Emergency operations centers function as information crossroads during a crisis. The operations center is the focal point for receiving, analyzing, disseminating and acting upon the information that flows through the center.
For participants to perform their tasks in a coordinated fashion, the design of the operations center must consider how work is performed, the number and types of staff in the room at the same time, the design and function of specialized furniture and the audiovisual systems type and placement. Everything mentioned has to be in sync during a crisis so that staff can collaborate and direct the activities both in the operations center and in the field.
Here are few important elements of modern emergency operations centers:
- Facility design and layout: There are several ways to approach emergency operations center design and layout. The furniture layout could be a mix of different styles such as the traditional command center where rows of workstations are placed facing video screens, or the style where clusters of workstations are placed throughout the room.
- Specialized furniture: The best furnishings for emergency operations centers are customized for each individual application and constructed of materials that will sustain 7/24 operations. This furniture should be ergonomic in design and flexible to meet the needs of the staff who will be working long periods of time under crisis conditions. For example, workstations with a flip-monitor feature that “disappears” the monitor into the desktop, make the furniture dual purpose with a flat desktop when the computer is not in use.
- Communications and dispatch consoles: These consoles are often in operation constantly throughout the crisis directing and coordinating activities in the field and keeping the operations staff informed of rapidly changing conditions. Because operators spend long hours at the console, comfort and functionality are paramount to effective performance.
- Large screen display systems: Except for smaller agencies, most modern emergency operations centers include the latest video wall technology that provides the capability to acquire and display a large number of different sources at the same time. These systems employ either DLP cube or LCD display technology and are powered by a video processor that allows the operator to place and size multiple images anywhere on the wall then assign layouts that can be retrieved by pre-assigned hot keys. Modern video walls are dependable, display higher resolution images and are relatively easy and inexpensive to maintain.
As emergency operations centers design and functionality evolve, lessons will learned and room layout, staffing and the tools they use will evolve with it. Americon is just on one of the companies working with industry experts to define the next generation of technologies that make these environments more capable at meeting unique challenges. Emergency managers would be well served by taking the time to evaluate what’s available now and work with designer manufacturers to create the next generation of specialized furniture and video wall technology to meet those challenges.