Flexibility, connectivity and ease of operation characterize the AV rooms comprising the Hennepin County Emergency Operations Center (EOC, hennepin.us). The present install is the culmination of three phases, which started in 2012. Thus, existing equipment was integrated into the latest expansion and facilities upgrade. Accordingly, we’ll be exploring the functions of five areas, which include the co-located large training room, SMS (situation monitoring station), radio and Public Works rooms, plus a linked conference room at another site. (This is the largest EOC this reporter has covered for Sound & Communications.)
Serving a population of nearly 1.2 million, the Hennepin EOC monitors and responds to a range of potentially dangerous situations, including extreme weather conditions, fires, hazardous materials spills and infectious disease outbreaks. The EOC oversees public and private disaster resources and acts as a hub from which city and county personnel can coordinate emergency response.
Minneapolis-based integrator MSpace (yourmspace.com) has been onboard during all three phases of the project. Co-designers were Keith Gustafson, CTS, Director of Technology, and Tom Larson, CTS, Senior Engineer; installation was by the integrator’s project team. Joel Peterson is CEO and owner of MSpace and iSpace Furniture; combined, these companies offer boardroom, conference room and corporate training room technology environments, along with workplace furniture. MSpace has been one of the primary AV providers for the state of Minnesota since 2010.
Our EOC interviewees are MSpace’s Tom Larson and Dan Anderson, Senior Coordinator of Data Collaboration and Communications, Hennepin Country Emergency Management, Medina. Before we begin the tour, let’s take a wide view of some common room components. Crestron DigitalMedia switchers and touchpanel controllers are installed in all rooms. Four rooms have Sharp Interactive Whiteboards. A Cisco C40 codec with an accompanying zoom camera is installed in each of the three rooms that provide videoconferencing. ClearOne microphones and processors are installed in three rooms. RGB Spectrum viewing products are in two rooms.
“This is the main building where we house the bulk of our snow plows for the county,” said Anderson, “and they do the bulk of engineering work there. The large training room is used for Public Works, as well.” He noted that the room seats about 80 personnel, who are trained to operate Crestron in a basic mode. Between 10 to 20 Public Works staff would use the room once or twice every two weeks. Other county departments also have meetings there. The EOC workforce includes seven full-time and four on-call part-time staffers, plus four volunteer members of the auxiliary communications team.
Large Training Room
The large training room is co-located in the Hennepin County Public Works operations building at 1600 Prairie Drive in Medina MN, about 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis. (Ironically, your author was looking for a cornfield location in that rural area for an independent movie. That was just before my editor gave me this assignment.) Furthermore, we include the operations center street address to emphasize that an emergency operations site doesn’t have to be wedded to the heart of the city (see sidebar).
However, the AV conference room within the Hennepin County government center, which we’ll cover later, is networked with the Medina site. Locations have their own IP network with videoconferencing over IP. As the county considers adding fiber capabilities, the Crestron DM switches will allow for future single-mode and multimode fiber cards.
The Medina building houses Public Works on the second floor, with the large training room, situational room and Radio Room on the first floor. The stellar attraction in the large training room is the 60-inch-high by 384-inch-wide Da-Lite screen located at the center of the west wall. “It’s a fixed-frame custom Cinema Contour screen,” explained Larson. “We had some mounting challenges. The west wall has a convex bow into the room. So, while the center of the screen butted hard to the wall, the two outside edges had to be built out a few inches to give it some mounting structure and maintain a 384-inch flat surface.”
Each of four ceiling-mounted Mitsubishi DLP projectors fire edge to edge onto their segment of the large screen. The RGB Spectrum MediaWall 4500, with 18 inputs and four outputs, is used to display sources across the screen. That was the solution to creating a single long stretch of map or a large roadway where they’d be able to see details.
A Crestron DM-MD32x32 switcher routes sources to the MediaWall processor. “We’re currently using all 32 switcher inputs,” said Larson, “because we’re bringing in more than a dozen inputs that roll over from the adjoining SMS room that have their own inputs and PCs.” He added that Crestron has a backbone on the switch that can accommodate future growth if the EOC decides to move to 4K display, add streaming from a room or connect to fiber in the future.
In addition to the large screen, there are two existing small monitors stacked one on top of each other to the extreme right and left of the west wall. Those areas are for huddle groups that want to gather there in an emergency situation to share their own BYOD (bring your own device) content. Alternately, personnel may use the lower monitor for huddled work while keeping the top monitor switched to a satellite TV feed for weather or news. The small monitors have Crestron DM-RMC for scaling to the native resolution in each display.
Four additional outputs of the switcher can be routed to an RGB Spectrum QuadView HDx window system, which puts up to four images on a single display. These may be four key pieces of information the room needs to show during a videoconference with the adjoining SMS room and/or the downtown group in the government center.
The audio is an example of how the system evolved from audio conferencing to the present sophisticated sound reinforcement and AV conferencing combination. “In our first project in this EOC room, we had four zones of audio that were covered by a ClearOne Converge Pro 880T DSP, which gave us an analog phone line,” said Larson. “So they can have a traditional (POTS) line coming into the room. Because of the nature of networks and emergency situations, an analog phone line is still very reliable. Even if your network goes down, you still have a phone line.”
Regarding the rest of the room’s audio, there’s a QSC 70-volt line amplifier driving 12 JBL Control 24CTs with three speakers per zone. Because of DM switching, all the laptops, PCs and incoming satellite can be used for presentation audio. For videoconferencing, the room is well covered via several microphone configurations. There are Revolabs boundary mics in addition to one Revolabs lapel mic for the presenter or moderator.
“That’s what we initially installed,” Larson pointed out. “Then we came back in phase 3 and gave them voice lift that they wanted for the training room, as well as EOC situations. So, the space can be turned into a large audio conferencing room to bring in audio on the far end.” To accomplish this, MSpace added a second ClearOne Converge Pro 880T DSP and several Converge Pro 8i input expansion units to accommodate the additional ClearOne three-channel ceiling mics. (This writer notes that’s as extensive as multiple micing a live-action movie!)
A Cisco C40 codec with a 12x zoom camera is used for videoconferencing. “To extend that camera, we’re using the Vaddio OneLINK camera system Cat5 extender,” said Larson. “That way, we’re able to extend that signal back to the codec location over twisted pair cabling, which makes things a lot easier.”
Regarding Crestron switching and touchpanel viewing, control for the entire room is done with a PRO2 processor. Two C2COM-3 com cards provide additional RS232 control to the projectors and other RS232 devices.
“The key control piece in the room is the V24-C-B 24-inch diagonal touchpanel on a Chief swivel mount in the rear corner at the operator desk,” said Larson. “We’re using a DGE-2 (digital graphics engine) that allows us to bring a video window into the V24 to have real-time feedback, whether it’s videoconferencing or previewing four images from the RGB QuadView. And you can select any source and then choose the destination. So there’s a lot of real estate on the control panel.”
But that’s not all, folks! There are some other training room features. For convenience, MSpace gave the EOC an app for an iPad so they have to ability to go to a corner of the room for AV equipment access. Then there’s a Sharp Interactive Whiteboard with overlay and notation capability, which is dedicated to a PC on the access network for feeds. Furthermore, the large training room has viewing access to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) camera feeds from Public Works upstairs in the Media operations center. “Let’s say EOC personnel are looking at the camera on 35W at University Avenue and Fourth Street southbound,” said Larson. “They can request the monitoring room upstairs to pivot the camera to the east if there appears to be an accident.”
To the rear within the training room, there’s a dedicated PC in the main control console, as previously mentioned. That traffic camera feed can be a selective source. Regarding further connectivity, along the front of the room are Crestron dual-gang wall plates that can bring in traditional VGA with audio, as well as HDMI inputs for access of local laptops, DVD, Blu-ray and other devices.
SMS Room & Radio Room
The Situational Monitoring Station (SMS) is adjacent to the large training room. “The SMS functions as a strategic room,” explained Larson. “SMS plans the next level of an event before an actual EOC event is triggered.” Most of the time, the room is used as a conference space for city and county personnel. About a dozen people are seated around a large table in the center of the room, which is about 20 feet wide by 25 feet deep.
The main feature is a 90-inch Sharp display on a Chief mount on the front wall. An RGB Spectrum QuadView Hdx processor fed from the room’s Creston 32×32 DM switcher can display four sources instead of just one on the large screen, and is accessed via a Crestron V15 tilt touchpanel. Thus, the large screen upgrade is a vast improvement from the original four 40-inch monitors in a quad pattern on the front wall.
There’s a 47-inch LG monitor to the right and left of the 90-inch display, and three other 47-inch screens are located strategically in the room. A Sharp Interactive Whiteboard is on the left side wall adjacent to the display. Wall plates with both VGA and HDMI input are installed conveniently throughout the room for other devices. Videoconferencing is via a Cisco codec with zoom camera. Revolabs and ClearOne microphones ensure complete speech pickup of participants. A QSC amplifier drives four JBL 24CT MicroPlus speakers. “We chose the small speakers because the information in the room is spoken word or a little bit of audio from the TV displays,” Larson said.
Just off the SMS is a small Radio Room where the EOC’s Dan Anderson works. He has a couple of Samsung 32-inch displays. Anderson is tasked with monitoring all the radios that might be used in squad cars and other vehicles.
Public Works Room
The Public Works room (2051) is on the second floor and to the rear of the building. “The challenge,” Larson said, “was they had this large room with a large board that literally had a little magnet for every truck and driver on the road, which personnel moved on the manual board throughout the day. They used dry-erase markers to keep track of who was where.”
MSpace brought the manually manipulated board operation into the 21st century. “To that end, the Public Works group went to a Sharp 80-inch Interactive Whiteboard for its main display in the center of a wall. In addition, a pair of stacked NEC 55-inch monitors on either side of the whiteboard provide additional information. Six Sharp PCs can be selected from a Crestron DM16x16 switcher. In turn, those PCs have Crestron DM transmitters to feed Cat5 over twisted pair 8G cabling. That’s helpful because the switcher in the building’s equipment rack closet is about 150 feet from the Public Works room,” said Larson. Middle Atlantic AV racks house EOC and SMS AV equipment, as well. Additional AV equipment can be connected via VGA/HDMI input wall plates within the room.
AV access is via a compact Crestron nine-inch touchpanel that’s run from a PRO2 processor. There’s also a volume and tone control running through a QSC 70-volt amplifier that feeds eight Tannoy speakers. An adjacent workers’ lunchroom has two NEC monitors for TV channel access.
Although there’s no videoconferencing or teleconference access in this room, there are direct connections from the EOC and SMS switchers downstairs, which are essential to operations. In addition, there are the aforementioned TV feeds via two satellite receivers and a roof antenna. Another input on the Public Works switcher is the existing security camera feed that shows building exterior and interior views. Blonder Tongue mod/demodulators take the output of the DOT traffic cameras, which is monitored in a separate traffic room. The RF feeds can be sent to the SMS room where it’s also shared with the Public Works group. Because modulated RF is used in the Public Works room, K.L. Tannehill quad-shielded RF cabling is installed.
Our final destination is the Hennepin County Government Center Room A2350 in downtown Minneapolis. The downtown group’s room functions as a traditional conference room 95% of the time. “The customer asked us to keep it simply programmed,” said Larson, “because most of the users are simply plugging a laptop into a front or rear wall plate so they can view it on the Sharp 80-inch display at meetings.” In addition to this front wall center screen, there’s a Sharp 42-inch flatpanel positioned to the left and one to the right front of the room. A third 42-inch monitor is in the rear of the space. All three monitors have wall plates accommodating VGA and HDMI connectivity.
Access is via a Crestron wall-mounted, nine-inch touchpanel with CP2E processing. Routing is via a Crestron DM16x16 switcher. “The room is fairly simple most of the time,” said Larson. “However, in an emergency situation, a protected password can be entered into the touchpanel. When it’s confirmed, it pulls up another entire EOC mode menu.” Therefore, Cisco videoconferencing is only enabled when the room goes into EOC mode, allowing communication with the Medina EOC and SMS rooms. For this application, the Cisco codec with zoom camera is mounted to the right of the 80-inch display.
Six Tannoy ceiling speakers are driven by a QSC 70-volt line amplifier. Four ClearOne ceiling microphones run through a ClearOne Converge audio conferencing telephone hybrid. “What’s great about ceiling microphone technology now is that you can have coverage that’s a lot better than years ago,” said Larson. “Fewer mics hang from the ceiling, which is particularly good if you have projectors or screens.” Tables in the room can be configured in different ways for optimum mic pickup during audio or videoconferencing.