Knowsley Community Warden Scheme uses radio system

17th June 2005

Knowsley Community Warden Scheme has invested in a radio management system (ITrack) which is now providing real benefits to the local community and helping to make Knowsley a safer place. I-Track is a personnel management tracking system using GPS mapping linked into a two-way radio system to fully allow the monitoring of the warden’s movements during their working day. The scheme allows managers to communicate effectively with their wardens via text, voice and status messaging as well as providing movement details. The system has been supplied and installed by Northwest Radio of Liverpool.

Dave Watkinson, scheme manager said, ‘Across the borough there are now a total of 110 community wardens, divided into teams operating in six different areas of the borough. The primary purpose of this scheme is to help reduce crime. The wardens wear a highly visible uniform whilst patrolling, on foot, in pairs. Their presence reassures residents and reduces the fear of crime. They are not police officers and nor do they have any formal powers but they do work very closely with the police and various agencies. Each team has to look after approximately 12 -14,000 homes, as there are 82,000 homes in the borough!

Knowsley is quite rural with lots of green, open spaces. The wardens patrol these areas as well as the town centre. Unfortunately, wardens are sometimes targeted with abuse and even assaulted. In these cases it is vital to immediately know where they are. The radio system features a red emergency button on the top of IC-F61, a press of this alerts base control and other wardens to know that they are in trouble.’

The I-Track system is comprised of two parts:

I-Track software runs on a standard personal computer. This is connected to the base station radio. The system produces data showing wardens position at any time. It is also possible to track their movement history all of which is overlaid on a Microsoft land cartography display. ITrack keeps an historical database of movement, giving the scheme the ability to prove the location of wardens at a set time.

The second part of the system is the personal radio equipment used by the wardens. This is based on the IC-F61, a lightweight UHF handheld transceiver, and a remote speaker/microphone with built in GPS (worn on the warden’s lapel). In addition, an IC-F610 mobile transceiver is used as a Base Control unit to send voice messages as well as text and status messages to each employee.

An IC-F610 base station is used for each of the six individual schemes. In addition each manager’s vehicle has an IC-F610 mobile transceiver installed. Combination antennas are used on the vehicles to pick up the GPS messages.

A UHF radio system was chosen because the topography in Knowsley can vary from built up urban areas to large open spaces and UHF was shown to be able to provide the level of coverage required.

The I-Track radio system is set up for text and data messaging as well as voice. The use of short, predefined messages can reduce the need for long, voice conversations making the system much more efficient. up the For example, the status-messaging facility on the radio can store 20 regularly used status messages e.g. DOOR OFF would equate to a panel of a lamppost that has been pulled off. LIGHT OUT might equate to a street lamp that isn’t working. SHARPS for to exposed needles. In addition, a second voice only channel has been incorporated so that the Wardens can contact Knowsley Security. Knowsley Security themselves have ten IC-F61 radios for their staff and seven IC-F610 mobiles installed in their patrolling vehicles.

Dave Watkinson scheme manager said, ‘each warden receives 3 weeks of intensive training on all issues before starting their duties. Half a day is given to radio training so that all wardens are taught radio etiquette and procedures. Each warden is given a call sign and will be expected to use correct radio protocols.

He added, ‘The wardens work a two-shift pattern, either 8am to 4pm or 2pm to 10 p.m, Monday to Friday. At the beginning of the shift each warden is assigned a radio that they have to check and sign for. It is their responsibility to ensure the radio is placed in the over night charger. It is a supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that all radios are on charge.’

David said, ‘ Wardens patrol in pairs, for health and safety reasons, and share a radio between them. Normally wardens patrol for two and a half-hours before having their break. More often than not the wardens will have their break in the community. In the past, before we had this system, this presented the manager with a problem as we never knew where the wardens were. We therefore asked the wardens to radio in every 20 minutes to keep us informed of where they were. Now, I-Track tells us exactly where the community wardens are by polling them regularly without the need to contact them via voice communication. This has cut radio traffic down by 80%. In addition, if the warden faces any sort of problem such as antisocial behaviour, they have the option of sending their information more accurately by status messaging, voice communication and their GPS location.’

David added, ‘Knowsley has one of the highest levels of social deprivation in the country. As such it received funding to become one of the first trials of a community warden scheme in the UK in 2001. Originally, it had only 8 community wardens. In the following 2 years we have added 4 more schemes and have added 40 more users. Last year the scheme received a grant to increase the number of wardens from 40 to 110. This has created new problems of voice conversations congesting the radio channel so we needed to find a more efficient solution.

He went on to say, ‘We will be council funded next year. We have a crime reduction strategy that is led by the crime reduction partnership. This is made up of local agencies such as the council, the police, fire, ambulance services, help the aged etc. All these agencies have come together to produce a strategy of how to tackle issues that affect our borough. Wardens are very much embedded in this crime reduction strategy and people are noticing the value of having wardens, of what they can do and how effective they can be. However a warden is only as good as the equipment they have and now, they have the tools to do their job effectively.’

David said, ‘Every 6 weeks I give a presentation to the local community and local council officials. I have to show what has been achieved. I-Track has made my job so much easier as it provides an audit trail. The radio system has made us open and transparent, yet sustainable. Now we are moving to council funding, I will have to prove to people what we have achieved. ITrack can achieve this. It is because of the reporting aspects of I-Track that other lone worker schemes around the country are now looking at this technology.’

Asked why he went for the I-Track scheme, Dave Watkinson said, ‘I met Paul Kinealy from Northwest Radio and explained to him that I was looking for a lightweight and easy to use stand alone radio system. Essentially I wanted to know where my staff were and to have the ability to retrieve their journey log. I go to residents meetings and take copies of the mapping (which is date stamped). This demonstrates that wardens have been in the community, which days and at what times, I-Track provides the proof.’

He added, ‘One of the first issues, I spoke to Northwest Radio about was the life of the radio battery. Obviously if someone is out in the field and still dealing with a resident’s job at the end of their shift, the warden will have to stay out there. So my concern was – “would the radios hold a full charge? particularly with the additional drain from the GPS speaker microphone”. The answer was to supply the IC-F61 with a high capacity Lithium-Ion battery. Consequently the battery is lasting from 10-12 hours, but just in case, we do have a spare set of batteries as back up.’

Paul Benson, Technical Engineer of Northwest Radio said, ‘the system was pretty straightforward to install. The equipment programmed up quickly and reliably. The general performance of the scheme has been good and we have had no coverage issues.

Commenting on the scheme in general, Dave said, ‘Operationally the system has exceeded my expectations. We have got more from the system than I originally envisaged. It was a lot of money to spend and it took a lot of persuading for our managers and the elected members to invest that type of money into a radio scheme.’

Commenting on the service they have received from Northwest Radio, Dave said, ‘they have been absolutely excellent. Their advice and technical support has been incredible. They even applied to Ofcom for us for our licence. That was really appreciated as that process can be daunting.’

Ian Lockyer, Marketing Manager for Icom (UK) Ltd said, ‘ I-Track offers significant benefits to organisations through improved communications and improved security. Today, organisations have to be more security conscious. Whether in an industry where operatives face daily abuse, or even attack, I-Track can be used to pinpoint the exact location of your operative and can also instruct a nearby colleague to assist.”

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