Understanding the 7 Building Blocks of a Campus Emergency Operations Center

From visualization technology to workstation essentials, EOCs can maximize safety and security with an environment that incorporates the fundamentals.

Understanding the 7 Building Blocks of a Campus Emergency Operations Center

Photo courtesy Vistacom

Campuses must have thought-out incident management and security plans to keep life safety and asset protection a priority. Some would argue it’s even more pertinent today, given not only the lessons learned from various emergency events and a highly transmissible COVID-19 virus, but also the expansion of enhanced security technologies, from access control to artificial intelligence (AI)-based video surveillance.

That said, how are administrations coordinating the right people, operational processes, mission-critical communications and newer, cutting-edge risk management technologies?

With a strategically designed emergency operations center (EOC), campus officials will benefit from the sophisticated capabilities necessary to help monitor complex operations and secure organizations in the midst of the modern, ever-evolving threat landscape. Yet, building out an emergency operations center is a massive undertaking.

When guided by an experienced technology integrator in specialized and mission-critical environments, conceiving and implementing a fully-functional EOC can be game-changing for operator workflows and easy to accomplish if broken down into the following basic, but transformational building blocks:

  1. Ergonomic Consoles and Workstation Essentials
  2. Overview Video Walls and/or Distributed Displays
  3. Advanced Video Processing
  4. Audio Networking and Distribution
  5. Video Conferencing and Wireless Content Sharing
  6. Simplified Control
  7. Aligning the Right Team

Here’s an overview of these basic components so that your K-12 district, college or healthcare facility can make the most of your EOC.

1. Ergonomic Consoles and EOC Workstation Essentials

The heart of any operations center doesn’t beat without healthy and vigilant staff. Ergonomics play an incredibly important role in improving operator comfort, health and safety. The differences are often palpable when special design considerations are made for these high-pressure, 24/7 environments. Workstation essentials include:

  • Command and control room consoles that suit individual needs, account for sightlines and meet specifications for multiple monitors and specialized workstation integration
  • Comfortable and durable chairs made for mission-critical, 24/7/365 operations
  • High resolution desktop monitors with a large aspect ratio and manufactured for viewing multiple different data points
  • A decluttered workspace with a single keyboard, mouse, camera, headset and any other essential personal desktop device
  • Strategically implemented human-centric lighting to support natural circadian rhythms and reduce overall fatigue, promote alertness and even help regulate physiological reactions such as heart rate and blood pressure.

2. Overview Video Walls and/or Distributed Displays

One pivotal goal of any emergency operations center is to empower operators with the ability to monitor real-time data, assess and analyze situations, and respond to a variety of events accordingly. To that end, the quality of decision-making hinges on the quality of information displayed, managed and communicated. Campus security officials need a common operational picture (COP), or a centralized display of relevant visual information—from the status of critical building infrastructure or high-value assets to tracking an ongoing incident on campus or coordination with emergency dispatch and field personnel.

What’s at play here is convergence between various technologies that have become mission-centric; camera feeds, audio, video management software, unified communications, social media monitoring, access control, intrusion detection, etc.—the list continues to grow and evolve. With regard to overview video walls in particular, whether it’s a large-scale, wall-to-wall install or a more compact, two-by-two video wall that manages visualization for operators in a smaller facility, video is central to the success of security teams and modern-day campus operations.

Therefore, getting to the core of the most important criteria when planning for video wall integration is key. For instance, monitors should be adjusted to help mitigate eye strain and fatigue based on the time of day, which must be designed with consideration of sightlines from all operator workstations to the COP on the displays. Also, video walls are used primarily to highlight the most critical information and provide a clear picture of incoming data points. As such, a wide range of visual data will inevitably be essential for both day-to-day operations as well as emergencies. To account for these criteria and more, the specific display technology selected becomes more central to the unique environment and, as opposed to conference room or lobby video walls, should be of a control room grade, fully rated for 24/7 and have remote and redundant power supply options.

Either in addition to and/or in place of, distributed flat panel displays (or ancillary displays) can also support the situational awareness within the EOC. Regardless of the presence or size of the central overview video wall, adjacent video walls or large-format displays bring information into the space that may be more informative rather than mission-critical; it augments the COP with referential data from various sources that run the gamut, such as weather boxes, call box systems, TV stations, traffic and GPS feeds, predictive analytics and dashboards, social media monitoring tools, browser-based applications, etc.

3. Advanced Video Processing

If a video wall is the face, then the processor is the brains. A video wall processor, also called a controller, performs three main functions: captures content, gathers the inputs from various sources, and routes selected data to the video wall. For an EOC and other mission-critical spaces, it’s imperative to avoid any limitations that a less capable solution might have on the system, like a matrix switcher or scaler, so that content layout, volume and scalability is optimized.

State-of-the-art processors will support real-time content management and advanced control. For operators that need to navigate between multiple sources, easily see detailed information at high resolutions, and engage in any kind of real-time collaboration, a video wall processor is the only reliable way to conduct that symphony of sources. An experienced integrator will be able to identify the most versatile processing solution for any number of applications and even in highly-networked AV environments that are now leveraging big data. That can encompass manipulating the display of campus video surveillance feeds in real time or visualizing relevant data, models and media playback at an ultra-high-resolution and in desired regions of the overview video wall.

4. Audio Networking and Distribution

The complexities of room audio can be overwhelming in environments where volatile situations are managed and life safety hangs in the balance. Campus security officials and control room operators justifiably have a wishlist of audio connectivity needs germane to their workflow and as a result of desired system enhancements. Networked AV over IP (AVoIP) enables vast options for audio routing as well as future growth of the EOC technology infrastructure.

When integrated effectively and with particular audio sources in mind, audio digital signal processing (DSP) can provide powerful and reliable processing of any audio input and output, including in-room PCs, wireless connections, HDMI, an array of AI-based microphones, video conferencing hardware and software, and advanced speaker systems specifically deployed for operation centers. Imagine the effective convergence of sound and communications, from high-performing loudspeakers for alarms and mission-critical announcements to clearly intelligible two-way communications with officers in the field and hybrid video conferencing for collaborative decision-making.

5. Video Conferencing and Wireless Content Sharing

All industries have in some way looked to their technology integrators to help create collaborative and secure hybrid environments in the wake of a growing demand for more agile solutions. Administrations and campus officials have largely been on the leading-edge of this, adopting hybrid learning and remote work capabilities early on.

Now, for EOCs on campus, it’s evident that functionality and productivity aren’t restricted to the four walls of a control room. Failing to design an interconnected AV and unified collaboration system in these environments today would be like a pilot lifting off the tarmac without being able to talk with air traffic control.

Those frontline operators depend on efficient channels of clear communication. Reliable video and audio conferencing is particularly crucial for emergency response and incident management—talking to the right people to get the right information when a crisis or incident on campus occurs. Depending on an institution’s ConOps, or Concept of Operations, video conferencing may be best served at individual desktops with personal USB cameras and headsets, while many other EOCs may have a need for room-based integrated systems; regardless, the right technology partner will tailor the setup to particular operator needs and administrative functions.

Room-based conferencing is often accomplished by leveraging a PC or laptop that launches the specified meeting platform, while the room microphone and camera are converted to USB for connection to the PC or laptop. Going one step further, many EOCs and SOCs (security operations centers) alike are pairing video collaboration platforms with wireless content sharing plug-and-play devices, where operators simply plug a USB-powered device into their laptop or use mobile apps. With the click of a button, content can be shared on overview displays to broaden situational awareness for all operators and to remotely collaborate with campus security officers, key decision-makers and third-party responders on the same COP.

6. Simplified Control

No matter the scale of operations, integrating technology for workflow also means designing for the EOC operator. To do that, making control as hassle-free and user-centric as possible will prove both functional and foolproof. Touch panels on a control chassis can take on many forms and a range of aesthetics, but enabling operators to change video wall layouts with preset configurations and control sources with ease will always be at the core.

Based on evolving security needs, campus health and safety requirements and operational protocols, giving operators the key to the car only works if they can quickly learn how to drive it and if the mechanics were proficient. In other words, converging systems all together for centralized control on an interface must be simple, streamlined and integrated with thoughtful design, engineering and programming.

7. Aligning the Right Team

Establishing close partnerships between all the internal and external stakeholders often determines the success of the project. Getting early (and often) buy-in from security, IT, operations, purchasing, facilities and leadership helps overcome internal hurdles, infighting, incompatibilities and frustrations.

Another key element is putting together a technical team such as a consultant and an integrator who understand the mission, workflow and day-to-day use cases of an EOC and have proof of performance with similar environments. These professional teams are not only experienced and certified to help, but they also offer exclusive services such as extensive operator training and a suite of managed services, from remote support, monitoring and maintenance to fault detection, reporting, security updates and countless other protective measures.

The right team is capable of managing all aspects of the project, including the technical scope of work, coordinating with other trades, risk mitigation, maintaining budgets, training and user adoption as well as lifecycle service and support. The adage “choose wisely” is an understatement; engaging with the wrong team can result in a bloated schedule or budget, inconsistencies in execution, quality control problems, and a lack of stability and reliability in system performance and support.

Building an EOC that Safeguards Tomorrow

Campuses operate like small cities. And when the 24/7 responsibility of keeping people, property and information safe falls on the shoulders of EOC operators, administrations need to empower their people with the technology to see the most important information at any given time and in a centralized place.

By understanding the building blocks of developing mission-critical environments, transforming a campus EOC can become a reality. Integrating these foundational elements doesn’t just result in a high-performing network of complex AV systems, emergency monitoring, visualization tools and real-time collaboration, but also a space that makes operators heroes in a precarious event you might not see coming.

Dan Gundry is director of sales and marketing for Vistacom Control Room Solutions.

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