Work goes on in emergency centre

WHILE most of us will be tucking in to turkey and a generous helping of trashy TV, spare a thought for those who will spend their Christmas Days' hard at work.

WHILE most of us will be tucking in to turkey and a generous helping of trashy TV, spare a thought for those who will spend their Christmas Days' hard at work.

None more so than the staff at Ipswich Council's emergency control room – who will be on hand to deal with all our festive crises.

Always a hub of activity, the centre in the council's Civic Centre building is usually home to a 50-strong team but over Christmas a more streamlined operation will be in place – with a dedicated team of at least 11 people on duty at all times.

Their job is to keep a watchful eye over the town via its CCTV camera network, whilst responding to out-of-hours emergency calls and keeping an ear out for the HEARS community alarm service.

Two people will keep an eye on the CCTV cameras, one will deal with emergency calls and a further two will go out to any incidents picked up through this.

Another team of six will visit vulnerable people at sheltered housing sites across the area.

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Emergency services centre manager Kevin Wegg said: "We are there 24-7 every day of the year.

"It can be a bind for people to work on Christmas Day but you get the heart-warming tales like, last year, an elderly lady in sheltered accommodation that was having problems operating her gas cooker and couldn't cook her turkey. We were able to go out and sort it out and that makes the work worthwhile.

"You get lots of calls about all sorts of problems so you can never really tell what's going to come up, and that's part of the appeal for a lot of people."

Ipswich was one of the first towns in the country to have comprehensive CCTV coverage of a town centre when it was launched in 1994.

Since then it has expanded several times and been visited by government ministers to see how it works – earlier this year local government minister Nick Raynsford was shown how it helps make Ipswich a safer place.

The control centre surveys images from cameras around the town centre, Northgate sports centre and the park and ride sites on the edges of town.

Mr Wegg said the Christmas period often proves to be an 'interesting' time for those keeping watch on the goings-on: "You do see the whole range of things. Probably not so much on Christmas Day itself but, obviously, at some of the parties that go on people do enjoy themselves and sometimes people carry that out on to the streets."

The control room also keeps watch on Stowmarket, Sudbury and Hadleigh town centres.

As well as acting as the town's all-seeing eye, the control room staff keep an ear out for the Home Emergency Alarm Response Service (HEARS) which links elderly and disabled people across the Ipswich area.

Alarms are placed in their homes which, when activated, will come straight through to the control room immediately alerting them to the whereabouts of the caller, even if they are unable to speak.

The other service run from the control room over the festive period is the out-of-hours helpline. Mr Wegg said: "If a council tenant has a problem with their house, or if the public generally have a problem to do with a council matter, they can call this 24 hour number."

If you need assistance during the Christmas week Ipswich council's emergency out-of-hours number is 01473 433444.

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