St. Pancras railway station in King's Cross has installed ASL's iVENCS integrated site management system
St. Pancras uses ASL's iVENCS integrated system to control and supervise the entire site

The £800m transformation of St Pancras International Station in London has proved the largest rail refurbishment project in the United Kingdom for a century. The station acts as the London terminus for all passengers travelling on Eurostar from Italy, France, Germany and other continental destinations. One of many successful aspects of the project has been integration of the entire site management under a single control and supervisory system, iVENCS, from ASL Safety and Security (ASL).

When completed in 1868, the 100-metre high single-span train shed at St Pancras was the largest enclosed space in the world. But the site was threatened by developers in the 1960s and only saved after a campaign orchestrated by the poet laureate John Betjeman.

Respect for structural heritage at the site has been complemented by innovative use of management software, which controls and monitors all 16 major sub-systems through one intuitive interface. The project has won awards with architectural integrity in the dual sense of the word running through the station at every level, both in structural standards and the approach to management software.

Visual expectations and meaningful images

Richard Lack, Sales and Marketing Director at ASL, said: "Our visual expectations have been transformed by recent innovations such as the iPhone and Google Earth. We look for real-time three-dimensional animation and fingertip control. Life Safety decisions need to be made rapidly and as the result of relevant data of which the operator is fully aware. Leading software developers have invested heavily in this area accordingly."

He continued: "Meaningful images make the control and monitoring process intuitive as well as producing cost savings through reduction in training overheads and staffing levels. Training requirements at St Pancras have been shown to be much lower than before since operators gain familiarity with a complex building faster through a three-dimensional model than more conventional floor plans and text-driven menus. With iVENCS, as soon as an alarm is reported, operators can view a camera, rack room or panel to see the nature of the problem. An addition has been perimeter protection at the station's coach road in the wake of the attempted terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport. Perimeter systems are also portrayed graphically in real-time with barriers being represented on screen."

 

Cameras focusing on different areas of the station can be selected with a simple click on the 3D schematic
Cameras focusing on different areas of the station can be selected with a simple click

Representation of the Bosch analogue CCTV cameras in the software suite allows cameras to be selected automatically by simply clicking any area on the 3D schematic without the need to remember camera identification numbers. Since iVENCS has absorbed the coverage zones for each camera, the software is configured to display the closest camera and four best matches on the video wall.

Similarly, control room staff have commented on the empowerment they experience when, say, they note the failure of a public information system screen on their virtual model and are able to confirm the problem by observing the relevant camera showing passenger behaviour around the screen. The ability to make precisely-targeted announcements over public address and voice alarm (PA/VA) systems, also supplied by ASL, has produced positive responses. Everything from tracking a suspect as they move around the site to contextualising an electrical fault by following a cable route becomes easier through the graphical approach. On a two-dimensional rendering an operator would need real familiarity with the site to assist in fault location, while tracking a suspect would require entry of camera numbers into the system under pressurised conditions. New staff  report that even after brief exposure to the geography of the location they immediately recognise its layout on the software thanks to a wealth of rich visual resources.

Open protocols

 

ASL's iVENCS software is designed to enable clients to choose between using ASL for setup and maintenance, or configuring the system themselves
iVENCS can be setup and maintained by ASL or configured solely by the user

Along with its three-dimensional nature, the software is also characterised by open protocols and cross-platform support. Lack expanded: "ASL's whole approach to integration is characterised by commitment to an open-source development environment and a well-documented set of interfacing tools. A customer or integration partner choosing iVENCS can use us for setup and ongoing maintenance and development or they can configure the system themselves. Our aim is to create a relationship where the client is able to choose freely between computer platforms, sub-systems and delivery partners."

Lack continued: "The industry trend is to use Linux for its perceived stability, but Windows, Solaris and OS X all work effectively as operating environments for iVENCS. We use a distributed, ‘publish and subscribe' model for data exchange, which constitutes a more efficient use of network bandwidth than forcing each field device to listen to everything said by thousands of counterparts in other subsystems. There is really no sense in broadcasting noise."

Customers frequently ask for hierarchical access levels and ASL has responded to this by allowing management and supervisory staff to arrange for operators and systems maintainers to receive only data relevant to their area of responsibility. iVENCS even presents people with menus tailored specifically to their job function.

Low demand on resources

A frequent surprise for visitors inspecting the system at St Pancras International Station is that the whole network is underpinned by inexpensive commercial off-the-shelf hardware with a relatively low specification. Lack takes up the theme: "It is testimony to the way iVENCS uses resources that a system with 750 cameras and 7,500 data points can spend most of its time with processor usage close to idle. Clients appreciate the fact that they can build a fully redundant architecture and buy off-the-shelf spares."

Control systems operating at crucial transport or infrastructure hubs have a critical need for redundancy and availability. iVENCS employs hot-standby multi path redundancy between servers and client workstations. In the event of one system going down, the user would notice a back up of half a second on monitors as the switchover occurs. This allows a robust model to be distributed across equipment rooms, with inherent protection from failure at any single point.

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