Case Studies

Collaboration and Functionality at the Core of Vistacom-built University Emergency Operations Center

Posted in: Command & Control , Education

On this forward-thinking, mission-critical project, Vistacom Control Room Solutions worked closely with a private, Ivy League University spanning 600 pristine acres and occupying more than 200 buildings.

Approximately 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend the University, with almost 3,000 full-time and part-time faculty — and another 7,000 employees. Annually, the school welcomes around 860,000 visitors to its campus for sporting events, lectures, campus tours and more. It’s among the oldest institutions of higher education in the United States.

The Challenge

When the University’s Department of Public Safety moved into the building where they’re housed 12 years ago, they implemented an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that had limited functionality. “There was no technology whatsoever,” said the institution’s Infrastructure Operations Manager (IOM), Department of Public Safety. “We had a couple of maps, white boards and phone equipment. It was very basic.” At one point, the University added a projector and television that enabled people to see real-time weather information.  

The Solution

Throughout the University, buildings were being renovated or built using state-of-the-art technology for classrooms and laboratories. “As more and more of these buildings were being constructed, CSA and other University leaders realized that the technology is moving quickly and they could no longer keep the EOC on the back burner — especially when information is critical for the decision-making process,” the IT Manager said. “The only way to do this was to equip the EOC with the adequate technology.” 

The design was important to the University, as they didn’t want the space to be set up like a traditional EOC. Instead, they wanted to be able to use the space for a conference and meeting room when it wasn’t in use for an emergency event. “We needed to have one option for EOC mode and one for presentation mode,” he added. “That was key to us.” Early on in the process, the Department of Public Safety envisioned the use of short strobe projectors on large white boards because of the cost savings they would offer. “We don’t receive a lot of funding, so anything we want to do requires us to find the funding or make a case for the investment,” said the IOM.

The university came up with an initial budget and began looking for technology to fit the bill at conferences and trade shows, where the IOM spoke with Vistacom Director of Sales and Marketing Dan Gundry. Gundry offered to come see the space and make some recommendations on next steps for the project. “Vistacom came to visit us two or three times and as we described what we were doing — and what we wanted to do — Dan was straightforward with us at every step in the process,” the IOM said. Vistacom brought three options to the table: one that was more bare bones, one that would meet the needs that the university had today and one that would take care of the university’s current needs and whatever they might need in the future.   

“Future-proofing the EOC was critical for us, since we needed to maximize our budget while delivering an innovative approach to technology in the space,” the IT Manager said. The Department of Public Safety brought in a high-level executive from the university to discuss the need they had to build an EOC, and they were able to secure some additional discretionary funding to help meet their goals of creating a space that would be collaborative and able to deliver more situational awareness in the event of an ongoing incident or threat. 

Vistacom engaged with the Ivy League school to serve as an integrator on the project, working alongside various university departments on electrical, carpeting, central IT networking, media services and many others. Vistacom recommended using Christie® Terra, which enables the transport, processing and control of audiovisual content for demanding applications like the one that the university required for the EOC. The system allows the connection of 12 different sources, such as the weather box that is one of the main pieces in the EOC, TV station feeds, camera feeds and more.

The Christie® Terra system is augmented by a Crestron control system with a 10-inch wired touch panel, a Biamp Tesira audio digital signal processor, and a Barco ClickShare for wireless presentation. The Crestron control system has two modes of operation: one as a standard meeting room with limited sources and control capabilities for ease of use, and the other as an EOC with full flexibility to view any source on any display depending upon the need of the EOC and the incident being managed.  

The information is displayed on six (6) Christie® FHD-492-XV displays and a 2-wide-by-2-high video wall of Christie® FHD-553-XE displays. “We can see all of the most important information at any given time in one place, and we weren’t able to do any of that before,” the IOM said. “Our university operates like a small city.

It takes a lot of integration of systems, and that’s where the big challenge is. This includes alarms, radio, access control, cameras and the 911 system, which all have to be monitored and that information communicated into the EOC.” 

The Results

The EOC has been used several times over the last few years, highlighting how valuable it is for all stakeholders. In early 2019, security leaders were notified that there was going to be a White Supremacist rally just outside of the university’s campus boundary. “There was a lot of apprehension and chatter going on about the march and counter-protests,” the IOM said. The booming, exurban town promptly set up portable camera units to capture the protests and monitor the situation, as well as a command post. The university also installed cameras in two trees facing across the street from the university where the protests were supposed to happen in an effort to gain more situational awareness. The camera feeds were broadcast inside the EOC, where officials monitored the situation in real-time.

When there are so many people on campus, it can be difficult to know what’s going on and where, but with this new operations center, we’re better able to manage the crowds and make decisions to send personnel certain places as needed.

“It was the first time we used the EOC as part of something that raised quite a bit of concern from campus leaders because they thought the march would run through the university,” the IOM said. “It was the first time we saw the value in this centralized EOC.” After that event, the university also received funding to move forward with the investment in Mutual Link, a program designed to be able to share information between EOCs, like the one set up within the town during the protest. “If we had that in place at the time, we could have linked directly into the command post in town,” he said.  

The institution also uses the EOC during special events, such as the school’s reunions, which take place over three days at the end of May/beginning of June. More than 28,000 people return to campus to attend events at 13 entertainment venues.  

“When there are so many people on campus, it can be difficult to know what’s going on and where, but with this new operations center, we’re better able to manage the crowds and make decisions to send personnel certain places as needed,” the IOM said.

Vistacom helped take our ideas from basic functionality to an overall vision that enables future growth and functionality

The Ivy League school is planning to expand the EOC capabilities to smaller conference rooms within the same building with the ability to set up additional remote locations for officials that may be operating from a home environment. This will help during emergencies, such as extreme weather, when officials are unable to physically be in the central EOC. The university plans to work with Vistacom on this future project as their budget allows. 

“Vistacom helped take our ideas from basic functionality to an overall vision that enables future growth and functionality,” the IOM said. “The partnership with the team allowed us to provide our ideas and engage in true collaboration to take those ideas and apply the most innovative technology to achieve the university’s overall goals for safety and security for visitors, faculty and staff, and students.”

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