The issues surrounding control room communications have moved rapidly in recent years as a welter of upgrades in technology have arrived against a backdrop of austerity and tumbling markets. This has meant that those running such operations have been forced to squeeze every last drop from the resources available while attempting to maintain and improve upon existing service levels.
Indeed, you only need look back as far as 1986 when the AA’s new computer system, Command and Control, began to replace existing paper-based operations, to see how far such technologies have come in such a short space of time.
Where once there was paper and a pen, today sits global positioning technology, geographical information systems, 3G, the cloud and all sorts of clever technology.
Today, many control centres use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) which enable them to track people, vehicle and asset locations against detailed street maps via GPS, and there are a range of companies now specialising in bespoke solutions for particular business needs.
However, as Pat Phillips, practise director at IT professional services specialists Xceed, points out, in these times where austerity reigns, the focus is on how to make use of off-the-shelf solutions such as Google Maps.
Blue light command and control centres already use radio, such as Airwave, extensively for communications and in some cases are now using this for location purposes as well by integrating with GIS solutions, he says.
As we all know, from a technology perspective, overlaying applications onto mapping solutions can be complex insofar as changes and version control are considered. So, using London as a case in point, maps change on an almost daily basis as new building complexes open, streets are renamed, made no through roads or one way – all important aspects if you are trying to plot the best course for people or vehicles heading towards a critical incident.
Indeed, ensuring interoperability, as any CI will tell you, can be just as expensive as upgrading mapping and may mean a rewrite of linked legacy applications. Of course, advances in technology bring both headaches as well as efficiencies for those operating control and operations centres.
‘It is fair to say the change in this space continues apace,’ says Phillips. ‘For example, I doubt it will be too long before 3D capability is widely available.’
That ability to monitor the location of moving assets has led to a myriad of efficiencies. Vertical benefits include faster response times, less duplication of effort by getting the nearest person or vehicle to an incident, and giving customers the ability to view things like delivery progress of despatched items to relieve call pressure on delivery companies.
In turn, control centres now see improved statistical reporting for a whole manner of things that happen geographically, such as the number of deliveries to a postcode, the number of incidents reported or crimes on a housing estate, for instance.
The headaches for those running such operations then involve what to do with all the information – collection of it is time-consuming and often requires careful interpretation. Furthermore, the information can lead to some radical options presenting themselves.
‘Another headache is speed in running applications overlaid onto GIS solutions as sometimes there is a processing overhead which can again have a cost attached to provision of more powerful computers,’ says Phillips.
Of the various new trends expected to make their mark within command and control centres, mapping is definitely one that is here to stay.
It rapidly helps enterprises both large and small to gain those efficiencies they are striving for, and this is a necessity for most businesses in the current economic climate.
Phillips sees an exciting opportunity for command and control centres around 3D mapping for the managing of major incidents such as floods, fires, demonstrations, the routing of large plants such as cranes, and for various reconstructions.
‘The mapping technology linked to the CCTV capability will be beneficial for better traffic management and incidents. Location services such as finding an address or location are improving. As wireless hotspots and coverage are introduced and become more widespread, I’m sure the novel uses will continue to grow,’ he says.
Enterprises with common interests are already able to do this in some instances, but there are many benefits to be had from using 3G or LTE to view those with the correct skill sets within proximity of an incident and make an instant judgement call with regards to this.
Of course, consolidation has already played its part in areas such as the blue light sector within the UK, and this trend is one that looks set to continue elsewhere as businesses attempt to save on their bottom line. Looking at something like the coming together of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire fire services, for instance, a move which has saved around £400,000 per year, is something other organisations might consider in the long-term.
Furthermore, technology and the future operation of such centres will also be driven by tighter regulation and the need for resilient and fully redundant control rooms that comply with things
such as the Civil Contingency Act for category one response units.
Put simply, the demands placed upon control rooms are not going to get any simpler. With more and more emphasis on integrated wireless communications for things like radio dispatch, telephone call handling, video monitoring and web services, businesses and governments the world over have a direct need to deploy them to ensure the seamless running and management of fleets.
And that’s good news for vendors.