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The Buzz: Installation Spotlight:
CTECC Operations Center in Austin, Texas

Nov 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

Combining Emergency Operation Control


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The CTECC Operations Center in Austin, Texas, brings several state, county, and municipal government agencies together under one roof so they can share command-and-control resources in the area. This unification is intended to strengthen the Travis County area's emergency communications and traffic management. It's quite an ambitious project from an organizational perspective, but some impressive display technologies are helping the various groups leverage the area's AV resources — especially its fixed-location cameras.

Top: The Austin, Texas, CTECC Operations Center facility features a 60-cube videowall with 50in. Mitsubishi DLP displays for showing the output of Austin’s 200 field cameras, in addition to maps and spreadsheets.

The 75,000-square-foot facility is officially called the Combined Transportation, Emergency, and Communications Center (CTECC). CTECC is a partnership involving the City of Austin (911 dispatch, police, fire, EMS), Travis County (911 dispatch, sheriff, constable), the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the local bus system), and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for the freeway.

To display the output of the 200 field cameras located on Austin's main thoroughfares, and also maps, spreadsheets, and cable TV news, the CTECC features a 60-cube videowall consisting of 50in. Mitsubishi DLP displays. The cubes in the videowall usually display individual camera feeds, which are fed through an analog Honeywell Ademco composite video matrix switch that TxDOT owned before the construction of the facility. The Mitsubishi cubes also have the internal capability to be multiplexed to show an image across four adjacent cubes in a 2×2 matrix.

If TxDOT or any of the other agencies wants to display a traffic camera feed over more than just a 2×2 matrix, or if they want to display Google Earth or a TV signal on the wall, the facility can switch to an Electrosonic Vector image processor.

The Vector is not usually in operation, though, because as TxDOT engineer Brian Burk explains, the Electrosonic unit would power off in the event of a power failure. The videowall, by contrast, would simply go dark for a few seconds before a generator powered up. The videowall and the analog matrix switch are on the CTECC's battery-driven uninterruptible power supply (UPS), so the screens will never go dark in case of a blackout. It would have been too expensive for the CTECC to power its whole facility from the UPS; it plans to expand the UPS in the future, in which event it will power the Electrosonic unit. The Electrosonic unit will then become the primary source for the videowall.

Still, the CTECC uses the Electrosonic processor to show anything on an individual operator's computer desktop. Several workstations, for instance, have WinTV cards, so their monitors can display cable television with audio. “Cable TV is run through the S-Video input to the WinTV,” Burk says. “Anything that we switch to the desktop, we can switch back to Electrosonic and run that back to the wall.”

Right: An Electrosonic Vector processor is used to show anything on an individual operator’s computer desktop. Several workstations, for instance, have WinTV cards, so their monitors can display cable television with audio.

TxDOT actually runs the videowall in normal day-to-day operation, and through the fixed cameras, it is able to pinpoint traffic problems when, for instance, sensors on the roads report that cars are moving more slowly than normal.

There are also three 2×2 clusters of the Mitsubishi cubes positioned below the video-wall. The Austin Police Department's highway enforcement team is granted control over one of these clusters to monitor its cameras positioned at city intersections. By and large, however, the other agencies would rather have TxDOT control the videowall under normal circumstances.

“They're busy doing their job, and they really don't want to be camera operators,” Burk says. “They would like the support from TxDOT to help them with that. We're more familiar with it and can do it faster.”

Electrosonic's CT Commander software manages the selection and placement of the images via the Vector processor. This software is loaded on Tablet PCs that any agency can access. TxDOT is in the process of writing scenarios within the Electrosonic software to develop specific display and control configurations for the videowall that correspond to emergency situations. For example, in case of a fire, a number of the cubes could be designated for control by the Austin Fire Department, while TxDOT maintains control over the rest of the videowall.


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