Crisis Management - AV Empowers Emergency Response

November 16th, 2010 in Case Studies

Crisis Management - AV Empowers Emergency Response
Sound and Video Contractor
by Cynthia Wisehart

On a good day, the room is empty. On a bad day, the 7500-square-foot Main Coordination Room (MCR) of the City of Los Angeles' Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is the epicenter of public safety, where coordination teams converge to support fire, EMT, police, hazmat, law, transportation, public works, and a host of other responders in a natural or manmade disaster.

In past decades, coordination of this life-saving work happened out of a hot, noisy, crowded bunker under City Hall that was itself vulnerable to earthquakes. On the heels of Sept. 11, California's $600-million public safety bond measure, Proposition Q, yielded the $107 million to pay for a new two-story EOC building in downtown that's designed to house three important tenants: the Emergency Management Department (EMD), the Los Angeles Police Department's Real Time Analysis and Critical Response Division (LAPD-RACR), and the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD).

This building and the mission of its tenants would come to be the solitary focus of technology consultant Spectrum ITC Group, a relatively small company that would spend four years embedded with the city and stakeholders, helping to design and execute a modern shared technology system. The project is an example of how AV is integral to workplace efficiency. It was also a difficult and singular opportunity for Spectrum to become a next-generation design firm, capable of understanding how AV intersects with a building's overall systems design. To hear principal John Bilar tell just part of the story, the experience was—not unexpectedly—one of techno-politics; it put Spectrum in collaboration with—and at times at odds with—various departments and professionals from the city's IT entity to contractors of every discipline.

The goal of the new Emergency Operations Center was to facilitate professional collaboration; there are places to gather, plan, and execute—all supported by AV.

The building also needed a modern digital infrastructure to bring in vital data and information, and to share it among emergency teams that were not always collegial and that could be territorial—teams that would be operating under extreme stress and very low fault tolerance.

The heart of the EOC's critical news and information infrastructure is a cable TV (CATV) system with shared but independent distribution for the three main tenants (see sidebar). This system brings in news and data from television, radio, and Internet sources as well as internal departmental data and other sources such as security camera feeds. Altogether, the system provides for 135 HD channels including over-the-air broadcast feeds, 45 fiber feeds, 10 satellite sources, 15 ATSC sources, 10 cable sources, 25 radio sources, and classified camera sources—all distributed to 45 venues throughout the building. The Main Coordination Room is the most dramatic of these venues. It is dominated by a display wall that consists of four 10'x5'6" low-gain rp Visuals projection screens arranged in a 2x2 configuration on a customized seismic-rated display structure that is served by four 10,000-lumen Digital Projection International (DP) Titan projectors. Three NEC 70in. flatpanel displays flank each side for a total of six switchable displays. The routing and switching of the digital video signals is accomplished using an Extron 36x36 DVI matrix router. RGB Spectrum QuadView and MediaWall video processors provide for the image layouts to the display wall and provide a secondary bypass feed to the display wall.

In the MCR, all sources are also available to flatpanel displays at each of the pod workspaces (see sidebar), as well as to various adjoining conference rooms.

Room audio comes from 12 distributed Electro-Voice ceiling loudspeakers driven by several QSC multichannel amplifiers for sound reinforcement within the MCR.

The supporting infrastructure for the audiovisual display is housed in four racks, including in part, Furman Sound power sequencers; Gefen DVI/audio Cat-5 receivers, DVI switchers, and an NTSC-to-HDMI scaler; and Extron DVI/Cat-5 and fiber-to-DVI receivers and transmitters, and DVI switchers and distribution amps. Control, both primary and backup, is via Crestron.

Eighteen Contemporary Research 232-ATSC QAM/ATSC/NTSC RF tuner/receivers (plus dozens more throughout the EOC) provide universal HDTV tuning and complete the cycle for the MCR component of the ambitious CATV system. This tuner/receiver was key to the system design (and emblematic of the design thinking) due to its controllability via AV control systems, it’s unique multiple simultaneous outputs (HDMI, HD analog, RGB/component, and composite), and its ability to reboot after a power outage in the same configuration.

It is worth mentioning that while the CATV system interacts with the LAN, the EOC backbone is decidedly RF. As due diligence, Bilar gave IT vendors the opportunity to make their case. However, with requirements such as 24/7/365 reception and distribution of 135 HD channels, the ability to recover from a power failure in less than two minutes without administration, the ability for users to incorporate department-specific content, the need to retain HD detail on the main display wall, the need to avoid set-top boxes and IP appliances, and scalability considerations for new viewer positions all proved insurmountable for a LAN-based system.

Here’s another reality that is not about technology, but government economics: The EOC job was so large that the city was Spectrum’s sole client for the duration of the project, and an arrangement put the company on the city payroll, anchored by Spectrum’s vice president of engineering, Bob Downs. Bilar says it was a win/win that resulted in considerable cost efficiencies, and it gave Spectrum the access to create and advocate truly integrated, nuanced systems.

In June, the city extended Spectrum’s contract to allow the last details of commissioning for the EMD and LAPD components, as well as commissioning of the LAFD component through June 2011. That contract became a budgetary casualty just four months later: As of the first of last month, the contract is suspended pending funding. The biggest disappointment? “We want to be able to finish the mission for the responders who are out there risking their lives,” Bilar says. After years of developing the systems vision, articulating the requirements, identifying the technology, and creating the detail designs to serve these stakeholders, he’d like to see it the rest of the way home.

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