Standard Operating Procedures by Paul Parrie

Designing and building the Solomon Victory Theater (SVT) at the National WWII Museum, in New Orleans, LA, was an effort that required the hard work, expertise, experience and patience of hundreds of professionals. Once the theater space was completed and the 4D experience, Beyond All Boundaries, was installed, the fun really started – operating the theater seven days a week.

What are the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for a custom-made facility that houses a custom-made experience? Obviously, there was nothing already in print for us to use for this particular setup, so we had to start from scratch and draft one of our own. To begin, we drew from our collective experience with the military, broadcasting, theme parks, movie theaters, concert staging and live theater. We also drew from our experience, along the way, as we worked with and became used to the custom-made systems we’d built.

Our resulting SOP is broken down into three main sections: Normal Operations, Discrepancies, Maintenance.

Normal Operations covers everything from powering the systems up first thing in the morning to powering them down again after the last experience of the evening – with hundreds of tasks in between. Similar to many military operations, there are printed check lists for each step in every procedure. (This IS the National WWII Museum, after all.) Technicians also document the success or failure of each step. Every show is numbered according to the date of the show, the time of day, and the specific time code of the step (or discrepancy if one occurs during the show). This numbering system aids in tracking and troubleshooting errors.

Discrepancies are recorded by show number and time code, but they are also categorized. This aids in “trending” issues in order to identify patterns. In systems as complex as those in the SVT, seemingly unrelated issues can sometimes be the result of a larger, more systemic issue. In other words, if a pattern develops, it can clue us in to the real problem which might not be readily apparent since there are several systems working together. The Discrepancy Reports are reviewed on a daily basis in order to accommodate maintenance scheduling but they’re also reviewed on a weekly basis in order to identify patterns as they develop.

Maintenance is broken into two main categories – Scheduled and Repairs. Projector lamps, smoke/hazer fluid, snow fluid, theatrical lighting, lubrication, etc., are all scheduled according to manufacturer specifications. Repairs, on the other hand, have resulted in an SOP of its own. This document covers everything from Personal Safety to notification procedures regarding alerting Security or Visitor Services when repairs may have an impact on the visitor experience or safety.

All repairs follow the same basic SOP for completion: Identification, Verification, Notification, Initiation, Verification, and Notification.

· All issues are fully identified and verified (has the problem area been properly diagnosed? Have the proper repair procedures been planned?).

· Notification of the repairs to the proper entities must be completed prior to the start of any repair work – for example, restricted access to the lower theater space is critical when overhead work is being performed.

· Initiation of the repairs is where the identified problem is remedied (i.e. fixed).

· Once the Repair Plan has been completed, the repair work is then verified in order to ensure that the system is now operating properly and to specification.

· The final step of the process is to notify the appropriate entities that the work has been completed and the theater is now ready for visitors.

Experience has shown that the Standard Operating Procedures are as complex as the systems that operate the Solomon Victory Theater. Lest you think it’s completely cut and dry, though, let me assure you that experience has also shown that the SOPs are living documents – changes are made to them according to what we learn as we use them.

But wait! There are also SOPs for making changes to the SOPs! (Did I mention that this is a museum about the military?)

Paul Parrie is the Associate Vice President of Technology at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, LA. Paul has over 25 years experience in Broadcast Media, Information Technology, and Media Creation.