Published in January 2005

Ready For Disaster
By Jim Stokes

This area within the EOC features a podium, two projectors and two flat screens.

Prince William County EOC’s AV goes on line in time for Hurricane Ivan.

      If you are among those who weren’t touched by natural disasters in recent times, you are truly blessed. However, those who were in the path of hurricanes, tornadoes or other sources of nature on the rampage were served by skilled personnel in Emergency Operations Centers (EOC), which tracked the disasters and coordinated relief efforts.
     In turn, Prince William County improved the effectiveness of its EOC by greatly upgrading the space as well as adding new AV and videoconferencing systems. But first let’s get a geographic and historical perspective of the area. The County is just 35 miles from Washington DC, which places emergency operations of national as well as local importance. While exploring the new frontier in 1608, Captain John Smith and his men had the distinction of being the first white men to venture into what would be named Prince William County in the next century.
     Formed in 1731, the County was named for William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and second son of King George II. The area is comprised of 360 square miles with a population of around 275,000, which represents 90% growth since 1980.
     Flashing back into history, 5000 soldiers lost their lives in the first battle of Manassas, the first major battle of the Civil War. A national battlefield marks the site where Thomas Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall.” Nowadays, the most prominent military site within the County is the Quantico Marine Base.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
     Today, emergency preparedness is essential in a different battleground. The ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 7, 2004, for the new Prince William County EOC showcased newly acquired emergency response equipment that was funded through grants from the United States Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. “County emergency response agencies are truly excited about the new equipment and their capabilities,” stated hazardous materials officer John Medici in a Prince William County Government news release. “The equipment... demonstrates the County’s commitment to emergency preparedness on all levels. It also reflects a concerted effort by County emergency response agencies, specifically the Police and Fire and Rescue Departments, to enhance their ability to command, control and support incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.”
     The EOC was renovated to enhance the County’s response to various crises that could occur in the community. Primarily, it was remodeled to take advantage of new response and recovery technology and to improve the County’s ability to effectively communicate during large-scale emergencies.

     The EOC’s new room design and layout was via architect Pepper Morgan from local Peck & Peck Architects. The AV system was designed and built by Hoppmann Audio Visual, Chantilly VA. Our technical spokesperson is Hoppmann project engineer Dermot Lydon, who designed, programmed and engineered this system. Todd Foarde was installation manager. Installation technicians were Bobby Hanula, Mike Mitchell and Will Siefert. “I wish we had more clients like the County. They’re wonderful people,” declared Lydon.
     In addition, a separate, but related videoconferencing system was supplied and installed by Applied Global Technologies/AGT’s local office, whose international headquarters is in Rockledge FL; and by the local office of Presidio, headquartered in San Francisco CA.
     On the client side, Pat Collins, emergency management coordinator, discussed EOC use with us. John Maddox is technical program supervisor. “He’s the technical ‘wizard’ for communications,” declared Collins, “for not just the EOC but also for the 911 center.” And our thanks to Said Said, Engineer III, the overall technical manager of the project, for promptly providing background information and coordinating interviews.

In the Nick of Time
     Here’s a real-life “nick-of-time” scenario relating to the new EOC during Hurricane Ivan that could be imitated only in a movie. According to Lydon, the installers were at the 99% mark. “There might have been one or two wires left unterminated. I was down there de-bugging our custom AMX software on a Friday (in early September 2004), when I walked outside for something and came back in. John Maddox, my primary on-site contact, had just walked out for the day.
     “I just happened to bring the system up and turn on one television station. (One of the options of this EOC is that you can monitor multiple television stations simultaneously.) Then I started hearing reports about tornadoes touching down in Prince William County. I thought that was a little strange! Not 30 seconds later, the EOC door comes open. Several people, along with John Maddox, came in to announce, ‘We’ve just activated the Emergency Operations Center!’
     “At this point, I didn’t have code operational at all. But the devices were able to operate manually, and I was able to do all the switching to get the system up and running. Although it wasn’t fully operational, it certainly gave them [the emergency center personnel] an idea of how they were going to be able to use it.”
     EOC personnel documented that at least two or three tornadoes, which had spun off Hurricane Ivan, had touched down in the County. Consequently, a lot of trees were down and some buildings were damaged.

The recently dedicated home of Prince William County's Emergency Operation Center, near Washington DC.

The Need
     Pat Collins explained that the former EOC lacked a lot. It just didn’t have enough space and there was no dedicated AV equipment. “The real events and exercises that we did indicated that we needed a more functional room to work in,” he said. “The old EOC was a room that was split into several rooms. When we’d have an event, we would very quickly grow out of space. And because there was no AV in the room, we would have to drag a television in. Then you’d have a rolling cart in the way.”
     The new EOC is in one large existing, approximately 42'x25' room, architecturally and AV designed for maximizing “working on the fly,” which is at the core of emergency operations work. “The room allows monitoring multiple facets of a situation, simultaneously,” Lydon pointed out. “Pepper Morgan from Peck & Peck Architects is wonderful to work with.”
     The EOC has six tables for emergency personnel as well as room for upwards of 50 support people as needed. Although Pat Collins will go into detail about emergency team functions later, the potpourri includes disaster game planning, mapping, logistics and medical. Lydon explained that, in order to facilitate monitoring, there’s a Clarity Bobcat II LCD monitor in each of the four corners of the room, in addition to three strategically located BEI video projection screens, whose image sources are ceiling-mounted Christie Digital LX45 projectors. “Christie’s level of support and service is tremendous,” said Lydon. “This particular model with 4500 lumens is a bright projector, so even with the room lights on, you can see images quite well. That’s a significant issue. And then we have a very low ceiling in the room. However, the Christie is a fairly low profile, small projector.”

Dedicated Switchers
     Each table has a dedicated Extron 6x1 switcher for a laptop computer, which is accessed via a Cable Cubby management connection system built into the table. If needed, the laptop can be taken to a room screen. Each table switcher routes back to the main VGA switcher. There’s also an RGBHV switcher in the equipment rack. All telephony is done over IP. In addition, there are two dedicated EOC computers, one of which is used to document events such as 911 calls. Although Hoppmann didn’t supply these two computers, the AV company did all the interfaces and wiring. The room lectern has a computer input and a network connection for a LAN as well.
     The room manager’s AMX wireless touchpanel allows the flexibility of using the lectern or roaming the EOC. Accessed sources include a document camera, VCR and DVD player. “A lot of times, people out in the field have taken video of damage and related circumstances,” said Lydon. “They bring the [videotape] back in and display it for people in the room. Then DVD is provided because that’s the way media is going. There’s also a Pointmaker video illumination marker that allows a presenter to draw on the screen over top of any video source, including computer graphics, TV signal or a VHS tape [among other sources].”
     In addition to the room’s touchpanel, there’s an AMX 10.4-inch rackmount controller located in the AV closet, which houses the LAN switches and all other rackmounted accessed components. While we’re exploring the racks, we’ll note that there are six tuners that input Blonder Tongue single in/single out line amplifiers. Accordingly, Blonder Tongue splitters split the signals out to a half dozen monitor locations with the operations center, including break rooms and offices. For power supply protection, there’s a single SurgeX surge protector in a rack.

     EOC audio is comprised of assistive-listening devices and a room PA. However, the devices aren’t intended for the hearing disabled, per se. This application of Listen Technologies systems is intended, rather, to avoid the cacophony that would result if the EOC’s TV audio sources all played over loudspeakers at the same time during an emergency operation. No one could concentrate. Surely, the ensuing internal EOC audio disaster would rival the outside disaster!
     “The users get a beltpack with an earpiece,” explained Lydon. “The beltpack is capable of tuning in any one of several broadcast stations from Listen Technologies transmitters, each of which has a routable audio source. So you can take any audio to any channel. That’s typical for six of those channels. The seventh channel is reserved for a headset wireless mic to be used by the room manager.” There are 46 listening devices available for use in the EOC, anticipating the room filled with support and liaison personnel during an emergency. Otherwise, the ceiling speakers are primarily to carry the room manager’s voice to all assembled. The room PA consists of a mixer/amp, DSP and the speakers.

In addition to flat screens on the opposite end of the complex, one projector is available as well.


     Within the EOC, there was a separate videoconferencing system install. Although it functions as a system for regular non-emergency communications, it can interface with the EOC’s AMX for control during emergency situations. Presidio’s local office provided the Nortel Network networking components. AGT’s local office supplied and installed the Tandberg equipment.
     A Tandberg 2500 codec resides in an equipment rack. For hands-free microphone coverage during conferencing, there’s an AudioScience ceiling-mounted boundary mic. Two WAVE cameras with voice-actuated camera positioning assure that the presenter is on-camera.
     “There’s also a Tandberg 2500 portable codec that does not interface with the EOC system directly,” said Lydon. “They’re using it in a small conference room for the director of emergency services and his staff, located across the hall from the EOC. It’s primarily for use in communicating between the two rooms.”

Putting It To Work
     According to emergency management coordinator Pat Collins, the National Capitol Region encompasses not only Washington DC but also Maryland and Virginia. Although Prince William County is the third largest jurisdiction in Virginia, Fairfax County, directly north, is the most populous jurisdiction in the state. “So we have a lot of jurisdiction that we have to interface with, plus all the agencies at the federal and state level, whenever we have emergencies and disasters.”

Floor plan of the Prince William County EOC.

     In addition to the tornadoes spawned by Hurricane Ivan when the new EOC was first put into operation, another example of EOC use was related to the presidential election. “Everybody’s EOC was open during the election,” pointed out Collins. “Most people don’t think about this, but what happens if a polling place shuts down? There are state and federal laws that mandate what to do. It’s not really easy.
     “We have to come up with contingency plans if something goes terribly wrong in one of the voting places. We have to put up another voting place within that precinct. The bottom line is that everybody has a right to vote. And it’s the job of all the emergency managers and all the registrars to make sure everybody gets to exercise their right.”
     When not used for emergencies, the EOC is emergency training. Tabletop exercises are conducted to make sure personnel are familiar with procedures and equipment. “It’s complex. Even the AV equipment is very complex,” said Collins. “We train in order to make sure everybody is up to speed on how things work: everything down to the details of where they have to sit when we have an emergency, and how computers are hooked up to the AV system.
     “But the nice thing about the room is that there could be a lot going on. And the way it’s designed, it doesn’t overwhelm you. The way the sound is set up, you don’t have four televisions blaring all at the same time. You can personally listen to whatever monitor you want to, or not listen at all.”
     [As an aside, your writer was assigned to Civil Affairs in the army reserve years ago. And I can attest to the very hard work and coordination it takes from many teams during an emergency operation.]

Emergency Personnel
     Here are some examples of emergency personnel who man the tables as well as represent other support functions. The EOC is designed and laid out based on ESF/Emergency Support Functions. The Planners table comes up with the game plan for the particular disaster. Within the planning team are computer experts. The GIS/Geographic Information System specialists do mapping. For instance, GIS can provide a map of a 100-year-old area flood plain, which shows all the buildings within that map. Logisticians come up with the resource situation status: what’s available and what’s needed. In addition, the logisticians work on demobilization. Once the game plan is formulated, it’s given to the Senior Policy Group.
     “I bring people into the EOC from all over the county,” explained Collins. “I have people from public works, the IT department, police, fire, the Red Cross, hospitals and health department liaisons working in the EOC. So it’s a real cross-section of not just people from government but also people from private industry. There can be as many as 40 or 50 people in the EOC.”

Hoppmann Audio Visual
Hoppmann Audio Visual, Chantilly VA, has been producing worldwide AV solutions since 1955, providing sales, design and consulting services. Projects include boardrooms, training rooms, conference rooms, lobbies, digital walls, digital signage, network operation centers, command control centers, war rooms, videoconferencing, simulation rooms, retail displays, auditoriums, medical institutions and museums.


3 BEI 03.080.060 Alpine internally tensioned 80"x60"
(100" dia) flatscreen motorized projection screens
3 Blonder Tongue DA-33 1x12 RF DAs
4 Chief PCM-2270 ceiling mounts for Bobcat
3 Chief RPA-985 ceiling mounts for LX45
3 Christie Digital 38-VIV303-02 LX45 XGA LCD 4500 lumen projectors
4 Clarity SN-4035-WX Bobcat 40" LCD monitors
6 Contemporary Research 232-MTA mono TV
3 Contemporary Research RK2 rackmounts
1 EAW DX810 matrix mixer/switcher DSP
2 Electro-Voice MA-606 mixer/amps
36 Extron 6' M-to-M VGA cables
1 Extron 1616HV 16x16 RGBHV switcher, crosspoint
6 Extron 6-input VGA switches, SW6 VGArs w/table mount
1 Extron ADA 2 300 HV RGB distribution amp
6 Extron Cable Cubby cable access enclosures
1 Extron MAV-1616 16x16 video switcher
2 Extron RGB-109xi computer interfaces
6 Extron VGA line amps
10 JBL CONTROL 24CT ceiling speakers
1 JVC SR-V10U professional VCR
3 Listen Technologies LA-311A chargers, 16-units
7 Listen Technologies LA-122 universal antenna kits
46 Listen Technologies LA-164 assistive listening 1-ear headsets
46 Listen Technologies LR-400 assistive listening receivers @ 72MHz
7 Listen Technologies LT-800-072 assistive listening transmitters @ 72MHz
92 Listen Technologies LA-362 rechargeable batteries
1 Marantz PMD910 professional DVD player
1 Middle Atlantic RSH-4S rack mount for SR-V10U
1 Samsung SVP-6500 document camera
1 Shure ULXS14/30 wireless bodypack, receiver, headset mic system w/rackmount
Control System
1 AMX NI-4000 central controller w/Ethernet, web server
5 AMX NXC-COM2 RS232 cards for NI-4000
1 AMX NXS-NMS net module shell
1 AMX AXB-VOL3 3-channel volume control
2 AMX AC-RK rack kits
1 AMX AXM-CA10 10.4" rackmount touchpanel
1 AMX PSN-6.5 power supply
1 AMX VPN-CP Viewpoint 2-way wireless touchpanel
1 AMX AXR-NWS Net Waves Server (transceiver for VPN-CP)
1 AMX VPA-DS docking station
1 AMX FG-960 Axlink ABS bus strip
6 AMX AXD-MSP8 keypads
1 AMX VSS2 video sync sensor
1 Boeckeler Instruments Pointmaker PVI-X90 video illumination marker
2 Middle Atlantic ERK-4025LRD 40-space racks w/accessories
1 Wilcox custom laminated lectern
Edited from information supplied by Hoppmann Audio Visual.
1 AudioScience ceiling-mounted boundary mic
1 Tandberg 2500 codec (384 kbps ISDN/384 Ext.Netw./768kbps IP) including NPP, MS
2 Tandberg WAVE video cameras
1 Tandberg AudioScience ceiling-mounted boundary mic
2 Tandberg voice-activated camera-positioning mics
1 Tandberg 2500 portable codec w/NPP, for use outside the EOC
Edited from information supplied by Applied Global Technologies(AGT).
1 Nortel BayStack 400-ST1 Cascade module
1 Nortel BayStack 460-24T-PWR
1 Nortel Passport 8616XE Routing Switch Module, 16-port 1000 BASE-EX gigabit Ethernet i nterface module
1 Nortel 450-1SX 1-port 100BASE EX Single PHY MDA

Edited from information supplied by Presidio.

The eqipment racks are easily accessible, in one end of the room.

Sound & Communications Contributing Editor Jim Stokes has been involved in the AV industry for 33 years as an AV technician and recording studio designer among other areas.

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