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Integrated Emergency Response

Nov 19, 2012 12:09 PM, By Don Kreski

New tools and tactics for the modern emergency operations center

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Extreme weather, fire, and earthquakes can be costly and tragic realities. The right technology—properly integrated—can significantly improve preparedness and response.

“Something happens—a fire, an earthquake or a hurricane—and they wake you up in the middle of the night: ‘We’ve got 500,000 people we need to evacuate. Where do you want them to go?’”

That’s a question Richard Hinrichs, Ph.D., managing director of Disaster Services for the American Red Cross in San Diego, has been asked more than once. It’s a tough question.

“We need to move the victims to safe locations. We need to provide food, water, electricity, and volunteers. We have a tremendous amount of information to coordinate from police, fire, medical centers, the National Guard, utilities, weather services, local governments, and other Red Cross chapters,” he says.

According to Hinrichs, the high-tech systems in the new San Diego Chapter Disaster Operations Center (CDOC), used recently for Hurricane Sandy relief, has dramatically cut the time needed to start up a response to a major disaster. At the heart of the center is a new concept in emergency planning—the ‘Common Operating Picture’—and a sophisticated technology suite developed, in part, by San Diego AV integrator Fluid Sound.

The TouchTable in the San Diego San Diego Chapter Disaster Operations Center (CDOC) provides a collaborative mapping environment shared with chapters and partners at remote locations. A streaming setup provided by AV integrator Fluid Sound makes it possible for partners who do not have TouchTables to view high-definition output from this device.

Expecting the unexpected

“People are not good at making decisions based on tables of statistics, so we put everything into a highly visual format based on a map of the impacted area and what we know about it right now” Hinrichs says. SitCell, a new software program developed by the Red Cross and San Diego State University, creates this multi-layered picture, and an innovative AV system brings it to Red Cross staff, volunteers, and partners.

The most striking component of this AV system is a new TouchTable, a collaborative mapping device with a 46in. diagonal touch-sensitive LCD work surface. Designed to interact with other TouchTables and PCs with TouchTable software, the device allows users at distant locations to simultaneously manipulate maps and to export them to SitCell and other applications.

One issue with the TouchTable is that “it was obvious that the Red Cross would not have the budget to put TouchTables or even TouchTable software in partners’ facilities, at least not right away. One of our priorities was to create a method for outside agencies to view TouchTable output in realtime, even if they were not able to manipulate it,” says Dennis Pappenfus, CTS-D, partner at Fluid Sound. Part of the solution was a sophisticated video and audio mixing matrix that allows users to move any signal from any connected device in the center to any other—as well as to partners working outside the CDOC.

The TouchTable has three digital video outputs. One carries the map being manipulated, while the second and third carry images captured from these maps. Fluid Sound connected each of these outputs to a Crestron DigitalMedia 32x32 digital matrix switcher using HDMI cables. From the switcher, users can route these outputs, or any other computer or video source in the CDOC, to any of six large-screen displays including three NEC PX750U projectors at the front of the center’s main room and three 55in. NEC P551 LCD displays at the back.

To reach partners outside the center, Pappenfus’ team connected outputs from the DM switcher to three Marshall VS-102-HDI IP broadcast encoders, which stream video and audio to a server on the Red Cross content delivery network (CDN). “In this way, anyone with the proper credentials and an Internet connection can view 1080p video and audio streaming in realtime from the TouchTable and other devices in the center,” he explains. Fluid Sound also routed an output from the DM switcher into a Polycom HDX 9000 series videoconferencing system, which the Red Cross uses for two-way communications with other chapters and partners.

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