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Control Centers Help Corral Criminals, Assist in Combat

There’s more to an EOC than big displays

Fairfax County Emergency Operations Center in Fairfax, Va. (photo by Anita Klimko)

Whether it’s tracking down criminals at home or protecting the troops abroad, authorities are increasingly depending on centralized command centers with snazzy video walls and high-speed communication links that can help drive lightning-fast responses to critical incidents.

Gone are the days of a lone dispatcher working a single computer terminal in the darkened basement of a police station, responding to radio calls one at a time. Highly populated urban areas, like Medina, Minn., and Fairfax County, Va., have built command centers that respond to a range of potentially dangerous situations, like extreme weather, fires, hazardous materials spills and infectious disease outbreaks.

These facilities oversee disaster resources and act as a coordination hub. At the Hennepin County Emergency Operations Center in Medina, authorities chose RGB Spectrum’s MediaWall 4500 display processor and three QuadView HDx multiviewers, which enhance situational awareness and operator response.

The newly constructed EOC features a five-foot-by-32-foot projection video wall, and two rooms that make up the situation monitoring station. A switching and distribution system connects the three rooms, enabling video and graphics signals to be routed to any display device in the facility; prior to the upgrade, operators could view only one source on a single monitor.

RGB Spectrum, based in Alameda, Calif., is also at the forefront of a new anticrime technique called video harvesting, which allows control centers to grab video from remote sites over the Internet. If an alarm is triggered, or a 911 call is received, central command can connect to video surveillance systems at remote locations and review video footage before or while dispatching officers.

This allows the police department to triage incoming calls, officials said. It’s also a jump toward predictive policing, which uses video images and data to calculate where crimes will occur.

Predictive policing, or getting ahead of the bad guys, is at the center of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response center located within the city’s $107 million EOC. The center is dazzling, with its massive video wall—eight feet high by 24 feet wide—consisting of NEC LCD monitors displaying a total of 29 million pixels and driven by an RGB Spectrum MediaWall 4200 processor.


But the real sizzle at RACR is the way it can handle data, said John Bilar, Jr., vice president of technology for Spectrum Integrated Technology Consulting Group. The Oceanside, Calif.-based company was responsible for design, engineering and implementation oversight of the RACR facility’s integrated technology. The company is now finishing an upgrade to a 50-year-old EOC in Riverside County, Calif.



HDT Global:


RGB Spectrum:

Spectrum ITC Group:

In designing systems, Bilar starts with a sharp pencil, knowing that his initial “full comprehensive system design” (a gold-standard, ultimate functioning system) often gets pared down due to budget constraints.

“Once this comprehensive package is complete, it becomes a fundamental document from which a less-robust ‘baseline system’ can be logically developed or extracted,” Bilar said. “The AV equipment may come later when funding permits, but the infrastructure that directly supports it must be implemented, at the construction phase; the cost to complete it later is astronomical.”

Such well-thought-out designs are important not only to save money, but to accommodate new technology as it comes down the line, Bilar said. For example, drones or unmanned aerial vehicle, commonplace in the military, are getting a serious look from police departments around the country. Bilar’s systems are drone-ready.

“By definition [this] includes the capability to monitor and display visual content from drones if the stakeholders elect to incorporate such assets in support of their mission in the future,” Bilar said.

Based on his design/build experience, Bilar gives a big thumbs-up to NEC for its video wall displays.

NEC Display Solutions of America just announced a fourth generation of video wall products, including 55-inch and 46-inch direct LED-backlight LCD displays that allow for improved brightness uniformity and reduced power consumption.

The new NEC models minimize the bezel gap distance to 3.5 mm and, with DisplayPort 1.2 multistreaming technology, are capable of displaying ultra-high definition (4K) resolution across the entire canvas of displays comprising the video wall. 

NEC also offers a cool Auto TileMatrix feature, which allows a user to set up the size of the video wall on the first display and automatically scale the content through the remaining displays. The result is a lightning-fast installation.

“Video walls are often so critical to law enforcement activities; not only does the quality of the display matter a great deal, but the ease of use and ease of installation of [our] video wall products have proved to be invaluable to law enforcement efforts,” said Rachel Karnani, senior manager of product marketing for large screen displays at NEC. “This latest generation will better serve the needs of important law enforcement operations.”


Another company, Christie Digital Systems is well known for its MicroTiles video display system. The modular 16-inch-by-12-inch rear projection cube units can be built together into a large video wall-style display.

Each MicroTile unit contains a short-throw projector based on an LED light source and DLP optical imaging. The picture is formed onto the detachable front screen surface. Because of the building-block nature of the system, the configuration of the overall screen area and shape is flexible.

The company, with offices in Cypress, Calif., and Memphis, just released a new content management system designed specifically for control room applications. Christie Phoenix allows users to seamlessly access and control information in virtually any location to collaborate. It is a solid solution for fast-paced law enforcement or military command and control centers.

“Life-critical decisions are made at the speed of information,” said John Stark, senior director of collaborative visual solutions at Christie. ��When events are unfolding rapidly, the ability of decision-makers and first responders to see, manipulate, share and display critical information from virtually anywhere can literally be the difference between life and death.”

Christie’s Phoenix software features an intuitive drag-and-drop interface that can manage content on multiple display walls simultaneously, Stark said. It can also display Christie Phoenix content locally on a user’s desktop while sharing content with other Christie Phoenix users, all of whom can view and control the content. Another company, 9X Media, of Los Gatos, Calif., provides the 1-Touch solution―digital media switchers and video wall controllers that can automate video wall display systems.

EOCs address another critical function: the need to communicate with their forces in the field. Activu Corporation, of Rockaway, N.J., produces a series of network-based visualization and collaboration solutions that target this need.

Activu pairs its control room software with off-the-shelf hardware to provide users with real-time access to mission critical data, said Avery Quayle, an Activu marketing specialist. The net-centric solution allows users to access visual data on a network through cameras, mobile sources, cable/satellite, streaming video sources or workstations.

“They can share that information across the organization, whether it is on the control room video wall, an individual operator’s desktop [or] a workstation at a back-up site,” Quayle said. “Since we’re providing a software solution, our systems are highly scalable, providing our customers an easy, cost-effective way to add new operators.”

Law enforcement agencies find the Activu software a good fit, Quayle said. These include the New York Police Department’s Anti-Terrorist Command Center and the NYPD Network Operations Center.


HP Command and Control Services provides a range of command and control software solutions to help defense organizations to more effectively sense, detect, process and interpret critical information. HP’s Deployable Site Transport Boundary provides the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps with a standalone, mobile transport boundary solution to allow direct access to the Navy Marine Corps Intranet network.

A Virginia company, HDT Global, supplies military solutions in addition to its customized Interactive Command Table that is designed for on-site first responder applications, said Jeff Pufahl, the company’s C2 product manager.

HDT Global Containerized Weapons System

HDT Global’s new Containerized Weapons System fills a gap for U.S. military forces deployed in large- and small-outpost battle stations. The military’s Combat Outpost Surveillance and Force Protection System acquires information through an elaborate integration of radar, unmanned sensors, surveillance cameras and gunshot detection into a single interface. However, it still needs a remote-controlled weapon to attack a target. The company’s CWS becomes a mobile EOC for Marines who need information fast and must stay flexible.

Mast-mounted, CWS fits inside a mobile shipping container and can accommodate a range of weapons, from a 50-caliber rifle to Javelin missiles. It deploys to an approximate height of 15 feet and is capable of full extension and recovery within 30 seconds. The system contains a 360-degree situational awareness computer with remote operating software and can be controlled remotely from distances of about 1,000 meters.

“This is perfect for perimeter security,” he said. “You take the guard out of the tower, especially at a forward base, and put the guard in a secure location where he can operate this unit.”