Home Office installs £600k video walls in high-tech upgrade of ‘control and command centre’ for emergency response

Department signs tech firm to potential three-year contract – which includes specifications about manufacturers under risky ‘foreign ownership’ – to deliver revamp of facility for major operations and incident response

The Home Office has revealed plans to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds installing “video walls” as a part of a high-tech upgrade of a command and control facility that supports various departmental teams in overseeing major operations or emergency response.

At the start of this month, the department entered into an initial 14-month engagement with Surrey-based tech firm Cinos, which has been contracted to “build three video walls as a control and command centre for immigration”, according to freshly published commercial documents.

A total of £627,615 is expected to be spent during the first year of the deal – which can also be extended by two further one-year periods. It is not clear how much the agreement could ultimately be worth if runs to its full potential term.

Given the sensitive nature of the work, the contract contains several special clauses, including a stipulation that “the supplier will provide a full list of sub-contractors, hardware products and any software that will be utilised throughout the term of the contract… to ensure that none of these are in foreign ownership that may place the buyer at risk”.

According to its website, Cinos’s portfolio of vendor partners comprises a range of major manufacturers – such as US-based Cisco, Microsoft, and VMware and South Korea’s LG – alongside a variety of smaller or more specialist partnerships with American or European firms. Notable by their absence are Chinese players such as Huawei, ZTE, and Hikvision, whose technology has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Concerns over surveillance have seen authorities in the US and UK take steps to limit or even prohibit the use of products from Chinese IT and telecoms manufacturers.

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Other special requirements set out in the contract include a demand that “if requested, the supplier will provide a list of supplier staff needing access to the buyer’s premises and say why access is required”.

Although the procurement notice refers explicitly to immigration, PublicTechnology understands that the Home Office facility – which is already in operation – is available for use by various teams across the department’s home affairs portfolio of policy and operational areas.

The centre can be used, on an on-demand basis, for major operations and campaigns, emergency incident response or other ministerial priorities which require so-called ‘C4’ practices – referring to command, control, coordination and communication.

Originally derived from military operations, C4 methods are now also widely applied in government and business.

It is understood that the high-tech upgrade will put the technology capabilities of the Home Office centre on a par with other such facilities operated by departments that lead or coordinate major government operations or crisis response activities. The contract describes the system to be implemented constitutes a “command and control collab room” that will operate on a “24/7” basis.

The ‘video wall’ technology described is redolent of the National Situation Centre established in the Cabinet Office two years ago. The £9m facility, created to help monitor and respond to potential crises, is equipped with giant screens providing officials with live data feeds and other information. PublicTechnology revealed last year that this includes data provided by mobile network operators and intended to give government “insights on movement, demography, mobility patterns and behaviours of millions of people”.

Sam Trendall

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