AV on the Front Lines: How Tech Is Helping Fight Terrorism, Active Shooter Scenarios

Emergency Operations Centers, or EOCs, are front-line facilities in the age of active shooters, terrorism and natural disasters, and systems integrators are arming operators with proper technology for the task.

Dan Daley
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However, Hancock cautions that networks have bandwidth limits and are potentially vulnerable to security interference (i.e., hacking). “These are real limits and concerns when you’re dealing with the volumes of information EOCs have access to today,” he says.

The Ascendance of Data & Apps

Video over IP is part of a new trend that Dan Gundry, senior control room specialist at Vistacom, is calling the “fusion” control room, a hybrid designed to monitor both conventional physical and virtual cyber threats to corporations and other entities.

A recent iteration of that done by Vistacom for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency in Harrisburg reveals one striking benefit: no AV cable is more than 10 feet long. “

Both aspects — conventional and cyber — have similar missions: protect the enterprise,” he says. “Even the security industry itself is moving closer into the IT world and offering services that extend into command and control facilities.” Both AV and IT are going where the threats are, he adds. Gundry says one of the game-changing characteristics of the IP-based fusion EOC facility is that information moves steadily in all directions.

Data enters the room from the usual array of sources, which range from surveillance video cameras to audio gunshot-recognition microphones, but subsequent to that much of the processing and decision making is shared, in real-time, with other stakeholders located elsewhere, over networks and the Internet, and which can populate any destination, from another EOC to an iPhone.

“What we’re seeing now is the EOC and the control room as collaboration hubs, with others able to share the same information in real-time, to see the same data being processed in the control room and not simply having to be described to them,” he says.

Also See: AVI-SPL Provides Seamless Monitoring Capabilities for Energy Provider

An IP-centric environment is simpler in many ways, because all of the information is in the form of data. It also helps integrate the use of automation, so-called video-verification alarms and API triggers, to alert operators to focus on specific sources at the right times, which helps avoid the “situational blindness” that can accompany the increasing and potentially overwhelming number of input sources. But for that to work, the interfaces between AV and IT platforms must be properly synced.

The one component that is generally left with its user interface intact from the manufacturer is the main video processor and display wall. Gundry says they deploy products like Barco‘s Control Room Management Suite, which has a robust and simplified interface for operators.

“We tend to rely on Barco and Christie when it comes to the main display wall in the control room,” says Gundry. “Using the manufacturer’s user interface that was designed for the display wall lets operators work faster and more efficiently than tying it into the Crestron or AMX control system.”

Like many other AV environments, the EOC is already in the process of migrating to an IP-based signal flow, starting with the IP cameras and microphones that now cover college and corporate campuses as well as urban downtowns and retail centers.

The most critical issue now is getting that datafied AV into visual and aural forms that can be used by decision makers in the command and control rooms. Much of that process is automated by software, often from AV manufacturers, like Barco’s CMS or SitScape, a situational-awareness software that lets operators aggregate and visualize disparate data and information sources into collaborative video configurations.

What really sets solutions like these apart from the previous iteration of EOCs, is that they reside on web browsers and dashboards — they are, says Tyler Bonner, SVP of critical-space solutions at AV systems integrator Diversified, “Apps, the same as you use on a smartphone.”

Bonner says software is the only logical path to manage the vast amounts of data that EOC s are now taking in. “There’s a huge movement in EOCs in that direction, in order to help users correlate and dynamically control large sets of data, to get that data up on the screens in usable, visual form,” by a wide range of military, police and civilian first responders, he explains.

“The data is in the cloud now, and the typical AV architecture is being replaced by IP. It reflects the fact that the threats and situations that are being monitored now aren’t just physical but also cyber in nature. Big Data and analytics are now part of the equation in the EOC.”

Less Warning, Faster Responses

“It’s a sad truth, but the conversation has changed,” comments Shane Vega, market manager for the control room group at AVI-SPL, citing the Orlando shooting and others. EOCs are in the process of evolving from environments used for specific situations, often ones with substantial warning lead times, such as hurricanes, into 24/7 hubs ready to tackle active-shooter and other scenarios that arise at a moment’s notice.

The need for software-based automation that can manage a greatly increased array of audio and video input sources is also changing how AV systems integrators relate to this sector, says Vega. That software, which is still referred to as “physical security information management,” or PSIM, even though it now also extends to cyber threats, was often marketed by its developers, such as CNL, Sure-View and Qognify’s Situator, directly to EOC operators and stakeholders like local police and fire agencies.