Emergency Response Management
Architectural design and information technology control the speed and effectiveness of an emergency operations center (EOC), according to Major Joseph T. Booth of the Louisiana State Police (LSP). “We designed our facility to grab data, work it on the floor, turn the data into information and information into knowledge that we can push out into the field,” he says.
The number and scope of crises with which the LSP must contend dictated the layout and the technology design of its 18-month-old EOC in Baton Rouge.
Considered a high-response police force, LSP deals with emergencies that affect a massive transportation infrastructure with heavily traveled interstate highways and railways, as well as ports on the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. LSP responsibilities also extend to emergencies that affect the state’s large network of oil and gas facilities and a major hazardous chemical processing industry. Then there are the destructive hurricanes and floods that regularly strike the state and its critical infrastructure.
The sophisticated design of the EOC has taken all of this into account. The heart of the $4 million facility is a 1,200-sq.-ft. communications center. The front wall of the center displays three 10-ft. diagonal screens with Sharp rear-mounted projectors. A matrix switcher and an RGB Spectrum QuadView Plus multiple window display processor route images to the projectors. News feeds come from digital satellite connections to cable television providers. Additional video inputs come from DVD players and VCRs. The communications center also connects to more than 20 CCTV cameras monitoring Baton Rouge and local highways. “The cameras help us manage evacuations during hurricanes as well as traffic events like football games,” says Booth, a command inspector with the Transportation and Environmental Safety Section of the Louisiana State Police.
The CCTV system has begun to grow to include access to Internet-enabled cameras around the state. “Right now we have access to 50 or so cameras in networks built by other state and local government agencies,” Booth says. “I expect that number to grow by about 200 in the near future.”
On the EOC communications floor, State Police use the touch screen of a master computer to select video and data inputs for the large screen displays. People stationed at any of the EOC’s 18 computer stations can send data to the large screens through the master computer.
Fifteen of the 18 workstations are generally used by State Police commanders and command center officers. The EOC reserves the other three stations for the Department of Homeland Security, the governor of Louisiana and the State Superintendent of Police.
“We put work teams together and assign workstations as the emergency we’re managing requires,” Booth says. “During a hurricane, we’re likely to have transportation and Coast Guard people as well as wildlife and fisheries people. For a SWAT incident, there will be state police personnel and perhaps people from another law enforcement agency working with us.”
Each workstation has a desktop computer with a 17-inch screen and a telephone. Each operates at T-1 speed across a fiber-optic network owned by the State Police. A redundant fiber loop backs up the main system to ensure continued communications should the main system go down. Further backup comes from a bank of telephone lines, radio and satellite systems.
Situation rooms positioned around the main floor provide additional workstations and communications connections. These rooms enable the EOC to manage multiple incidents. “If we were managing a hurricane on the main operations floor and a hostage situation developed in the northern part of the state — unaffected by the hurricane — we might not want the press covering the hurricane to broadcast details related to the hostage problem,” Booth says. “So we might manage that problem from a situation room.”
Each of the workstations controls access with a biometric fingerprint scanner. More than an access control system, the scanners authenticate the person logging in at a desktop and tell the network to retrieve and load data from that individual’s office computer.
When an emergency arises, the EOC functions as a coordinator. During a hurricane, for example, troops across the state tend to request similar resources from limited inventories. EOC officers anticipate needs in the field and send questions to the floor of the communications center related to situations at field command posts. Eventually, PowerPoint presentations displaying recommendations appear on the large screens and flow to executives in the situation rooms for discussion and final resolution.
The recommendations sort out strategies, distribute scarce resources, organize shift changes, dispatch fuel deliveries, send out additional communications gear, make lodging arrangements, and get food to troopers at various scenes. The goal of the EOC is to have a decision ready the moment a commander in the field asks for it.
Emergency response priorities require unique technologies. The LSP, for example, wrote its own emergency management software, and during an event, two State Police programmers occupy two of the 18 workstations on the EOC’s main floor. Their job is to supply data and technical support services throughout the emergency.
To ensure the availability of resources during emergencies, the LSP has developed relationships with a host of federal government departments and agencies. These relationships have, in turn, expanded the EOC’s technological capabilities.
After Sept. 11, for example, the Department of Defense (DoD) set out to develop more reliable communications with state and local first responders. Given Louisiana’s emergency response profile, the DoD selected the state to help with the effort. “On Sept. 11, communications went down,” Booth says. “Our role in the DoD initiative was to help develop protocols to deal with such a communications problem. What do you do to restore communications? Who do you call? Who needs to authorize changes in a communication network to restore the connections? What are the technical steps — where do you plug it in?”
To answer these questions, the LSP EOC, working with the Defense Department, has installed a software application called Area Security Operations Command and Control (ASOCC). A combination of commercial applications, ASOCC enables military bases and local and state governments to share data and voice communications on a common, yet secure, operating platform.
In the event of an attack, the DoD must determine whether it is a domestic or foreign terrorist incident or an attack by a foreign state. The ASOCC communications platform enables the DoD to communicate with first responders, make a determination, and develop an appropriate national security response.