Monday, January 28, 2013

The ASU is not just about pilots and observers..

The one role in the whole ASU system that has so far gone unmentioned in my blogs about @mpsinthesky is the Control Room
Before I go any further, allow me to show you the place, so you can start to comprehend what happens up there.

As you can see, quite a few screens with different data on them to be watching. And this is not all of them. There are more out of view of this picture.
So who works up here, and what is their role in the whole ASU system.

Its easy to think that you make a 999 call, the CAD operator requests i99 to attend, et voila, they are overhead, but its really not as simple as that, so for those interested, allow me to explain a little.

There are a number of ways that you can find the ASU hovering overhead, and a multitude of roles it could be carrying out. The list is not exhaustive, but here are a good few examples of the various roles of the ASU.

Surveillance or info gathering for planned events, such as raids, or public events which require contingency planning.
Monitoring of events on the ground which could result in harm to the public or officers. Flash flooding, protests, and other things which can change in nature suddenly.
Missing persons searches. One of the ASU's largest roles is finding missing vulnerable people, such as the elderly or mentally ill. As well as reports of injured people in remote locations.
Escort duties ranging from diplomats and royalty, to Cat A prisoners too and from court, and under transfers.

As you can see from the list so far, none of this is the high octane, high speed stuff you see on TV. And its roles like those above that I wish more people understood about.

I digress...

Back to the Control Room
The functions carried out up here are anything from communications, to future planning for big jobs, like the Olympics recently. Manned by just a single controller, things can get quite crazy in there at times, especially when there is a lot going on.  As well as the pilot monitoring weather, and other conditions, the controller will also be keeping a watchful eye on the weather over the whole area that the ASU cover, and communicating with the CAD rooms requesting i99's assistance, letting them know if it is even possible for them to fly in that area.
The ASU will not attend all jobs it is requested to attend. While it is a powerful tool in the fight against crime, and can transit from one point of Greater London to another in mere minutes, a decision has to be made on both its effectiveness in a requested job, and priority given to other more important incidents. This is where the controller becomes key. While the guys and girls on-board the ASU will be engrossed in the job at hand, the controller can keep an eye on any requests coming in, and help in deciding what job they can attend next, whilst keeping tabs on what's happening on-board via the uplink from the chopper.

All the screens in the control room can give a clear picture of the incident the ASU are dealing with, and the experience of the controller will tell them when the unit may be clear for the next job, while the radio chatter, and information flow from the unit and the CAD rooms will help make this decision. On board the chopper, the observers can also engage in this decision, whilst also identifying other jobs that they can assist in while in the local area. Some great examples of this were given during the tour.

Clearly from everything going on, and the mass of information and requests coming in, chemistry between ALL members of the ASU is vital. From ground staff in the control room and engineering staff, to the pilot and observers, everyone understanding what the others need is what makes the whole unit run so smoothly.

While sitting in the back of the EC145, you appreciate just how much goes on in that little area, and how many functions can be carried out from one seat. Commentary, navigation, observation, photography, filming, tracking, searching and so much more. Meanwhile in the control room, there is just as much multi-tasking going on, with the controller using comms between ground and the air unit, monitoring weather, helping to decide where the unit can go next, receiving live pictures from the helicopter, not forgetting of course the KEY role, keeping the Twitter feed lively.

I joke of course, but thought it prudent to mention that it is in fact the controller on the ground, when time permits, who is updating the Twitter feed. Since my initial POST visit blog, I have been asked a few times about things like this, and can confirm the following.
Only some of the ASU participate in the Twitter feed, so sometimes when it goes a little bit quiet for a shift or a day, it is because the staff on shift are either too busy, or don't currently participate in the updating of the feed.
The amazing pictures that sometimes appear, from scenic night shots of London, to fog shrouded images of the City, right down to the overheads of London's premier football stadiums. These are indeed snapped by the ASU guys up in the chopper. Usually while returning from jobs, and on their own mobile devices, or camera's, then uploaded to Twitter once back at Lippitts Hill. No tax payers money was wasted in the capturing of these images. So anyone feeling robbed or hard done by can put their minds to rest.

Since the Twitter feed of the ASU first started, I have loved the interactions with the staff at Lippitts, and am so happy to see the following of them has grown to somewhere in the region of 30k followers. The feed is a gear insight into the goings on of the unit, and answers those 2am questions of 'why is the helicopter over my house waking me up?' Usually once the matter is resolved a quick update will appear. Of course not EVERY job can be shared via Twitter. Some matters will relate to ongoing investigations and cases, so the information is still too sensitive to be given out.

I have to admit though, I would LOVE to see a full on '24 hours in the ASU feed' just as a one off, just to give people a true understanding of just how much work they can do in a day. Tony was telling us that in a 10 hour period, 6 of those can be spend airborne on jobs, which is a lot more than I imagined.
So @mpsinthesky if you are reading this, I offer my services to do a civilian view of '24 hours in the ASU' ;) (was worth a try eh!)

So next time you see the majestic EC145 hovering over an area near you, know this. There may be 3 crew on board, carrying out a multitude of tasks, none of which will be trivial. But there is also a controller back in the office at Lippitts Hill who is just as much a part of the unit as the guys in the skies. And not to forget the highly skilled engineers also back at Lippitts who schedule and carry out the works on the fleet of 3 EC145's that make up the Met Police ASU.
If they wake up up in the early hours, it is because a crime has been committed locally to you, and they are working towards catching the suspect, and in turn preventing YOU from being the next victim of a burglary, car theft, or street robbery. Have a question about the operation, throw them a tweet on @mpsinthesky .

Thank you once again to all the guys I met on Sunday up at Lippitts, and for sharing so much information with us all. And once again that offer, happy to do '24hours in the ASU' any time lol.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lippitts Hill ASU Visit, POST visit

Well, what a morning/afternoon that was, certainly one to remember, and by all accounts to be remembered by too. I'm guessing here, clutching at straws a little, but something tells me I'm the 'over excited' one of the group that visited Lippitts Hill today. Nothing indicated this more than being told on my arrival that they had wagered that I would arrive first due to my build up. I just call it enthusiasm lol.
Anyway, once I was over the embarrassment of being identified as a little nerdy, it was onto business. The general introduction to the place was a surprise too. Lippitts Hill is in fact an ex POW camp from WW2, so a lot of the buildings, which are nothing more than wooden dorm room looking buildings, are listed, so no real changes can be made to the general layout of the place. As Tony, our guide for the day pointed out, the location is prime for development, but I for one am glad its staying as it is.

Surrounded by Epping Forest, the approach to Lippitts Hill itself is a beautiful drive, winding country lanes, lovely scenery, mountain bikers and horse riders line the lanes, and following the morning downpour, there are lots of kerbside rivers in flow. So you can imagine, its quite surprising when the hidden entrance to the ASU appears at the side of the road.
Hidden away from sight, the entrance is quite unassuming, but what lays beyond the gates is a tech nerds dream playground.
Once on site, we were greeted by the aforementioned Tony Donnelly of the ASU. Once all on site and briefed on the basics of the place it was off to the ASU Classroom for a presentation. Within the presentation were some very interesting facts. Things that made someone like myself realise how little they actually know about the unit and their work. I consider myself relatively well informed about some aspects of the ASU, but as the presentation went on, I started to feel like I knew nothing.
The depth of the information was actually quite surprising, and refreshingly interesting. Rather than being bombarded with PR info as some might imagine, everything explained was of interest and relevance. Deeper knowledge of how the on-board gear works, just how effective some of it is, and how un-used other bits like the night-sun are these days, with the advances of the infrared systems.
Bundles of footage was shown of all sorts of situations from stand-offs to chases coming to an end, with each clip focusing on a particular piece of equipment or aspect of it.

Then it was fun time, off to meet the Eurocopter 145's. A, B and C were all on site today. C on the pad ready to fly, A in the hanger staying warm, but ready to go if needed, and B in for a 'little' bit of work, as the picture will show. Allowing us to spend some time climbing all over the chopper was really cool, if that doesn't sound a little infantile. After a quick talk through about the Eurocopter, and pointing out the camera pod which also contains the very impressive FLIR unit too, as well as the night-sin, downlink unit and other external bits and pieces it was onto the insides.

Wowza! There is a lot of equipment in there, with various seating points in the helicopter having access to certain pieces. All the flying gear aside, which in itself is super complex looking, the observation post is a multitude of screens, buttons, controllers and even room for a keyboard. More spacious than you might imagine, although no luxury, the front observer/navigator and the rear observer and equipment operator are far from cramped up as some TV programs might give the impression of.
The rear post has a lot going on, and is the one usually focused on by most programs, and understandably so, with so much going on there, you can imagine that in the middle of a job there is a level of multi-tasking that most could only dream of being able to complete. With the units in the camera pod all being able to operate independently, there is a lot to control. There is also some very clever equipment in there though, with some pretty powerful software and hardware working together.
Ever wondered how i99 can tell ground operatives which address someone is in the backgarden of? Well the software enables the camera operator to see a building by building map of an area based on where EXACTLY the camera is pointed and locked at that time. And the opposite also applies. While airborne, the operator can enter a street address, and the camera will turn and zoom to that location, even if they are miles away at the time, it will remain pointing at the set location until they come into range of it.

Speaking of ranges, optical range is quite astounding if I'm honest, the zoom can get ultra close to things, when the helicopter itself is seemingly in another postcode. A demonstration of its zoom capabilities was given to us live whilst in the ops control room while C was out on a planned flight in central London. Flicking from one landmark to the next in what seemed like seconds, it makes you realise that there is very little that the ASU can't get to and see in very little time at all.
With flight times between 5-10 mins to all four corners of the M25, you would be stupid to think that the helicopter would take 'a while' to reach you if you were up to no good. Armed with a street to head for, the cameras will be trained on the criminal from i99's initial approach, and the unit will be in most parts of London in 5-6 mins if the unit is already airborne. The tech on board is enough to outsmart the best out there, and only pure luck will see you getting out of their noose.
Another thing that surprised me was the level of flexibility of the ASU, and the number of roles it is able to carry out, from simple surveillance to searching for missing persons. Right up to transporting other divisions of the Met Police from S019 to dog units, and even bomb squads and their equipment. Interestingly the largest role that it carries out is looking for missing and vulnerable persons. While the TV and media focus on the high speed, high octane roles, it is heartwarming to realise that there are other less dramatic and graphic jobs that it does, which instead of looking for a criminal, is looking for a victim of health or other circumstances. Just goes to show that the media like to go for the hard hitting stuff, and not the whole package. Another reason today was such a good opportunity to meet and appreciate a team which provide such a vital service to Greater London and now the Home Counties.
I could rattle on about today for a lot longer, and I currently feel like a 7yr old who has just come back from their first trip to Disneyland, and got to meet Micky and the cast. Not to compare the ASU guys to cartoon characters, although there were definitely some colourful characters and personalities on show today. But for now I will draw it all to a close, and pop some pictures up for all to enjoy.
So next time you see the ASU up at 2am, and it might have woken you from your slumber, appreciate it and respect the people inside it. They are keeping our city a safer place, as are all ASU's around the country. If you do from time to time look up and wonder what they are doing, follow @mpsinthesky on Twitter, and see their day to day jobs and operations. Who knows, you could even be one of the next lucky winners of their next competition, and you too could be paying the Lippitts Hill ASU a visit.
Thanks once again to Tony and the rest of the crew on today, for the education, humour and time given to us all today.

Sent via Blackberry®

PS More images of the day can be found here...
Courtesy of WadeyLady

And also here....
Courtesy of Rich

Of course its not JUST the guys in the helicopter that make up the ASU.... Read more on the ground based staff here...

My visit to the Met Police ASU

Known by many names, the Air Support Unit (ASU) of the Met Police serves a key role in the policing of London, from small incidents where a suspect has gone to ground, right up to large scale planned, and unplanned events. From Royal weddings to the London riots, without their efforts, London would be a far less safe place to be.
From growing up in London, I have always been familiar with seeing it up there in the skies, and always wondered about all the intricacies of it. What its like to have such a view of an event, is it scary, exciting.... So many questions. The interest from childhood til now has really not dwindled, and since the social revolution that is Twitter, my interest has in fact grown.
Many will be familiar with lines such as 'is i99 available', 'can we get the ASU in please' from the many many ride-along style police documentaries that get aired annually in the UK. Of course referring to the helicopter. But so little is ever shown of what these guys do. Quick snippets of inside the chopper, soundbites of transmissions from air to ground, but that was it. Sky Cops changed all that, and finally we the public got an education, and my childish dreams got a boost. WOW!
Well today, just over 2 weeks before my milestone 40th birthday, and thanks to Twitter (and Google for the answer) I will be popping along to Lippitts Hill over by Waltham Abbey, and visiting the home of the one and only @mpsinthesky . A late evening competition run by the guys over there has allowed a small group of people to visit this weekend, and see what the place and people are all about. What an early birthday present!
Needless to say, I didn't sleep too well last night, and am awake stupidly early (for me anyway) on a Sunday morning. And for once it wasn't because I had a helicopter over my house, or a bedroom illuminated by the night sun. Which brings me neatly to one major gripe I have about the ASU and their night operations.....
What is it with the public crying and whining about the ASU being over head. Yes you might get woken up, and you might have work in a few hours. But given the colourful characters the Met are usually trying to locate at that time, its better than being awoken by an aggravated burglary, or waking to find your car missing.
They are not looking for a kebab shop that's still open, or bored so just gone for a fly (how cool would that be), resulting in them 'hanging about' over your house. They are working, FOR US ALL.
Tssk, some people are never happy.
I was however happy to read the recent article on the ASU though, which explained how productive and helpful it has been having @mpsinthesky on Twitter, allowing residents to know why they were overhead, and maybe in some way making people realise its not all a big jolly, its a job, and a damned important one too.
So that's my PRE visit part of this entry. I shall do my POST visit blog, hopefully with loads of pictures when I get back.
I'm sure I'm not the only excited person this morning, so I look forwards to meeting the others later.

Sent via Blackberry®

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bathroom nightmares... Continued!

So a few weeks back I blogged about the bathroom, and the so far, almost 2 year battle to get the job done properly. After lodging a formal complaint with L&Q, and it being upheld, I really started to think I was getting to the end of the matter, and that soon I would have a whole, usable bathroom once again.
Today I had an appointment, for what I believed was someone to look the job over, get it all costed and job codes sorted, arrange the materials, and finally get started on the making good of the mess Bryhill made of it all.
I was a little confused when the first letter from the contractor mentioned that it was tiling they were coming to do. While there is tiling to be done, there is also skimming, painting, bath panel refitting, shrouding and other bits to do too. To be sure, I checked with L&Q and it was confirmed this was just an appraisal visit.
So.... Imagine my surprise to get a call, then a visit from a contractor to do tiling today! It was a very short visit, during which he told me he didn't know what part of the wall he was tiling, didn't have any authorisation to do anything other than white tiles, was ONLY tiling, no painting or other making good works, and would now not be doing anything today.
Needless to say, my heart sank, and I called L&Q back again.
The whole matter is now being looked into AGAIN, and I must await a call back to decide what course of action will be taken next. So, after all the messing around with days off last year, here we are, the start of 2013 and I have already wasted another day of annual leave! Not impressed at all.
So just to be clear, I have attached some pictures of the bathroom for the world to view. Remembering the whole thing stems from a damp problem from a leaking soil pipe back in 2010. Work started at the end of 2011, replacing the soil pipe but left the walls soaked. That was finally rectified (or maybe wrecktified is a more fitting term!) at the end of 2012 with the wall being hacked off and re-plastered.
During this work the toilet was broken, the waste pipe was not fitted back on the bath, the window frames were coated in plaster, the wall was hit with the bath damaging it, the silicone bath sealant was royally messed up, and the bath panel was siliconed on instead of screwed on. When the panel was removed for the waste pipe to be sorted it damaged the pipe boxing it was siliconed to.
When the toilet was replaced following its damage, the plumber could NOT get screws or bolts to take in the floor as it crumbled when drilled, so he used silicone to attach it to the floor.
As I see it, the following jobs need sorting.
Plastering skimmed to prep for paint
Wall repaired/ skimmed
Splashbacks tiled
Toilet fitted properly so it doesn't rock
Bath panel re-fitting
Pipe boxing refitting
Skirting board painting
Plaster removed from window frame
Walls re-painted
Woodword around cistern (1ft from wall) finishing and painting
Silicone seal around bath re-sealing
Window sill re-tiled
In reality it would almost be easier and quicker to pull the whole lot out, give it the once over and be done with it. The only decent remaining things in the bathroom now, is the wall of tiles to the side of the bath, and the hand basin. Oh, the door is ok, and the light is working too. Not all doom and gloom eh.
Anyway, enjoy the pictures.
PS, I don't consider myself to have high expectations, nor to be unreasonable. 2 years ago I had a lovely bathroom fitted by Apollo, which would have been fine except for a leaking external soil pipe causing the damp wall..... Which has led to this!
If you are reading this L&Q... You have been great about most things, and I am a happy customer, but this is getting too much now. I have taken endless days off work for this. Surveyors, contractors, plumbers, builders, painters, plasters.... And I am STILL left with this!
Please sort it soon. It was beautiful before.

Sent via Blackberry®

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Day 1...... POTD

How 2013 began. Clear cold skies. Nice simple image to start off POTD 2013

Sent from Samsung Mobile

My 2013

I'm not one for New Years Resolutions, and not one for all the pressure and drama that surround the calender simply resetting after 365 days. I have never really believed that the changing of a year can really change much, especially the things beyond our control.

However, its not all doom and gloom, and I respect anyone who uses this moment to make a change in their life, and actually do it, not just talk about it in a drunken stupor at the end of a long NYE.

Resolutions or plans, call them what you want, but here are my plans for 2013

Turn 40
Resume my P90X to maintain fitness (which has slipped)
Overcome my demon and pass my ADI part 3
Blog more (yup, sorry!)
Get back into photography, and do my POTD blog as I planned to last year (pic of the day)
And continue to make a difference when and where I can.

Simple stuff, nothing too challenging or out of the ordinary, and all achievable. I sure hope reaching 40 is anyway!

So whatever you have promised yourself for 2013, whatever lays on the road ahead for you..... Good luck with it :)

Right, I shall start my journey just as soon as I shake this Gout I seem to have woken with. Happy 2013!! Great start!

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