The Great North Museum: Hancock brings together the North East's premier collections of archaeology, natural history, geology and world cultures under one roof. It incorporates collections from the original Hancock Museum and Newcastle University's former Museum of Antiquities and the Shefton Museum. The museum reopened in mid 2009 and in the first 12 months of operation it had 850,553 visitors. Today it is recognized as one of the top 20 free visitor attractions in Britain and the top attraction in the North East.
Like most museums today the Great North Museum: Hancock is built to a very open plan design, encouraging maximum interactivity and learning opportunities. Many of the artifacts are not in cases and there are no barriers preventing visitors getting close to exhibits. With the significant increase of visitors; targets of receiving at least 30,000 educational contacts per year; and the total value of the permanent exhibits and equipment in the new museum exceeding US$46 million; the new surveillance system needed to be designed for people management, visitor safety as well as for security of exhibits.
With this in mind the Great North Museum PM and Senior Manager for the Great North Museum and Discovery Museum, Steve McLean, worked with the Security Manager of Newcastle University, George Westwater; and taking advice from both the British Museum and Natural History Museum's security advisers; to design the museum with safety and security in mind.
It was important to meet the security stipulations so that the new museum would also be able to house visiting exhibitions including objects from the British Museum and other National Museums and Galleries.
To this end, the building was designed to be able to lock down and secure specific zones and galleries relevant to the building's usage through a series of ceiling-to-floor metal shutters. For example, delivery of visiting exhibitions is conducted at the rear of the building where there are multiple layers of security from retractable bollards to code and key-locked doors, all covered by surveillance cameras.
It is important that the building remains fully secure in potentially vulnerable scenarios like visiting-exhibition movement or evening corporate events. One major advantage of securing the site to the specification is that little upgrade work is likely in the near future and there is a potential to reduce insurance premiums because it is specified to such a high level.
Data Protection Act 1998 requirements prevented museum staff from viewing recorded surveillance images so all proactive monitoring and analysis of recorded images was to be carried out centrally at Newcastle University's 24-hour manned surveillance security control room some 300 meters away on the University's main campus, which is registered with the Data Protection Commissioner to monitor the university's main campus on which the museum sits. This meant that the museum's security system needed to integrate with the university's existing security infrastructure.
On the museum site itself, the surveillance system was to be used principally for access control purposes so that, for example, museum staff could visually verify a school party before letting them in at a school's entrance at the rear of the building.
Cameras had to be positioned sympathetically so as not to draw attention. It is possible to view live images via three different monitors displaying four cameras in quad view, placed at the reception desk of the museum and towards the rear in an administration office. Museum staff would need to request recorded images from the central surveillance security control room if they suspected a security or safety breach.
Although the museum has no dedicated security staff on duty during the hours of opening it has a guaranteed team of nine staff in the building who all are trained to carry out security checks. They also carry radios with silent panic alarm buttons linked to the University's security team. A further six fixed silent panic alarms send alerts through to Northumbria Police in case of a threat. In addition, extra staff deployed for visiting exhibitions are issued with radios and personal panic alarms, also routed directly to the police. A RFID tag system is used on the books in the museum library which holds several hundred very valuable books, ensuring that this rare collection of books can be viewed and studied on the premises by the general public.
“Before the project there was no public access to areas such as the museum's library of rare books. The great thing about our security system is that it enables us to make the museum collections much more accessible to our visitors than ever before,” said Sarah Glynn, Museum Manager, Great North Museum: Hancock.
“It helps us to make the artefacts highly accessible. The new security technology, including Instek's DVRs and display processors, enables us to provide access to all and to create a safe environment for our collections, visitors and staff.”
As part of the ambitious renovation of Great North Museum: Hancock, 2020 Vision was commissioned to install all cameras and a dedicated collector point or ‘node' for the museums' surveillance images. The node consists of a 48-channel Honeywell camera control matrix for switching between cameras and controlling their movement. This is networked with Instek DVRs, video processors, a video distribution amplifier along with a fiber optic patch panel and fiber optic transmission equipment.
This node collects images from one installed JVC PTZ camera fixed onto an eight meter tubular steel column and seven fixed cameras to cover the entrances, exits and car parking space outside the building; and a further 36 Honeywell fixed dome cameras were also deployed internally to cover all key exhibits, a total of 44 new cameras in all were connected to the new system.
The node is linked back to the control room via an eight-core fiber optic backbone. Two fibers provide a 10-base 10/100 LAN network for retrieval of recorded images from the node and is required for access control and intruder alarm signals, VoIP for help points and public address. Each of the other pairs of fibers is used to create up to five real-time peer-to-peer video channels and an RS232 data channel for control of the collector point slave control system for the master matrix. Coaxial cabling is used to all internal and external cameras and then fiber optics from the node which is set up to deliver real-time and recorded images at 25 fps and 4CIF resolution back to the central control room.
“The new surveillance system has performed beyond expectation. This investment has been an important enabler of modernization of this museum. It simply would not have been possible to give total accessibility to many priceless artifacts and books,” said Sarah Glynn, Museum Manager, Great North Museum: Hancock.
“The museum has had no major security problems since its opening in May 2009 which is proof in itself that the system has worked and also enables us to host high-value visiting exhibitions and more corporate events than would otherwise have been possible.”