Security consultant ICS Group has undertaken remote commissioning of an integrated security solution incorporating Gallagher and Pacom access control systems, a Milestone VMS, Axis cameras, Jacques intercoms and a new security control room.

Integrated by Micron and PK Security Solutions, this integrated electronic security system protects sites in Chatswood and Sydney’s CBD, and according to ICS Group’s Scott Myles, the success of the remote commissioning process depended on teamwork between all involved, including 2 contractors and an end user he says were very understanding.

“The project involved upgrading an access control and security solution in Chatswood to Gallagher, and a complete CCTV solution upgrade at one of Sydney’s prestigious blue-chip commercial buildings in the CBD,” Myles explains.

“The Gallagher access control system was a relatively simple upgrade using the existing cable infrastructure, while in the CBD building, the CCTV and video intercom IP base solutions (Milestone and Jacques), were more complex, and will require an expanded level of integration and automation when the existing Pacom access control system is upgraded.”

The Chatswood project was first to be completed, with the work there undertaken by PK Security Solutions.

“Being in the early stages of the pandemic, we were able to enlist the help of the client’s on-site facility management team to confirm and provide a level of witness testing, as at this stage they were still on-site,” he explains. “However, with the second CBD CCTV and video intercom project at 80 per cent completion, still requiring final fit off of in-the-field equipment and the completion of the security control room required a greater level of planning, cooperation and coordination.

“Just to set the scene, the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic came from nowhere – suddenly in the later stages of each project we saw we had to quickly change the way we operated. In a short space of time we went from scheduled on-site inspections to only having limited access, and as Australia locked down, it became apparent that we needed to go 100 per cent virtual. This led to our investigating available technology in order to change the way we currently operate.”

You’d think specialised hardware/software would be required to handle the task of remote commissioning, but Myles says that wasn’t the case.

“It is amazing that when you have to, you can find ways of overcoming the need to being physically on site, and the tools we used ranged from everyday programs that most of us have on our laptops and smartphones, such as Skype, Zoom and Teams,” he says. “However, the programme we found most useful was TeamViewer. This allowed us to remote in, confirm programable settings such as resolutions, frame rates, camera field of views, etc.

“TeamViewer’s real-time connection and desktop displays allowed us to directly communicate with the technicians and request and confirm the operational aspects of the solutions, allowing us to witness test and sign off on any of the high level integration automation functionality of the solutions, such as Intercom activations that trigger the nearest overview cameras macros within the video management solution.”

Myles says there were moments when the ICS Group team wonder if remote commissioning of a complex solution can be handled adequately.

“We have some reservations as our normal modus operandi is on-site inspections, and nothing completely replaces the benefit of actually being there,” Myles says. “To overcome this factor, Micron provided supporting photographic evidence of the CBD system, and this went a long way in confirming that the required infrastructure was installed to a high quality, However, as it is with photographs, not all angles are covered, and in some cases minor details may be missed.”

While it might be possible to confirm the presence of hardware components remotely, this application features a new control room and undertaking control room commissioning from a remote location is at another order of complexity.

“The control room was the most challenging aspect of the project, as the placement of the desk and height of the wall monitors was crucial in the design in accommodating the correct operator viewing angles due to the motorised sit-stand desk,” Myles explains. As we are passionate about control room design at ICS Group, we put a lot of effort into the documentation phase, with our drawings showing detailed plan and elevation views that meant that nothing was left to chance.

“Having buy-in by from integrators with excellent abilities and professionalism certainly contributed to the positive outcome. Important, too, prior to the lock down we had the opportunity to discuss the design with client and integrator and make the necessary adjustments so that when it came time for commissioning the system everyone was on the same page.”

According to Myles, although ICS Group made the decision not to attend site, the team wanted to ensure that remote witness testing would not compromise the integrity of processes in any way. This meant there was no need for new procedures to be created – instead existed procedures were implemented remotely.

“We needed to provide comfort to our client, that all the necessary steps were taken as they would be with our normal onsite commissioning process,” he explains. “To us, the requirements for practical, final completion and the commencement of DLP have not changed, it was just in the way in which we gathered and confirmed this information. This meant that apart from additional video and photographic evidence in lieu of conducting on-site visual inspections, our procedures and commissioning documentation remained the same.

“Our tender documentation is comprehensive and includes the contractor requirements for commissioning and commencement of DLP, and as mentioned, our documentation and the process that we followed did not require any major modification. We attained practical completion of the project through the collection of site photos that confirmed any outstanding items from our previous site inspections. Via TeamViewer we were able to sign off on each camera view or table any required adjustments that were later confirmed in following sessions.

“Although these TeamViewer sessions gave us the opportunity to review the system settings, our standard procedures require the contractor to provide screen captures of these settings anyway, providing confirmation that they comply with the relevant sections of the specification.”

Myles says the most challenging part was the control room as the commissioning team had to rely on photographic evidence.

“Following the normal processes of the collection of the standard commissioning data such as ITP’s, passwords, operational manuals, schematics, assets registers and more, again via TeamViewer, the contractor was able to demonstrate the system working in accordance with the requirements from the safety of remote locations,” he says.

“Calls and video conferencing confirmed that the integrator had delivered the desired outcome and the security manager and operators were extremely pleased with the result. The client was pleased that we took the initiative and understood that our strategy to reduce the risk of exposure was the right thing to do. Although the process had its challenges, the overall outcome was positive and allowed the delivery of this project to meet the stipulated time frame.

“For the operators, the site continues to be operational while conforming to social distancing and hygiene protocols. This required that user training be conducted on-site in separate sessions so that all operators were fully trained. Moving forward, all ongoing training and users support is now conducted remotely.”

Scott Myles, ICS Group.

Myles says the latest electronic security solutions have a capacity for remote management at multiple levels.

“Our IP security solutions are very capable of supporting remote inspections and in the future this capability may be leveraged for convenience, as well as to maintain social distancing protocols,” he explains. “We will be doing more remote commissioning, even after the COVID-19 crisis is over. This will be client dependent as many of our higher security government clients are very particular when it comes to remote access and management. But for some applications it works well.

Myles says many of the challenges around remote commissioning failed to materialise.

“Surprisingly it all went like clockwork,” he says. “I’m not sure if it was the time of day that we remoted in, or the recent upgrade to NBN, but we didn’t experience any noticeable lag or dropout during the sessions, compared to my recent experience with other forms of video conferencing.”

What lessons did ICS Group learn from the process that other consultants and integrators on smaller sites can take away?

“I think luck was on our side, with over half of the project already delivered with most of the site issues ironed out before the lock down,” Myles says. “I think if we were to start a project of this size and manage it remotely from beginning to end, it may have been a different story. Regardless, the main take away is to have good planning from the start, along with the support of trusted and skilled integrators.

“This COVID-19 outbreak surprised us all, and to my knowledge very few were prepared for. With wide ranging lockdowns still in place and the threat of more to come, I believe video conferences and remote system commissioning and sign offs will now become the new normal in how we operate.”