When a natural disaster strikes, those in charge need to act quickly, which makes it vital to have the right AV systems in place. Until recently, the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency, located in Decatur, AL, was operating in an outdated command center. However, with the affordability and scalability of Kramer AV-over-IP solutions, it was able to get the technological and aesthetic upgrades it required.
Morgan County EOC is responsible the safety of more than 100,000 residents in an area that has been a hotspot for tornadoes in recent years. Plus, it monitors the TVA Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant, which lies on the nearby Tennessee River. Like many EOCs, it operates from a basement— in this case, the lower level of the county courthouse built in the 1970s.
As Brandy Davis, advanced level emergency manager and director of the Morgan County EMA, noted, although there was a renovation within the previous 12 years, they were still technologically lagging. “We didn’t have screens,” she explained. “We had sections of [white] walls. We had four projectors in the ceiling and four televisions. The system that we had—you had those channels in and out of the old non-digital system for managing those displays—was controlled by one controller system.”
There were some situations, for example, when there simply wasn’t enough space on the walls for the information at hand. Without a digital system, updating and changing that pertinent data became a cumbersome task. Plus, there were maintenance concerns. Davis and her team were looking at the end of life of much of the equipment, and some projector bulbs needed to be replaced.
An Affordable Solution
The outdated technology presented many challenges, so the EOC team spent quite some time researching the right tools that also fit into their budget constraints. Trent Simon, now with the Limestone Country EMA in Alabama, was with Morgan County during the decision process. When he came across Kramer’s products and solutions, the choice was made easier.
“[Trent] ran across the Kramer system, and its ability to be expandable with very little financial input in the future made it the right choice,” said Davis. “You can add onto it for under $1,000 and expand it one encoder and decoder at a time if you choose, instead of trying to purchase another $20,000, 16-channel component.”
The installation raised the floor, running the power and cable management below and out of the way. After tearing down some walls, they began the technology portion of the upgrade. Installed were 15 KDS-EN6 encoders and 37 decoders to help the streaming of high-quality video and audio. There were also eight 4K HDMI distribution amps, two 16-port master room controllers, one power amplifier, and two VIA Connect Plus units for wired or wireless presentations.
Outside of Kramer technology, the EOC installed a pair of Netgear AV switches to help display recently acquired Dell Optiplex desktop computers. “We had received a [Homeland Security] grant right before some of the major construction to upgrade all the computers in the EOC,” said Davis. “Once the computers were purchased, we had to store them because of the [renovations]. They sat for several months before they were ever put into use.”
Due to the affordability of the Kramer solutions, Morgan County EMA was also able to focus on an aesthetic upgrade for both the command center and its auditorium. Though the EOC had a more recent renovation, the auditorium was donned in its original 1970s paneling and still had the same stage in place.
“What started out as a technology need, turned into an entire facelift,” Davis explained. “It really just started out as ‘this technology is not meeting our needs.’ But once we realized we could do it more modularly and wouldn’t have to spend quite as much money to start, we were able to reevaluate our resources and do an entire facelift on both our EOC and our auditorium.”
The project was in full swing in the summer of 2020 and was completed in late 2021. Thanks to the ease of installation of Kramer products, EOC personnel were able to do much of the work themselves. That not only saved money, but it helped keep the project in motion with the uncertainties of COVID-19 still making it a challenge for outside installers to be present.
“We handled as much of it internally as we could,” Davis said. “Our maintenance team is extremely capable and we all kind of pitched in. Our IT was helpful in getting the initial setup of the Kramer system. Then Kramer threw assistance our way, built on what our IT had started, and refined it. They were able to give us a little bit of training as well.”
“We had a couple issues that popped up, but they [Kramer] answered the phone every time we called and worked with us,” Simon said prior to leaving. “They didn’t just wipe their hands clean of us after we bought the system. They’ve been great to work with.”
Perhaps most importantly, the system is easy to use. It can be operated by anyone with a smartphone or iPad through the Kramer app. Members of the EOC don’t necessarily need to be technologically advanced or in need of high-level training to use the system.
Not only has the upgrade been put to successful use by the EMA, but now other groups can easily use it as well. The new technology is reconfigurable for anyone that needs to use the EOC for computer trainings throughout the county. The EOC now serves a dual purpose, easily accommodating other teams as a training center.
Since the same Kramer technology was applied to the renovated auditorium, it has also received new visitors. Whether it’s Alabama agencies using it for a winter weather exercise or FEMA or the regional healthcare coalition, more groups are finding the space accommodating and functional at the same time.
“The district attorney actually used the auditorium once the renovation was finished, and [grand juries] started meeting again,” Davis said. “They used our auditorium to convene the grand jury because their room is not big enough to socially distance. They have the ability to have those displays in the front of the room and on the sides and in the back. They like it well enough that I don’t think they’ll go back to using the old grand jury room.”
What shouldn’t be overlooked is how versatile the Kramer system has made the once technologically challenged EOC. “Our EOC and offices are configured very oddly,” Davis explained. “We have offices along the front of our EOC and then we have a few offices completely separated. This system allows us to put information from one corner to the other and duplicate that— so everyone can get a picture of what is going on the EOC from anywhere, whether it is a bunker or the kitchen. The ability to keep visibility on the situation is huge, and this Kramer system allows us that.”