CCW2018: Control Rooms in an IP Data Network Era

Part 9 in a series of reflections in the lead-up to Critical Communications World 2018

Control rooms serve a vital role in the central nervous system behind every public safety agency's operation. In this role, control room telecommunicators provide the human link between the public and the emergency services workers upon which they depend. While today's control room technology mainly revolves around voice communications, the impact of rich data communications in the hands of calling parties and responding authorities continues to grow. Given the increasing importance of IP-based data traffic, the very architecture of control room communications is undergoing transformation thanks to efforts by the European Emergency Number Association (EENA), the US National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and other stakeholders around the globe. Critical Communications World 2018 connects conference and exhibition visitors with the thought-leaders shaping the future of control room technology.

The shift to a control room future undergirded by IP data networking brings tantalizing benefits and sobering risks. Fiber-based transport networks enable cloud-based control room software deployments that boost operational agility and enhance resilience. At its extreme, virtualized control room deployments can take resilience to a national level. In the Critical Communications World Finnish Pavilion, exhibiter Insta DefSec Oy will highlight the recent launch of just such a project across Finland. This new approach blends technology advances driven by IP-data networking with innovative operational policies that permit telecommunicators in one city to process incoming calls from citizens in another. As load shifts, telecommunicators located in multiple cities are prepared to absorb incoming call volume that rises during a time of catastrophe. 

Of course, the shift to data-centric control room operations means access to rich media -- images and video -- from citizens, closed-circuit television (CCTV) or emergency services teams. By integrating access to multimedia streams, incident command situational awareness is dramatically enhanced.  Mission-critical LTE capabilities, such as those shown across the exhibition floor at Critical Communications World, deliver this vital incident perspective over LTE networks to the emergency services teams tackling an unfolding crisis.

Powerful IP data networking technologies drive flexible architectures that unlock new capabilities, but with the power comes risk. As with any mission-critical technology deployment, agencies must have in place backup systems -- even manual systems -- that control room staff can activate following a systemic failure. Security bulwarks can fail as well, either by error or criminal activity. Safeguards must be in place to identify and isolate security threats. A different -- and daunting -- challenge is the impact rich communications has on control staff and efficient control room operation. What, for instance, is the impact on telecommunicators when they are subjected to horrific real-time visions of violence to people? How much time should be allocated to evaluate and manage real-time video images? In some respects, technology is the easy part. Factoring in human costs and operational value is much more difficult.

Putting aside the steep operational challenges facing agencies, at Critical Communications World attendees gain a valuable viewport into control room technology advances and what this changing mobile communications environment means for the future. Diverse members of the global critical communications ecosystem -- drawn from Europe, Asia, Americas, Middle East, and Africa -- will be present to talk about longterm trends and evolving portfolio capabilities. A central feature of Critical Communications World is the Control Room Arena. Sponsored by Frequentis AG, the Arena plays host to a wide variety of presentations from thought leaders across the ecosystem addressing cloud services, security, drones, multimedia emergency communication. 

Across the Critical Communications World exhibition hall, control room technology is highlighted by a number of the top players offering solutions in this important sector. Frequentis AG will be highlighting its efforts to break down organizational silos to enable more effective multi-tenant system operations that blend information flows from law enforcement, fire service and emergency medical services. APD Communications will spotlight its hosted Cloud Control Room approach being deployed in Europe and the UAE. As APD works to prepare for the coming UK Emergency Services Network, the company is positioning its Cloud Control Room as a hosted alternative that opens up new communications options. Nokia, a longtime leader in the telecom sector, has evolved its ViTrust portfolio addressing public safety communications requirements. As part of its Critical Communications World 2017 launch, the Integrated Operations Center provides pre-integrated modules for the control room that help speed emergency response, improved decision making and delivery increased efficiency. Critical Communications World 2018 should reveal the next step in Nokia's journey as a control room technology partner. Other significant control room exhibitors at Critical Communications World include Capita, Eurofunk, InterTalk (formerly Pantel International), Mentura Group, Motorola Solutions, Prescom, TIPRO and Zetron.

As national and regional agencies contemplate the future direction of control room technology, Critical Communications World offers agency decision makers with a valuable opportunity to learn and network. While the move to next-generation 112/9-1-1 system architectures and control room technologies remain in early days, the chance to mix and mingle with system suppliers and early adopters is a valuable element of the Critical Communications World experience.