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How leading EOC's maximise operationally and resource efficiency

Network-based technologies such as IoT, machine learning, and cloud computing are rapidly transforming control and operations centres including mission-critical Emergency Operation Centres (EOCs), allowing them to maximise operational, and resource, efficiency. The primary functions of any operations centre include:

  • Collecting, analysing, and sharing critical information
  • Prioritising and coordinating various departments and units
  • Addressing (and anticipating) risks
  • And for EOC's: supporting First Responders in emergencies

Paradigm shifts in networking and technology have been transforming EOC's for years—putting even greater emphasis on operational efficiency, real-time processing, communications between entities, data-driven reporting, and analysis of multiple and varying information streams for qualitative and strategic decision-making. In this blog, we overview how EOC's are adapting to rapid changes—and to the additional challenges raised during COVD 19—to remain highly efficient, prepared, and secure.

Hardware vs software-based control rooms

Emergency operations centres lead emergency management, ensure continuity of operations during a natural or human-made disaster, and optimise communications to maximise efficiency—such as dispatch of resources and guidelines—while minimising delays and risks. EOC's typically consist of multiple interconnected displays and computational devices

Depending on the size of the operations and the centre’s jurisdiction, EOC's typically oversee decision making, delegating tactical decisions and field asset control to lower commands, such as call centres and law enforcement bodies. EOCs collect and analyse data to dissipate holistic, priority-driven, and timely guidance to entities that are eclipsed by their unique and specific functions.

EOC's typically consist of multiple interconnected displays and computational devices: one or multiple video walls, desktop computers, telecommunications devices, and other devices. They house numerous operators, managers, first responders, support staff and other authorised personnel who collaboratively manage the operations centre, its network, departments, and vital services. They are secure and usually inaccessible to the general public and are themselves equipped with tight security protocols and measures such as surveillance.

Operation centres and its constituents are thus at the brain and heart of the organisation—topmost in line of command, and critical to its functioning.

Maximising analytics for mission-critical operations

In order to make reliable decisions, emergency operation centres require situational awareness. Situational awareness refers to an up-to-date, astute, and pre-emptive understanding of circumstances. Most applicable to mission-critical operations, such as those concerning health and defence, situational awareness is beneficial to any process where efficient and tactical decision-making is required.

Situational awareness can be understood in simpler terms with the example of driving a car; where a driver is simultaneously mindful of road signs and intersections, their vehicle's speed and fuel tank, weather and road conditions, and oncoming traffic in order to safely and quickly travel from point A to point B.

By definition, emergency operations require situational awareness and context—based on environmental factors, resources, risks, time—in order to make meaningful and effective decisions.

This raises the question: how can technology help emergency operation centres maximise their situational awareness?

High-level information

Video and visualised data are effective and efficient ways to provide situational awareness to emergency operations.

EOCs operate on actionable high-level information—that synthesise large streams of data over a state/local region Since EOCs are top in the line of commands, they do not typically analyse or engage with field assets, namely: vehicles, inventories, or technicians. Instead, they coordinate with departments, government officials, and units: such as first-response teams, school districts, and law enforcement offices.

Therefore, EOCs operate on actionable high-level information—that synthesise large streams of data over a state/local region and leverages their access to hundreds and thousands of video systems. This high-level information can be presented using:

  • Geospatial Reports or GIS maps to track disease spread, border security, medical services, roads and highways, weather, wildfires and air quality.
  • Data-driven Dashboards that group and summarise data through key performance indicators (KPIs), benchmarks, and levels of risks. They can thus condense and even automate tracking of information such as power supply and energy consumption, the volume of emergency calls, movement of traffic etc.
  • Management and Process Reports that coordinate resources, the status of various steps in the crisis management pipeline
  • Video Feeds such as CCTV or IP Cameras, or even social media and news channels provide EOCs a natural and real-time outlook to supplement their decision-making. Within a control centre, these feeds are watched by operators to provide the most informative view, such as traffic cameras on arterial roadways.

Because the information has to be high-level, digestible, and viewable to dozens of professionals, it is almost always visual in nature. In order for EOCs to make quick and holistic decisions, they trade-off management for efficiency; delegating execution and more actionable decisions to their subordinate units.

While they will have access to most information within the organisation, EOCs do not typically analyse raw data such as text documents, spreadsheets etc and instead opt for visual data: images, videos, infographic reports, and flowcharts. The combination of raw visual data (like CCTV streams) and processed visual data (such as KPI reports) maximise situational and contextual awareness.

For example, in instances of wildfires, emergency centres will often have a map displayed on a large video wall, to track the spread of a wildfire using satellite data. The EOC can overlap this with data points from weather radars and sensors to forecast how a wildfire might spread using precipitation/humidity, wind speed, and wind direction—collected in real-time. They can then alert local authorities to prepare dispatch, identify areas that require evacuation and activate incident management systems (IMS) for public alerts. The emergency operation centre may also work in conjunction with other organisations, such as the Centre for Preparedness and Response (CPR), and Traffic Control Centres (TCCs) to validate their decisions, and optimise resources and public safety.

How technology that is reshaping emergency operations

High-resolution video, new content sources such as drones and streamed, real-time video from cell phones as well as technology changes such as computer vision and AI are greatly enhancing situational awareness and helping EOC's reduce response times.

Any EOC investing in new solutions today must prioritise an open platform that delivers maximum flexibility to ensure they can take advantage of all these developments as well as new technologies and solutions that will come online in the future. A specific example: organisations deploying a video wall for their EOC should not invest in proprietary or specialised hardware.

The AV industry has moved from hardware-based to software, cloud, and IP-based processing. To maintain service levels now and in the future, to ensure emergency preparedness, provide situational awareness and decrease response times, EOCs need to move to Network and software-based models that can be easily integrated with new technologies including AI, computer vision, streaming video and more.

Visual networking platform

Userful's visual networking platform is an open and software-based platform that allows EOC's to deploy video walls and other displays to provide situational awareness for their operators and to ensure the staff in their EOC's are able to support first responders in the field.

Userful is unique in the field of display solutions for Operation Centres and control rooms that embrace an open approach: uses only commercially available off-the-shelf hardware instead of proprietary or specialised hardware.

It uses standard networking protocols, operating on the network in a way that allows IT teams to lock it down and manage it as they do any other traffic. It is a software solution with an API and an open technology approach ensuring a broad array of integrations and ensuring that customers can display any content required.

Integrates with third-party solutions

Userful includes all the features operators need to make it intuitive and easy to pull up content sources—video, weather maps, CCTV footage, news streams etc and display them however they wish on a video wall or display. Userful supports multi-window, picture-in-picture, allows windows to be dragged about in real-time. It is WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get a solution. This ease of use and flexibility is matched by its unique ability to integrate with third-party solutions. Userful integrates with VMS such as Network Optix that allow it to leverage Computer vision and advanced AI

For example, Userful integrates with Video Management Solutions such as Network Optix that allow it to leverage Computer vision and advanced AI to deliver real-time actionable intelligence to operators. For example, this combination allows for machine analysts of thousands of live video feeds using AI to detect a break-in or a traffic accident or an assault.

When the machine analysis identifies an incident of interest it will display that video (and the preceding few seconds of video) on a video wall. No human eye needs to continually scan those video feeds for an alert and operators don't need to wait until an incident is reported. This is the power of a computer vision solution that is easily integrated into the Useful platform for better situational awareness, improved response times and reduced operational labour.

Add-on solutions for EOC

Userful's open technology platform and Rest API ensure that customers can add on solutions needed for their EOC today but also those they may need in the future. This is exactly why Jefferson County's Emergency Operation Centre turned to Userful.

According to Rob Herrington, Director of the 911 centre, "Flexibility is very important to us. We are constantly evolving and adding new tools—like drone video surveillance, and phone video streaming during 911 calls—and having a video wall that supports whatever we can think of implementing, it is a very powerful thing."

Cross-departmental collaboration

Userful's use of the network and its open technology approach to AV also ensure it's flexible in how video content is streamed and shared. Userful supports remote access and allows remote supervisors to monitor and even interact with content on the EOC's video wall.

This ensures cross-departmental collaboration. In a Municipal EOC for example, staff in the mayor's office, the fire department or the police department could all be given access to allow view-only or even interactive access to the video wall in the EOC and the content displayed on it.

Emergency response is often a collaborative cross-departmental effort and information sharing across teams and departments is vital. Userful's flexibility and network-based architecture ensure it can support this requirement too.

Userful is the solution for EOC's looking for a video wall or LED wall to meet their needs today that also ensures they're able to add on new solutions, features and embrace new technologies to improve situational awareness of the future.

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