The Facility Technologist: Command Centers In Facilities
By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the September 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Facility managers (fms) seem to be daunted by one particular technological aspect of facility design—command centers for security or building operations. This is an area where there is much confusion, and, unfortunately, many antiquated ideas still circulate (causing even more confusion).
Command centers are becoming more common in facilities. Whether they are security command centers or building operations centers (BOC), they offer an environment where managers can gather to handle day to day operations or emergencies. One factor that is driving the implementation of command centers is that today’s digital video and other IP-based systems can be accessed through the Internet, suddenly making regional command centers very practical.
Fms at many organizations may be able to reduce costs by combining systems and staff into regional facilities (rather than keeping them at multiple sites). And some regional fms are consolidating security camera monitoring into single facilities where staff is better able to observe from larger displays with better clarity.
The first key to success with regard to command centers is realizing they are not like any other space. When designing a command center, fms should immediately engage a technology designer with relevant experience. These specialists will have perspectives and insight that architects and engineers will not have, which may save tremendous amounts of time and money.
Having been that designer, I have saved clients from making huge mistakes. For example, in one project, a client wanted to position a video wall in a certain location which looked good on paper. But I created a 3D model and found the video wall was too high, making it difficult to see. By catching this mistake early, I was able to save the client money.
The next key aspect to examine is the data center. It must be large enough to accommodate technologies needed today and tomorrow. The pace of innovation moves very fast in this realm.
Cloud computing may migrate many enterprise applications away from data centers and into the cloud, but security technologies will likely remain local; fms don’t want to bet their security systems on whether or not an Internet connection is working. Also, digital storage of data (such as digital video surveillance on SAN and NAS) is also putting demands on data centers. When the data center is designed, fms should be certain they have the cooling and power (including uninterruptible power supply backup) to meet future capacity; adding that capacity later is one of the costliest mistakes to make.
The equipment inside the data center has also changed a great deal. Today’s data centers are housing equipment that uses much higher computing density than in the past.
Computers continue to get smaller, even while they become more powerful. New technologies (like blade servers and machine virtualization) are packing tremendous amounts of computing power into very small packages. Smaller, hotter servers mean more heat and power in the same space.
It is not uncommon for today’s data centers to use twice as many watts per square foot as older data centers. These power densities are pushing conventional electrical and HVAC engineering to their limits and usually require approaches like aisle tenting or even completely enclosed, self cooled cabinets to deal with extreme heat load.
The ways staff members interact with systems has driven some big changes in command center design. In the past, consoles were a necessity to house equipment that was accessed directly by the operator via switches, dials, and meters. This equipment had to be close by to support a direct human-machine interface. This is no longer the case, since modern systems are based on computer platforms accessed via computer screens and keyboard/mouse.
Consoles are no longer an absolute; many command centers instead use modular furniture that is easily reconfigurable. In a 21st century command center, the only essential elements are the computer and the network connection. Everything, including the phone and radio, can be routed through a CAT or fiber cable.
Even PC workstations are disappearing into the data center, connected to users via keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) extenders which transmit monitor imagery and keyboard/mouse actions via CAT cable. This allows PCs to be housed in the data center where they are more secure and easier to service.
Another key interaction staff will have with systems is in large format video displays. No longer hugely expensive, large LCDs and plasma screens are popping up all over. But fms should be careful in how they are deployed. These screens can’t just be mounted all over like big televisions. One challenge is determining sightlines that provide the right kind of visibility.
Another big mistake people make with large format displays is forgetting that input must be provided. For a system to be really useful, fms will need to set up the technology so it can switch multiple sources to each of the displays. Video from surveillance cameras or television feeds, documents, and “screen scrapes” from computers and software applications may all be required. And the system to control all of these sources will require planning and a budget line.
The usage profile of this space will dictate the design elements and is the best guide to the layout and systems. Fms need to determine who will be in the space and where they will be located. This can be extremely important, since the success of the project may hinge on making sure staff can communicate easily with each other and are close to printers, break rooms, restrooms, and other important shared resources.
Facilities are becoming more complex; so too is the nerve center that is used to manage them. Whether it is a security command center, a building operations center, or a regional command center, a careful design approach will pay great dividends.
Condon, a Facility Technologist and former facility manager, is a contributing author for BOMI Institute’s revised Technologies in Facility Management textbook. He works for System Development Integration, a Chicago, IL-based firm committed to improving the performance, quality, and reliability of client business through technology.