10 Control Room Design Considerations in a Post-Pandemic Reality

Posted in: Command & Control , Government , Security , Transportation , Utilities

By Dan Gundry on Feb 26, 2021

It all starts with the most important asset: operators. Control rooms integrate an array of complex systems and technologies, a mission-critical construct that’s represented in a common operational picture (COP).

But, at the heart of every control center lies how the operator actually functions in a high-pressure environment. In a world forever changed by the pandemic, this means that enabling operational continuity to maximize safety and increase efficiency involves special control room design considerations.

1. Remote or Virtualize PCs

By remoting or virtualizing PCs, operation centers can considerably minimize foot traffic within the control room. It also removes potential distractions and improves the overall health and security of staff because it means that IT professionals aren’t physically in the facility to troubleshoot and service machines.

2. Simplify to a Single Keyboard & Mouse

Many control rooms have adopted the ideology of “less is more” even before the pandemic really prompted a deeper look at what may be excessive and pose a risk. Limiting operators to a single keyboard and mouse not only declutters the work surface and makes it much easier to keep clean, but it can also greatly improve productivity and efficiency simply because there are fewer touchpoints. Also, this will allow teams to mitigate security risks by reducing the number of USB ports in use and closing any open ports to limit network exposure.

3. Adjust Lighting or Ballasts

To maintain the health and wellbeing of operators, it’s important to consider a variety of factors and environmental elements that may have an impact. One of those is lighting, particularly the levels of light that may affect productivity and comfort in the control room. Strategically implementing human-centric lighting (HCL), or blue-rich lighting, has been shown to support natural circadian rhythm, which reduces overall fatigue, promotes alertness and can even help regulate physiological reactions such as heart rate and blood pressure.

4. Reimagine Console Layout

It’s clear that when ergonomics is made a priority in control room design, it will improve operator comfort, health and safety. In a post-pandemic reality, this remains as critical as ever. But, there are other considerations that should be made when it comes to command and control room console layout. For one, physical distancing will remain a practical and easy-to-configure spatial solution, and operation centers have an assortment of options that don’t obstruct lines of sight, including plexiglass partitions and simply sequestering operators for less foot traffic. Also, console layouts can be designed to put health and safety first by accommodating workspaces that are antimicrobial and also by taking into account individualized devices such as chairs, keyboards, mice and headsets.

5. Relocate Rooms & Common Spaces

Similarly, when operators step away from the common operational picture for other functions or needs, it’s important to consider putting those services in closer proximity and making them more immediately available; think break areas and rest rooms. Keeping them inside the control room area will eliminate unnecessary interactions. On the same token, installing audio and video conferencing areas within the control room itself will have the equivalent outcome, minimizing outside staff and non-essential personnel from entering the space.

6. Improve Content & Display

Navigating a post-pandemic landscape will require new forms of data integration and an increased ability to share critical insights. So, when control room operators and management refine strategic plans and make resource optimization decisions, there’s tremendous value in asking the question as it pertains to room design: what new information is required for today’s common operational picture? From centralized dashboards to web content to the dynamic display of video and other security inputs, how does the presentation of that information need to change from incident to incident, and does that modularity warrant a different arrangement or the need to look at specific pieces of information at specific times?

7. Leverage Desktop Conferencing

Whether it is Zoom, MS Teams or another communication platform, desktop conferencing technologies improve communication and real-time collaboration, and it eliminates the need to bring individuals into the control room area. Afford operators with the enhanced ability to communicate with field operators or other essential personnel, quickly gather information and make better-informed decisions—all the while staying situated at their desks monitoring core activities. In sum, applying desktop conferencing in day-to-day use may be the key to unlocking enhanced situational awareness, especially as the world transitions to a post-pandemic mindset.

8. Evaluate Room Acoustics & Audio

Control room operations always go smoothly in an environment that’s conducive to increased focus, and concentration when an unexpected incident unfolds is crucial. That’s why designing a control room with good acoustics and integrated audio can have a noticeably positive impact on operational efficiency. If there’s a cacophony of blaring alarms, voices sounding from two-way audio, loud conversations and increased foot traffic, operators rely on acoustics and an audio system that absorbs sound, minimizes distraction and alleviates stress from chaotic noises.

9. Extend Situational Awareness

More stakeholders will be working remotely as personnel are continually authorized to function in either a hybrid or fully virtual setting. With that said, operators will need communication tools that easily enable them to share the common operational picture beyond the control room. Of late, there have been a variety of high-performing meeting collaboration and content sharing platforms that provide secure, encrypted streaming so all stakeholders gain situational awareness from the same, real-time information to support critical decision-making.

10. Assess Operator Effectiveness

An operator-centric design fosters highly effective monitoring, control and incident management. Yet, when putting in place a larger security strategy and operating procedures for a control room, sometimes the capability of realistically handling the workload is overlooked. It’s important to consider if the right tools are in place to manage daily tasks, if operators are burdened with too much documentation, if there has been sufficient training or if the scope of work has swelled to the point of ineffectiveness.

Optimal control room design begins and ends with comprehensively understanding the operator’s needs, how they interface with the integrated system and the unique workflow demands of their operating environment.

Vistacom specializes in this; an in-depth needs analysis acts as a springboard for designing a control room that incorporates critical elements to maintain comfort, health and safety. And the effectiveness of post-pandemic operations hinges on constructing mission-critical spaces that are built for the future.

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