The traditional single function control room addressing a single geographical area from a local site is evolving into a much more fully featured environment capable of addressing multiple geographies and functions.
For instance, a modern command and control centre should be able to manage the operations of multiple ambulance services or the security, operations and emergency communications of a large industrial site such as a port.
The technology is here to enable these types of applications and, coupled with advances in wireless technologies, far more detailed data and information is passing through today’s command and control centres.
Open source systems
‘The operations of the 21st century command and control centre have truly changed,’ says Nigel Gray, sales director of PageOne Communications.
‘Command and control centres have had to adapt to people out in the field using new technologies such as location zoning and video, and we are now seeing command and control centres moving away from their historically used legacy protocols and systems towards more open source technologies that can easily integrate with these new technologies.’
Alastair Luff, managing director at ABM, a specialist provider of intelligence, investigation and criminal justice software solutions, agrees. ‘Command and control is becoming more efficient as software becomes better integrated,’ he says. ‘Software developments are drastically reducing the time required to log calls and deal with information so that action can be taken quickly. Integration of systems also allows more calls to be resolved without the need to dispatch a resource.’
For Dave Beanland, business development at JVC Professional Europe, which recently formed a joint venture with Kenwood, software is only one element of increasing efficiency. Beanland says the JVC Kenwood venture brings the benefit of integrated systems and solutions but even that doesn’t feed through to a reduced number of suppliers in the market.
‘This doesn’t necessarily reduce the number of suppliers [to a project] because such a large range of products go into these applications,’ he says. ‘The intent is to provide more joined up thinking for customers.’
That new functionality and capability is changing the way organisations invest in command and control centres. There is now, especially in the face of public sector budget cuts, less appetite for organisations to have their own centres, and the concept of command and control rooms being run as a managed service has the potential to deliver greater efficiencies.
‘The idea of managed services has happened in the public sector in a small way so far, but I expect that approach to be much more the case now given budget cuts,’ says Beanland. ‘My view is that the trend is towards larger control rooms rather than control rooms for individual councils. Rather than owning a control room the trend is towards having it provided as a managed service. After all, in most control centres nothing happens for most of the time and then it does and the situation is chaotic.’
However, there are limits to how far the managed services approach can be taken and the managed services approach is not without risk as operators need to be familiar with the processes of multiple types of clients. As a consequence, operators will have to better trained and be supplied with better systems if they are to move between applications and client organisations effectively.
Paul Collins, global director of business development for public sector at Cybertech, doesn’t see managed services extending to personnel and sees technology as the main opportunity.
‘Politics is an issue, especially across disciplines, and while I can see organisations outsourcing the technology so rather than owning systems, they rent them, I can’t see command and control centres being outsourced to India,’ he says. ‘Adjacent police forces, for example, may want to share a command and control system but I can’t see call takers being shared across disciplines.’
For Luff, the key is not whether the function is delivered as a managed service but how the staff are trained, developed and managed. ‘Traditionally a number of services which were thought to be police officer only roles, have been successfully civilianised,” he explains. “The next logical step – in some appropriate cases – would be the outsourcing of these.’
Technology is coming to market that makes the management of multiple applications by a single operator more efficient and supports the need to deal with ever richer data coming into the control centre.
‘Control room situations are invariably time critical and no situation is exactly like the others so you can’t predict what the operator is going to be handling,’ explains Beanland.
‘However, in our control room software we have built in response procedures so when an operator has to handle a situation they can call up a specific screen that has been designed to give the best user interface for that type of situation and we can provide text instructions.’
He gives the example of a fire on a motorway. In that situation, an operator can bring up a screen to guide them through the steps associated with addressing that type of scenario.
‘In terms of extending this out to surveillance and situation awareness, our software can, if there’s an alarm on a campus, for example, automatically put a CCTV image of the site of the alarm on an operator’s screen,’ he adds.
The information coming in to the control room is also far more in-depth than ever before as video feeds proliferate and are even supplied from mobile units and personnel. Applications such as tracking the location of radios in a building or a large facility such as a port enable the operator to know exactly where the data is coming from. Two-way radio is developing to encompass static, if not yet moving, images.
‘A development at the prototype stage is to send images over the radio network,’ adds Beanland. ‘Sending full motion video is not an option because of the bandwidth limitations of two-way radio so the best you can do is send stills, but the applications for that are immense.’
Collins sees multimedia coming to the control room but doesn’t see it as being taken up in first responder situations for the foreseeable future. He points out that an image of a car crash might be useful after the emergency response but doesn’t see the need for a firefighter to send and image to a control room to help operators dispatch the right equipment. ‘They’re experienced professionals, they know what equipment to ask for,’ he says.
However, the market is changing to encompass both mobile workers sending in data to a static control centre and the increasing use of mobile command and control centre vehicles. These are costly items but the value they can provide in managing large scale events or disaster situations outweighs that expense.
‘Mobile command and control centres are expensive and as such careful consideration should be given as to their need and deployment,’ says Luff.
‘Used in the correct circumstances they are invaluable to commanders and senior investigating officers, allowing instant access