CCEurope 2019: Spotlight on Control Room Transformation

Part 3 in a series of reflections in the lead-up to
Critical Communications Europe and BAPCO Annual Conference & Exhibition 2019

In times of crisis, the front line emergency responders stand out. It is not surprising that the public notices when, with blue lights flashing and sirens wailing, these helping hands arrive to take control of a terrible situation. However, out of sight — and too frequently out of mind — is the large team of telecommunicators and incident managers working in the control room. These hard-working experts take the initial calls for help, dispatch the needed resources and work with the incident commander on the scene to smoothly manage the response. In these busy control rooms, the teams rely on increasingly sophisticated mission-critical technology that couples data with the task of saving lives and protecting property. With two prominent events combined, TCCA's Critical Communications Europe (CC Europe) and The BAPCO Annual Conference and Exhibition, attendees in Coventry gain access to an expanded range of conference sessions and exhibitor displays that shine a light on the future of control room technology.

For good reasons, control room technology advances must be carefully vetted before deployment. Faults can result in high-profile political disasters with the potential to harm citizens and emergency responders alike. Even with these high stakes, however, agencies are faced with tremendous pressure to embrace new control room technology. This pressure comes from forces beyond the control of agency leadership, including governmental austerity initiatives as well as a steady pace of high-profile, large-scale terror and disaster incidents that test a center's capacity and its staff's operational skill. Furthermore, the push to increase efficiencies while boosting operational effectiveness to serve society better has driven several significant trends across the control room sector. These trends include:

  • An embrace of the cloud. Government agencies and large business-critical enterprises increasingly trust cloud technology. Highly reliable redundant communications links to flexible cloud resources are demonstrating reliability that meets or exceeds on-premises solutions. Add in potent advantages offered by the cloud — scale, minimal human touch, massive compute resources and expansive data store — and the cloud becomes the natural next step for control room advances.

  • A looming multi-media challenge. For decades, voice calls have served as the control room interface to the general public. As Next Generation 1-1-2/9-1-1 systems expand around the globe, multimedia information flows will supplement the foundational voice communication. Likewise, voice interfaces have dominated interaction with field personnel. As new mobile broadband networks for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) come online -- as is the case with the UK's new Emergency Services Network, Finland's Virve 2 and other fast-developing initiatives across Europe -- new challenges emerge as multimedia begins to flow to operational field units. Coping with these multimedia flows, unfortunately, is a daunting challenge that calls for control room transformation enabled by new technology.

  • The promise of analytics. Control room technology is the natural nexus for information flow in public safety organizations. After all, this is where the incidents "start" and "end" in an official sense. Voice and data communications flow through the control room apparatus, creating a vast store of information available for analysis. By cultivating insight from these and other sources of data, agencies can begin to predict where to deploy resources while also gaining insight into the effectiveness of control room and field operations.

  • Artificial intelligence taking analytics to the next level. Machine learning is not a new concept, but the boost in processor power and access to large data sets has enabled the technology to come out of the laboratory and become an operational asset. Moreover, as Motorola Solutions showed with its acquisition of Avigilon Corporation, AI capabilities are now integrated into connected surveillance cameras. Examples of how AI can be a useful tool include video analytics, augmenting call processing flows and predictive policing.

The conservative world of the control room is changing quickly. As this world adapts, events such as Critical Communications Europe serve an essential role by giving government officials the opportunity to engage with peers and potential suppliers. At Critical Communications Europe and BAPCO, officials across Europe can efficiently explore the pressing issues and promising solutions that can help smooth control room transformation efforts. On the supplier front, Critical Communications Europe brings in prominent leaders from across the control room ecosystem, including APD Communications, Frequentis, Leonardo, Mentura Group, Motorola Solutions and NICE. Representatives from Finland's innovative critical communications ecosystem will also be on-hand to talk about an innovative approach towards virtualizing control room resources across geographic regions. With the second of six control rooms coming on-line this month, the experience and learnings from Finland should be top-of-mind for any strategic planner thinking about the future of control rooms.

Beyond engagements with commercial suppliers, the conference agenda for Critical Communications Europe features several topical sessions focused on control room transformation. In the BAPCO track, Michael Hallowes of Zefonar Advisory will look at Reverse 999, to examine UK requirements for alerting citizens and its impact on both the control room and incident management. Motorola Solutions will provide a case study of cloud control room solutions. Mentura Group will deliver a session that takes a look at how data can transform mission-critical operations as agencies boost predictive activities and drive automation. Finally, a panel of experts from APCO Canada, Kent Police, APD Communications and RapidDeploy will dive into the pressing issues around control room staff impact. How does the control room cope with the growing demands on staff as incident volume grows and technology changes?

These are crucial times for government officials responsible for control room evolution. With the UK's ESN poised to become a reality, TCCA's Critical Communications Europe and the BAPCO Annual Conference and Exhibition provide a tremendously valuable blend of experts across industry and government that can serve as guides for the journey forward.