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AV Enhances Democratic Event

The highest-level decision-making forum in the world, the Organization of American States (OAS), held its 35th General Assembly meeting in June at the Broward County Convention Center (BCCC) in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Foreign ministers of the 34 democratic member nations attended the three-day summit, which focused on ?Delivering the Benefits of Democracy.?

CHALLENGE: Plan and set up a three-room AV system for a meeting that includes separate AV systems with single location control, audio and video routing to satellite feeds, and webcasting capabilities.

SOLUTION: Before the meeting takes place, plan and install a temporary fiber optic cable backbone and master control location in the convention center that can handle all of the required AV signal traffic.

The highest-level decision-making forum in the world, the Organization of American States (OAS), held its 35th General Assembly meeting in June at the Broward County Convention Center (BCCC) in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Foreign ministers of the 34 democratic member nations attended the three-day summit, which focused on “Delivering the Benefits of Democracy.”

When the OAS General Assembly was last held in the United States in 1974, AV capabilities were limited to an overhead projector and screen. But 30 years later, Strong Communications of Orlando was tasked with installing a temporary fiber optic cable infrastructure capable of handling news feeds and webcasting to provide worldwide coverage of the event. “The event wouldn't return again to the United States for another 24 years, so we knew that the AV system had to be foolproof,” says Robert Huskey, senior project manager for Strong Communications. “President Bush was in attendance, as was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who chaired the summit as head of the host delegation. Needless to say, this was a very high-profile event.”

<em xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Delegates and special guests at the 35th General Assembly or the Organization of American States (OAS) await the start of the inaugural program in the Grand Floridian Ballroom of the Broward County Convention Center (BCCC) in Fort Launderdale, FL.</em>

Delegates and special guests at the 35th General Assembly or the Organization of American States (OAS) await the start of the inaugural program in the Grand Floridian Ballroom of the Broward County Convention Center (BCCC) in Fort Launderdale, FL.

Planning the event

Strong Communications provided AV support for the entire political and media event that encompassed the BCCC. In September 2004, Strong Communications received the meeting RFP, which was more than 500 pages long. The Strong account team, which included Huskey, account executive Letty Dexter, and owners Thomas Wilmers and David Jones, deciphered the AV needs for the event, which called for in-room production, broadcasting of information inside and outside the BCCC, multi-lingual translation in each room, and the ability for all signals to route to a central location and back out again for broadcast.

Six months later in March 2005, Strong Communications was awarded the contract and began planning the event. At the same time, Maurice Benjoar, executive producer of the meeting and technical advisor for the State Department, also provided his expertise in planning for large events. Wilmers says juggling the planning and execution of such a large event in addition to the company's other projects proved to be a challenge for the integration team. “The meeting was only about four days long, but the installation prior to the meeting took approximately one week, while the preparation leading up to the event took about eight months,” he says. “At the time, we had several events going on at once, so staffing logistics were a challenge.”

As the preferred AV provider for the BCCC, the Strong Communications team knew the facility well. “Our shop is 15 minutes away from the BCCC,” Huskey says. “When it came down to planning for the event, it felt like we made quicker progress and got fast answers since we knew the BCCC staff.”

The 600,000-square-foot convention center was divided into one large room for the event's inaugural ceremony and two additional smaller rooms for delegate meetings. Although the convention center offered videoconferencing capabilities via a T1 or an ISDN line, Huskey and his team needed to install a temporary fiber optic network to provide all of the AV functions the OAS required. “BCCC already had a fiber perimeter, but they didn't want to take on the cost of using and maintaining an infrastructure of that magnitude,” Huskey says.

Two weeks prior to the event, the installation team performed some advance work in the ceilings. The bulk of the fiber, camera cable, and backup Cat5 cable installation took two days using a six-person crew on scissor lifts. The Strong Communications/BCCC staff planned out the install based on room assignments and when rooms would be available. Additionally, David Mott, director of operations at BCCC, gave the team permission to penetrate any immoveable objects as a last resort. When possible, fiber was installed over and around doorways, in cable track, between walls, or into the ceilings with temporary tie-offs. Pre-existing holes in the floor were used whenever possible. Luckily, two of the meeting rooms were located in areas above the exhibit hall floor, which provided easier access from below.

For the design of the AV system, Strong Communications developed a strategy that made each room its own “show,” with a dedicated technical director. Strong also provided broadcast-quality video and audio in each room for the inaugural program. Each of the meetings included voice-over interpretations in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French in four booths, with interpretation contractors handling the audio in the plenary rooms.

“We implemented time and cost savings measures whenever we could,” Wilmers says. “The original design included 50 video monitors for observation, but instead the signal was modulated in RF so that any TV in the convention center could watch the event.”

Inaugural program

As the first official event of the General Assembly, the inaugural program in the Grand Floridian Ballroom of the BCCC featured all 34 delegates. The hour-long program included speeches from Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Rice amplified by two JBL VerTec 4887 small line arrays that flanked the stage.

A Telecast Fiber Viper 1 System in each room handled audio, video, and intercom signals between master control and the room. Main feeds from three Sony D30/50 studio cameras were sent to master control and switched on an Echo Labs 12-channel switching system. Live audio was mixed in the room on a Crest Century GT-32 32-channel console with six channels of audio sent to master control. OAS also required the ability to send audio and video signals back to each location inside the BCCC for monitoring purposes.

During down time, OAS logos generated on a Chyron Maxine character generator system and Microsoft PowerPoint slides were projected onscreen. Claudio Lisman of Primestream Corp. also provided live and on-demand webcasting using a Windows server platform and Windows Media Player. Audio and video signals were converted into digitalization capture (type B) and radio encoding system (type D) using Delta 66 capture cards.

Immediately after the inaugural program closed, the entertainment segment began. The back wall of the stage was rolled open and a new audio system was rolled out. J Productions, producer of the evening entertainment, used the lighting rig and video projection provided by Strong Communications for the program.

Master control

For master control, a 50- by 50-foot space in a larger 300- by 200-foot room was based in Exhibit Hall C, downstairs from the main event. “Like with most events, master production location was never a considered element,” Huskey says. “Our space was the only space left after the event was planned. Turns out it was a good location since the satellite uplink trucks could be outside on the loading dock.”

Strong Communications also contracted the satellite upload links via satellite with a multi-destination signal and live transmission of the inaugural and closing programs. In addition, meeting footage was edited down to a 15-minute segment using a Sony Betacam SP edit system and broadcast as B-roll footage for any media outlet to use. “We kept a catalog of the day's events and produced a 15-minute clip of clean tape as a feed for networks that weren't represented,” Huskey says. “Each country also wanted its delegate's speech. This AV system made it possible for us to give the delegates a copy of their speeches as they left for the day. We felt that was a great value-added service.”

Strong Communications used a 48-channel Ramsa WRDA-7 digital console with a Yamaha O1V slave unit to manage much of the audio routing using presets. For backup, the team used a second mirrored board and an additional 12-channel board for playback sourcing.

State Department Technical Advisor Benjoar says the end-result was a success. “We were working with high-level personnel and could leave no stones unturned,” he says. “Strong Communications personnel helped to develop a solid game plan. They did a great job in fulfilling any request. OAS was pleased.”

Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance writer and PR specialist for the professional AV industry. She can be reached at linda@frembes.com.


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