Command and Control

July 1, 2007
AV helps operations center field emergencies

By Kristin Dispenza 

When the twin towers fell on 9/11 they took with them a building space vital to protecting the city: the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM).

The organization feels the pulse of the city. Most often, it handles emergencies of a modest nature: a snowstorm, perhaps, or a traffic tie-up.

But when terror strikes, OEM employees need to take action. In order to work for the city, they need their space to work for them.

After the World Trade Center collapsed, operations were moved to interim facilities and city officials began searching for a permanent location. Early in the planning phase they reassembled the team responsible for their World Trade Center location: Swanke Hayden Connell Architects (SHCA) and Shen Milsom & Wilke (SM&W). SPL Integrated Solutions later joined the team to integrate and install audio, video, and communication systems.

Although the budget was limited, the team was committed to creating a state-of-the-art sustainable facility. They chose to renovate an existing facility in Brooklyn, formerly the American Red Cross headquarters. "The site met the OEM's criteria, but the building did not," says Joseph J. Aliotta, principal at SHCA.

Schematic design layouts quickly focused on three critical areas: the Watch Command, Emergency Operations Center, and Situation Room. The rooms needed to be flexible enough to accommodate personnel from more than 115 government agencies during an emergency. Information from thousands of sources would have to be shared, requiring AV and communications systems so sophisticated that they dictated the layout of the rooms. Because the three rooms are functionally interdependent, providing visual connectivity between them was essential, according to Aliotta, and space had to be carved out of the existing building for these three rooms as a single block. Fortunately, the concrete structure lent itself to the required changes.

By positioning the three rooms on the top floor of the building, only the rooftop portion had to be modified, allowing basic structural components to remain unaltered. To free up more space, circulation and service areas were moved to an 8,000-square-foot addition. "By building a new side core of stairs, elevators, toilets, etc., we were able to have large open floor plates," explains Aliotta.

Watch Command: a 24/7 Operation

Watch Command is staffed 24 hours a day with police, fire, and other emergency staff. They constantly monitor activity throughout the city, reviewing data from multiple sources, including airport control towers, state and city transportation departments, off-air television, and various branches of law enforcement. "Watch Command is the eyes and ears of New York City," explains Steven Emspak, partner and director of SM&W's Worldwide Audiovisual Group.

To manage and disseminate data from so many input sources, a central display was installed that consists of five Mitsubishi side-by-side 61-inch DLP rear-projection units that form a unified viewing surface. Two sets of 42-inch NEC plasma flat panels flank the central configuration. An RGB Spectrum Media Wall 2000 processor allows for the display of multiple images; the number of images, their size, and their position on the screen are all easily manipulated by OEM staff via a Crestron control system.

Chicago-based programming firm Elexos was chosen to program the custom-designed control system interface. Easy-to-use touchscreen LCD panels offer a graphic depiction of the entire system, explains Felix Robinson, vice president and general manager for SPL's New York and Philadelphia offices. "Each touchscreen depicts a geographical representation of the display screens within the space. Users simply pick a screen destination and then select an input," making image arrangement quick and intuitive. "This project stretched the limits of user control as applied to the incredible number of potential choices within the matrix," emphasizes Robinson.

Watch Command staff occupy three rows of workstations in the rear portion of the room, and maintaining sightlines between workstations and the central display proved to be a challenge. To achieve better positioning of the large projection screen along the room's front wall, the architects removed the building's raised floor and cable trays from the surrounding area; original floor levels remain in the rest of the room. Workstations are equipped with full computer, audio, and video connectivity.

Emergency Operations Center: Command Central

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) comes alive when a concerted response effort is needed. Government and private-sector personnel work together, relying upon the fluid transmission of information. "As you may imagine," says Emspak, "the requirements of managing a snowstorm differ greatly from those of a presidential visit. As a result, the EOC is a very dynamic environment, designed to accommodate the special needs of a very diverse group."

The EOC architecture supports the cooperative nature of emergency mitigation while allowing for a hierarchal flow of information. At the center of the room is an elevated ring of workstations known as the podium. Here, OEM personnel manage and distribute data. "One of the lessons learned and applied [from the original headquarters] was the location of the podium and large screens. EOC activations vary in size depending on the event. By having the podium central to the room, it allowed good sightlines and proximity of the consoles to the podium. Additionally, it allows only half the space to be activated for smaller events," says Aliotta.

Above the podium is the "scoreboard," a double-sided video enclosure. Each side of the scoreboard consists of two 160-inch-diagonal rear-projection screens, four Christie Digital 8,000 lumen projectors, and RGB Spectrum Media Wall 2000 multi-image processors that allow a variety of images to be arrayed across the screens. There are also four 84-inch plasma panels suspended on a steel support catwalk adjacent to the big screens. In the EOC, as in the Watch Command, accommodating the height of the projection screens within the building's original framework proved to be impossible; raising the third floor roof using steel truss framing eliminated columns and increased the height of the space.

Video data is visible from every vantage point: Eight 61-inch NEC plasma flat panels line perimeter walls, and the room is equipped with 116 workstations that have full network connections. Mounted cameras allow for videoconferencing, as well as routing information to the OEM's pressroom, when necessary.

The Situation Room: Decision Center

The third key area of OEM during emergency response is the Situation Room. It functions as a boardroom for senior officials, including the mayor. This is where top-level decisions are made, but far from being an isolated environment, the room is both electronically connected to the rest of the facility and visually connected (via a strip of windows) to the EOC. A 24-foot conference table offers multiple audio and video connection points to all feeds coming into the building; special briefings also come in from the EOC and Watch Command. Information can be selectively displayed on a 106- by 80-inch video wall, which consists of a 2x2 array of four 67-inch Barco Atlas C-4 video cubes. A Barco video processor manages the display of multiple images.

Behind the scenes is the Audiovisual Data Center, which houses all of the routers, switchers, and control equipment for the building's AV systems. In addition, it supports all of the data requirements for the Watch Command, the EOC, and the Situation Room. "One of the more significant benefits of SM&W providing both AV and Data Design Services on this project was our ability to work with OEM and manage what technology went where in the building, so telecommunications devices that made more sense in the AV Data Center actually got there," says Emspak.

Providing Comfort in a 24/7 Environment

Just as important as technological innovation was the provision for a comfortable work environment. "With security requirements restricting windows in the most sensitive areas of the building, the design team was faced with the challenge of creating a largely insular 24/7 environment that was still hospitable for its users," says Agatha Habjan, director of interior design at SHCA.

This meant that particular attention had to be paid to the rooms' lighting. "We wanted to ease the strain of long hours of operations with custom lighting scenes," says Aliotta. Having a variety of lighting levels helps to soften the environment, as do the warm tones that were chosen for furnishings and surface materials. Says Habjan, "The spaciousness of the double-height Emergency Operations Center, its neutral finish palette, and indirect lighting combine to create a sense of calm among the ‘storms' that set the room into motion." Furthermore, all interior materials are ecologically friendly, contributing to the "green" aspect of the building's design.

OEM turned the necessity of building a new headquarters into an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of current technology. The enormous amounts of data that the facility must handle daily became the major driver of its design, and the finished AV systems provide users with unprecedented flexibility. Aside from its technological achievements, the building offers comfort and efficiency for its workers - whether they are working in groups of 10 or more than 100. And when an emergency strikes, they can be ready and able to do whatever it takes to keep the city safe.

Want to learn more about this project? Watch the webinar on September 26. Go to to register today. This event is free.


Christie Digital DS+8K data video projector
SPL Custom Display Solutions Rear-projection enclosure w/160" diagonal screen
Shure Wireless handheld microphone system
Lectro-Sonics Digital wireless microphone receiver and transmitter
ClearOne XAP-TH2, XAP 800, and XAP 400 audio mixers
QSC CX-602 audio amplifier
EAW JF-590z audio speaker
JVC SR-S365U digital VHS player/recorders
Analog Way SMB-413 multiformat line drivers w/integrated DA, EQ-1300 computer interfaces
NEC PX-61XM3A 61" and PX-42XM3 42" plasma displays, NEC LCD-3210 30" LCD displays
Extron PA-250 RGB line drivers, RGB 168xi w/rack mount computer interfaces, Matrix 6400 w/accessories RGBHV and audio matrix switches - video and audio matrix switches, DDS-402 RGB scalers, Crosspoint 450-Plus 3232-HVA audio matrix switches, MAV Plus 3232-AV and MAV Plus 2424-AV video and audio matrix switches,
CV-EQ1 and PA-250 video line drivers, Crosspoint 450-Plus 2424-HVA RGBHV and audio matrix switch
Chief FPD-110B pole mount
Middle Atlantic WRK-44-SA-32 equipment racks
APC electrical surge and EMI protectors, UPS 1400VA rack mount
RGB Spectrum Media Wall 2000, Dual View, RGB Spectrum Media Wall 2000, UPX2 18" color control panel, TPS-
15G-QM 15" color control panel, QM-TX touch panel video/RGB interface, RACK-2 integrated control system
Marantz PMD570 solid-state digital audio recorder
Tannoy CMS-8TDC ceiling speakers
Barco Atlas C-4 67"-diagonal rear-projection cubes, Argus display wall processor, Apollo display wall software
Custom Display Solutions cube-wall base
Clock Audio microphone
Tandberg 6000 MXP videoconferencing CODEC

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