is also developing a reputation in Lancashire for reliability from a police point of view. They are using a lot of The Mall’s footage, from their cameras, as evidence. So the system has helped to build a very good working relationship with the police, because the footage is of very high quality.”