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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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Room-combining within one room

Another challenge Pappenfus faced was a need to provide a degree of flexibility far beyond anything in an ordinary meeting center.

Much of the work during a crisis is done by staff members grouped at four work islands or around a conference table in the main room of the CDOC. Workgroup members can share files with each other via the computer network, the group leader can take over one of the large-screen displays as they work, or they can use one or more displays to share material with another team or the whole center during a crisis. The CDOC is designed, in fact, to be used for multiple simultaneous crises, and each of the workgroups can function independently or combine in various ways with other groups.

“What makes this possible, on the one hand, is the Crestron AV switching system, but there’s also a room-combining audio system that isolates the sound from workstation to workstation—even though there are no walls separating them,” Pappenfus explains.

The first part of this audio system is straightforward: Program audio from the Crestron switcher plus audio-only sources feed into a BSS Soundweb London BLU-160 digital signal processor programmed for room-combining. “We have six discrete zones of audio,” Pappenfus says, “the room as a whole, the four work islands, and the conference table.”

Next, Fluid Sound technicians created crossovers in the DSP that isolate the frequencies used by the human voice, then feed them into highly directional Panphonics ‘Sound Shower’ ceiling speakers mounted above each work area. Because there are no low tones, the resulting audio is hyperdirectional, allowing workers in one area to listen to voice communications from a microphone, teleconference, radio, or a TV news feed while others—sitting just a few feet away—can’t hear them at all. “The system would be terrible for listening to music,” Pappenfus notes, “but that’s not its job.” A sound-masking system muffles the voices of those speaking at any distance, helping each workgroup focus on the task at hand.

Video processing, video capture, and simplified control

The innovative design work did not stop with these systems. Although there are only six large-screen displays, staff can use them to monitor up to 12 video and computer feeds via two Crestron DVPHD multi-window video processors, which also give them the ability to annotate live or freeze-frame video. “Someone might freeze an image from the news or the TouchTable showing a fire line, write notes on it, send it to SitCell, and show it on one or more of the displays,” Pappenfus explains.

The chapter is also able to create full 1080p video press releases using a Crestron Capture HD coupled with an automated Sony camera. To use this setup, a spokesperson would typically assemble maps or graphics from SitCell and video from the field into a presentation on a computer. Then, at the touch of a button, he or she can begin recording, explaining the situation while switching back and forth from a ‘talking head’ to the video and graphics. “Once they’ve captured their message, they can move it to a server for partner access or push it out to the news media, all without the need for a production crew,” Pappenfus explains.

The final step in creating the CDOC technology was designing a simple way to operate it without confusion during a crisis. To do so, Fluid Sound used a large, 24in. Crestron V-Panel coupled with a Crestron processor and DGE-2 graphics engine. “Because we drive high-definition preview images to the touchscreen, users with little or no training can route images from any source to any output.”

Hurricane Sandy

Although major crises are relatively rare, the CDOC is used on a daily basis. “We take part in roughly 300 operations each year, most involving only a handful of people,” Hinrichs says. Because Red Cross chapters share personnel and other resources in any large emergency, the CDOC was used throughout the Hurricane Sandy efforts. The Red Cross used the center to track the path of the storm and, after it made landfall, to produce maps of the affected area based on data from several sources that included FEMA, the State of New York, local governments, and other agencies. According to Andy McKellar, director of Disaster Services for the American Red Cross San Diego/Imperial Counties, the chapter created a multi-layered map of area hospitals, power outage information, shelter locations, fixed feeding sites, food distribution sites, and realtime local traffic conditions, and was able to produce mapping products to share with partner agencies.

“Over the past few months,” McKellar explains, “the CDOC and SitCel have proven to be very effective tools. In response to several localized wildfires, we were able to select shelter locations and deploy material and personnel far faster than in the past. In one instance, for the Shockey Fire in rural eastern San Diego County, we were able to set up a shelter at the local high school in about 30 minutes. Before the advent of these systems, it would have taken us approximately two hours to accomplish the same task.”

“We’re excited about the place,” Hinrichs adds. “It has moved us forward light years in our ability to handle an emergency.”

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