Wed, Aug 10, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Met’s nerve center struggles to keep up with rioters

The Guardian, LONDON

In contrast to the text and BlackBerry messages used by the rioters, the Metropolitan police (the Met) rely on a highly centralized communications system.

At its heart is a special operations room in Lambeth, central London, where senior officers view screens showing footage from helicopter cameras and keep track of police movements by radio.

The nerve center — known by police officers as GT — contains other specialized equipment and it is plugged into London’s vast network of CCTV.

Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens, who oversees public order, has been involved in directing operations from GT over recent days with acting Commissioner Tim Godwin and acting Deputy Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe.

The police radio system is provided by Airwave technology, a secure network used between the emergency services.

While previous radio systems could easily be listened into — meaning that dispatchers sometimes decided that information could not be passed over the radio — the Airwave service is encrypted and cannot be scanned, according to the company. Officers use Airwave via their personal radios.

GT has teams of dispatch operators sitting in front of computers who communicate with officers on the street by using Airwave and via the mobile data terminals in police vehicles.

The facility includes a CCTV monitoring suite where tens of thousands of cameras feed into the system. Images are displayed on large video walls.

In terms of making the most of other types of technology, particularly social networking, the Met has been using Twitter, but has come in for criticism for being slow to fully exploit its potential.

Senior officers insisted that the Met has not been caught “flat-footed” by the violence of recent days.

However, Commander Steve Kavanagh, deputy assistant commissioner, told the BBC’s Today program: “We need to adapt and learn from what we are experiencing.”

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