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Five concepts of control room design

Behind every successful event, there needs to be a well-run control room. While each type of event may pose its own special challenges, there are some core concepts to consider.

With over two decades of combined experience working within major events and control rooms, Edward Swete Kelly from Chronosoft has revealed his five concepts to consider for designing, enhancing and ensuring that your control room can improve the overall performance of a crowded space.

Establishing a formal control room within any crowded space, be it a Stadium, Festival or Major Event, allows the flow of information, to be efficient, measured, and consistent. This centralises your decision-making capabilities, ensuring that a measured response to incident management is upheld. As well as limits the ability for responding teams to be given incorrect information and ensures that there is an appropriate response to any situation that occurs by the correct agencies.

Furthermore, this ensures that all information pertinent to the event can be centrally recorded and logged so that points for debrief can be collated, data can be accessed and in the event of a critical incident accurate records are available.

Command

A clearly defined Command & Control structure within your control room is imperative to ensure effective and efficient responses to incident management and event BAU issues. Defining who your room manager is enhances your decision-making matrix and ensures there is consistency in incident response and management.

  • Ensuring that your control room has the ability to scale up at a moments notice is important, in the event of a critical incident it is important for all key stakeholders to be central to ensure that every element of the active and post incident response can be centralised. Having the right people, in the right place, at the right time, ensures efficient action can be taken.

  • Centralising your control room where possible allows better decision making. Many venues and events will run two or three control rooms across their sites, splitting key decision makers, this can slow the flow of information and can make it difficult to ensure efficient responses to incidents and any issues arising. Alternatively, you will see sites where they may have an Event Control Manager, however they will radio to Medical or Security to provide information for them to respond. By having representatives of these agencies in the one space, it enhances closed loop communication to ensure that incidents and issues have an appropriate response and are finalised.

  • A challenge that occurs for a lot of events is operating in a space with entrenched teams. For example, an incumbent security provider may resent being told what to do by a command team brought in for a special event. That’s why it’s so vital to physically set up your control room with a clearly defined group of command personnel sitting together. It is important that senior management from the event or venue makes it clear to all agencies and stakeholders who is in command.

  • It is important to recognise those who may have a home field advantage, a stakeholder who is located within the control room week in week out may be able to provide significant intelligence regarding the space. This could overall enhance the room and provide vital information regarding infrastructure or layout. Ask your team, if they have any unique knowledge regarding the space or surrounds, a strong team is a transparent team.

  • Take the time to run a control room briefing before the event begins. Clearly outlining to all providers the command structure, flow and atmosphere for the room can set very clear standards for the rest of the day. This can also help avoid ego clashes and competitions for who’s boss. A briefing for a shift doesn’t need to be any longer than ten minutes. You can also place briefing notes on the walls or send emails, but face to face is usually most effective. Encourage all staff to speak up when they have issues and remind them you’re all on the same team, working toward one goal – a safe and successful event.

Technology

Old hardware, unreliable power supplies, intermittent internet connection and outdated reporting solutions. Consider these four important things:

  • Keeping a log using pen and paper or on a digital spreadsheet is not a standard that enhances your operations. It is difficult to pull statistics and information from and it limits your room interoperability. If your actions may be scrutinised, having the ability to show a clearly defined series of events will protect you and your event.

  • You need software that enhances your operation and improves communication and information sharing between agencies. You need a product that provides you with a locked down document that can’t be edited after the fact. All actions for each issue are logged and timestamped so you mitigate your liability should litigation occur; you then have a reliable legal record of every incident and every action taken to meet your obligations and your duty of care.

  • Make sure that the hardware you’re using can handle the task, replace old computers, smartphones and other technology that’s event critical. If you’re thinking of saving money by keeping that old computer, ask yourself, ‘If it’s going to break down or work so slowly it holds you up, what’s the point of it?’

  • Contact your internet service provider and find out how much bandwidth you’ll be able to realistically rely on and see if you can organise a secondary connection. If one is overloaded or unresponsive, you’ve got a redundancy. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your site will be fine because everything works well when nobody is there. Once the network is crowded with patrons, your connection will be affected.

  • Consider a local network alternative as well. Being able to run your CCTV and control room programs through a local network can alleviate the dependency on a third party and ensures you remain operational.

  • A reliable power source for the control room is the highest priority and the only way to ensure you stay up and working, ensure that your electrical contractor is aware of where your control room will be if the room will be on a green field site. Consider utilising UPS (uninterrupted Power Supply) devices to keep your Wi-Fi and any core infrastructure operational in the event there is a power failure.

  • Encourage your agencies to utilise a laptop with a second monitor. IF power is lost they can always continue to operate with the single laptop screen until power is restored.

  • Remember if you’re using base stations within the control room, that these rely on 240v power. Consider having backup handheld radios with spare batteries.

Collaboration

Control rooms can be busy, noisy and distracting places at times. So how do you ensure everyone stays task-focused, while collaborating with the appropriate crews?

  • Keep your team tasked focused, ensure that information is channeled to the right agency early on and they prioritise these jobs. Don’t let agency’s get distracted by other agency incidents unless it is pertinent.

  • During your command briefing, make sure all team members are aware of patron privacy rules and how they should treat sensitive information. Discourage unnecessary chat in the control room space but don’t stop people from feeling they can speak up should they see an issue arising. You need to strike a nice balance between encouraging collaborative conversation but eliminating unnecessary intrusions.

  • Different agencies may have different ebbs and flows, so make sure everyone is aware that, just because their crew might be having a quiet time, others could be very busy.

  • Consider two strategies to enhance the communication flow within your event, crew resource management, and looped communication. There are multiple resources available freely online which provide information about these strategies.

Layout

How many times have you seen a control room where everyone is facing the wall? It’s quite common to see layouts like this, that don’t enhance command structure, workflow or collaboration. Even if you’re limited by a three by six metre demountable space, you can still position your people to best optimise the space and workflow.

  • One of the most efficient layouts is the horseshoe design, with people facing toward each other, their backs to the walls.

    • There should be enough room behind people when they are seated so anyone can freely pass by without disruption. When your agencies are facing each other, it allows for improved human interaction and collaboration.

    • Place screens that all teams need to view – CCTV, GPS tracking, statistics, news, social media, weather etc. – in the space at the top of the ‘U’ of the horseshoe, this allows everyone to be able to clearly see all available information

    • The horseshoe design can also be achieved by facing tables towards each other in a dining room layout.


  • An alternative to this is the schoolroom set up. Place your command team at the front facing the rest of the room as a teacher would, with the agencies set up in rows like a classroom. Consider which agencies need to communicate most and align them behind and in front of each other to promote interpersonal communication. Again, it’s vital there’s enough room behind seated individuals that people can travel freely.

  • When space and size does not permit either of these set ups its okay for agencies to face the wall of a room, be conscious in your layout of who need to communicate most and facilitate this in your layout.

Personnel Positioning

The best layouts enhance the flow of information and situate key collaborators near each other. Consider your providers: Who are the key agencies? Which agencies will need to communicate with each other most? Who needs to be seated next to whom? Who needs more support? And whose roles are most independent?

Some people may be better off sitting further away from command, while others would benefit from sitting nearby. In our experience, the medical team needs to be positioned so that multiple agencies can easily communicate with them. They’re also likely to need a lot of support from command. Medical gets asked a lot of questions, so positioning those staff where they can be quickly and easily found and accessed is key.

Which teams need to be able to get in and out of the control room fast, or who may have the most visits from supervisors debriefing post incidents or issues. Consider placing them nearer to doors.

When agencies need to put more than one individual into a control room, consider the verbal communication that can increase between these staff and the increase in noise within the room, adjusting their position to facilitate this can allow others to remain task focused with less distraction.

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