Command & Control: Looking to Other Markets for Insight

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What do the world’s airports, police departments, oil and gas companies, banks, college campuses, and large retail locations have in common? They all have command-and-control (C&C) centers to monitor and assist their operations, and to provide security for their users.

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Granted, there are major differences between an airport control room and a college campus C&C. But there are also commonalities, so many that C&C room managers in one sector can learn from C&C managers in another. The trick to doing so is understanding what C&Cs as a whole have in common, and using this knowledge to analyze and adopt the best practices of cutting-edge C&Cs, no matter what sector they happen to be serving.

C&C Common Ground

On a strategic level, the very words "command” and “control” underline what C&Cs have in common. They are convergence points for monitoring, controlling, and securing the operations of a given sector; be it police/fire/EMS deployment in a specific jurisdiction, operating an oil and gas facility, or ensuring that all sections of a shopping mall are safe for people to walk through.

“Providing their operators with situational awareness is a core strategic mission for C&Cs,” said Paul Schuster, Special Projects/Officer with the Dallas Police Department, and the design liaison for their C&C, “this is common to all of them, no matter what sector these C&Cs operate in.”

On a tactical level, C&Cs generally share elements such as camera surveillance and monitoring systems, centralized communications, GIS (geographic information system) and other dynamic real-time electronic mapping tools, plus facility management systems (including intrusion detection). “It is common for C&Cs to automatically detect, report, and highlight abnormal activities within their area of responsibility,” said Bob Ehlers, RGB Spectrum’s VP of Products and Partnerships. “This can be detecting and tracking an intruder from camera to camera at a secure location using facial recognition software, or an escaping gas vapor cloud in an oil refinery as it moves with the wind.”

Three Tips

For a C&C room manager trying to solve operational issues, looking at how other C&Cs "do it" can provide inspiration. 

In some instances, finding solutions is simply a matter of looking at what the more notable organizations are up to, and following their lead. “When it comes to the cutting edge of command-and-control, the places to look for ideas are Network Operations Centers (NOCs),” said Ehlers. Be they used by first responders, communications companies, or other operators needing real-time monitoring and fast response to issues over many locations, “NOCs are often the ones trying out new ideas, and making things work that haven’t been adopted by most other C&Cs,” he said. “The key to success is to study an advanced process being used by a NOC, and see how that process can be adapted to your specific C&C needs.”

A second option is to talk to C&C room operators on your own area of responsibility, such as the Dallas Police Department’s Fusion Center (one of many multi-agency terrorism prevention/intelligence centers funded and established nationwide by the Department of Homeland Security) does with fusion centers in various locations. “The DPD is always talking to other fusion centers, sharing ideas, processes, and best practices,” said Schuster. “We discuss the best ways to operate on a 24/7 basis, and how to get terror-related information and alerts out to their client agencies as fast as possible.”

Whatever approach you take, it's useful to build personal relationships with other C&C operators on a one-to-one basis. “Nothing beats picking up the phone and talking to other people doing the same job that you’re doing,” said Schuster. “It’s a great way to discover ideas to improve your own operation, and do the same for other C&C room managers.”

James Careless is a regular contributor to AV Technology.

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