A deep, wide room with a low ceiling made the use of an LCD wall the best solution for the broadest range of visibility.
During the mid-summer, when the Colorado State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in the Denver suburb of Centennial was undergoing a long-delayed AV makeover, www.shootingtracker.com, an online database of mass shootings that claim four or more victims, logged more than 30 such incidents around the country. None were in Colorado but, as Ed Kern, AV Systems Designer with the Denver office of CCS Presentation Systems (www.ccsprojects.com), the integrator that did the renovation, spoke during our interview, it was within a week of the rampage at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood center and the day after an even worse one in San Bernardino CA.
Underscores The Need
There was little that could be said about either horrific event but, collectively, they did underscore the need for a state-of-the-art emergency operations center that could bring up video and audio from a wide range of sources, manage it across multiple displays and help representatives from police, fire, medical and other emergency services make sense of life-and-death situations that range from crimes to weather disasters, and other emergencies that seem to unfurl faster and more often every year.
The state’s existing SEOC, the central hub for all tribal, local, state and federal agencies to coordinate responses to hazard events, incidents and disasters throughout the state, had been a bit of an AV time capsule. Its AV complement consisted primarily of six-foot dropdown projection screens, overhead projectors and three 42-inch plasma screens, with audio distributed through low-voltage ceiling speakers. Workers at the nearly 60 workstations in the 25’x60′ SEOC had to contend with aging equipment that couldn’t handle the growing number of sources, such as news broadcasts, emergency communications, and satellite and internet feeds.
In addition, the AV was barely coherent: The width and depth of the room, along with a barely nine-foot ceiling, made it difficult for some team members to see critical information being displayed on the projection screens. Visibility issues extended to the projected images themselves, which were not bright enough for many team members to view clearly. And dimming the lights rendered the environment adverse to videoconferencing, which is a feature team members use for their day-to-day activities. Finally, the audio was underpowered and often barely audible.
At the time, CCS’ biggest challenge was designing solutions and integrating them in the space of just 30 days, a time frame Kern described as “miserable” and one compelled by state accounting exigencies, and by the fact that the SEOC would have to be completely vacated during renovation. Its functions would have to be relocated elsewhere temporarily, spread out among other nearby EOCs. The SEOC could be offline for a maximum of a single month, especially during Colorado’s summer fire-season months. The task seemed daunting enough that the state employees had a pool going, betting how many days over deadline the installation would be finished. Fortunately, the job window fell in between large projects on CCS’ own schedule, giving the company the manpower and programming resources required to finish on schedule.
‘We were lucky’
“We were lucky, timing-wise,” said Kern. “We had been ramping up for some big projects later in the summer.” They had also just finished work on an EOC in Pueblo CO, where they worked with safety-communications consultants Mission Critical Partners (www.mcp911.com), which was also then working on specifying the Centennial EOC. “The funding was there to do it right and some of the [design] work had been done, but the time window was very tight,” he said. “Things lined up just right.”
The first key decision was to transition to videowalls for the SEOC’s primary imaging requirements. Kern approached Eric Fatovic, National Account Manager for display maker NEC, early on in the process, in order to make sure he could get delivery of the total of 45 monitors the design called for to create two videowalls: The larger wall in the emergency operations center space is a 12×3 configuration that consists of 36 46-inch monitors, while the smaller configuration in the Governor’s Policy Room is a 3×3, consisting of nine monitors. According to Kern, the narrow bezels on the X464UN-2 displays give the walls a good visual continuity. NEC guaranteed delivery on time.
This was the best solution for a wide and deep room that also had a very low ceiling that, in fact, lost half a foot by the time the computer-cable flooring had been installed, Kern reported, adding that this was also similar to the video solution they implemented in the Pueblo EOC.
Critical to the design was that all of the video displays in the SEOC (in addition to the two videowalls, there are also Sharp 70-inch PN-L802B LED-backlit interactive displays in the EOC, the policy boardroom and the Tommy Grier conference room, as well as several dozen 42-inch NEC displays in offices on the floor) had to be fully interactively matrixed, allowing any input from any source, external or internal, such as the interactive displays, to be capable of being routed to any other display or videowall. That’s done using a Crestron 128×128 DigitalMedia 8G switcher and receiver/room controller with built-in HD scaler for configuring imagery across the two main videowalls.
“Each display in each videowall is a node in the matrix, and each node represents an entire image or part of a larger image,” Kern explained. An LED videowall wasn’t considered, due mainly to timing and cost concerns, he said. “The people at the SEOC had seen what we did at the Pueblo EOC, which also used this type of solution and, because that location was going to be the backup for the SEOC, they felt this same kind of videowall would be more functionally familiar,” he explained.
In addition, the consultants determined that flatpanel displays would provide the best angle of view for everyone most cost effectively. The largest wall can scale an image up to eight displays wide, although most are three to four displays in width, with all signal digital on fiber until it reaches the individual display as copper. No seat in the room is beyond 45º off axis from the main videowalls, with the bottom of the walls visible above the tops of the individual workstation displays, another key metric in the design and placement of the walls.
But before the videowalls could be installed, another issue discovered by a structural engineer brought in by CCS had to be addressed: “We found out that the wall the displays were going to be placed on couldn’t support their weight,” he said. Kern added that every twist like this in the narrative had to be considered within the 30-day timeframe, in this case including the time to pull permits for structural repair work that normally takes…guess what?…30 days. Fortunately, some intergovernmental dialog between the state and the county sped up the process. At the same time the crews were removing the old copper wiring from previous systems (to be replaced by fiber cabling), other workers were adding vertical steel reinforcing bars that tied into the concrete slabs on that floor and the floor above, to add strength and rigidity.
A Polycom videoconferencing system, set up at one end of the SEOC and using the HDX 8000 HD codec, is also tied into the Crestron matrix via Polycom bridge, as is the Governor’s Policy Room and the boardroom, using a Polycom HDX MPPlus MultiPoint Software Option Key that allows up to four sites to be connected during a single video conference call. The Polycom EagleEye HD camera can pan the entire SEOC space but, due to height limitations, generally stays focused on the specific videoconferencing area. Teleconferences can include those onsite, other participants offsite, and any signal inputs that feed the screens in the SEOC and any input from the interactive displays.
The breadth of potentially simultaneous sources is comprehensive but could also become overwhelming. To manage that, a control station occupies one of the workstation positions near the center of the room, using a Crestron display panel to manage the AV matrix. This control panel is central to another mission that the SEOC is intended for: “When it’s not active as an EOC, it’s also used for meetings and for training,” said Kern. A statewide archival platform also records all of the content that flows through during an incident, all of which the SEOC can access and display on the videowalls during training.
Control Panel Location
“So, we located the control panel toward the middle of the room and programmed it with macros so that even non-technical users can came in and hit a button and have the right mix of systems come up. They can come up with their own sets of custom presets and name them on the fly for recall later. It’s a very user-friendly system in that regard, and our programmer was pretty much living onsite to achieve that. But maximizing the space was part of the mandate for the room.” (Again, that 30-day time frame loomed over everything.)
Old Sound, New Sound
Interestingly, the SEOC was able to use most of the exiting distributed audio system that was in place, with eight additional Atlas FAP62T speakers added to the system in the two adjacent meeting rooms. The real problem all along wasn’t the speakers but, rather, the fact that the overall system was underpowered. Installing a Crown CTS8200A eight-channel amplifier solved most of that problem.
Other new audio components include a Shure ULXS wireless microphone system with two SM58 handheld mics and bodypacks, and a Televic Confidea wired conference system with one chairman station and 24 delegate stations (combined microphone and speaker units) at certain workstation locations. Audio that comes into the SEOC embedded with video, such as from broadcast news network feeds, is de-embedded and routed to the matrix through a Biamp Tesira DSP server. “This lets the operator pick any source and send it to any location, just as it does with the video,” said Kern. “Audio and video can be treated as separate entities.”
Speakers weren’t the only items that were reused. Much of the new processing equipment, such as the Crestron switcher, was placed in existing racks. Modern gear runs hotter, so the rear panels were left off and the building’s maintenance staff boosted the air conditioning in the rack room.
A serendipitous confluence of events allowed this complex project to get finished in what Kern politely deemed an “insane” timeframe. These included the availability of a large amount of CCS’ own resources and cooperation from the SEOC’s workers. Kern also noted that vendor cooperation was critical, giving shout outs to NEC and Crestron in particular for getting critical pieces and amounts of equipment onsite quickly and without friction.
“There were a lot of moving parts on this one,” he said. “Everyone, including the manufacturers, came together to make it happen.”