How smart is your control room?

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Running an Incident Control Room is never easy, it requires decisions, sometimes life and death choices. These, in the first instance, made by people thrown in at the deep end or made to follow standard operating procedures because that is all they have.


All too often control rooms are still constructed with the expectation that operators can reliably monitor hundreds of CCTV cameras without any other systems in place. But for argument's sake let's assume that your control room is modern, a proper EOC (Event Operations Centre) with sensors, a way that the public can report an incident and with some level of situation awareness.


The reported incident. People may declare it; it may arrive electronically, and it may even be amongst hundreds of false positives. 


Take, for example, an incident in the street. Your control room may be monitoring social media feeds, for instance, the Twitter Fire Hose, and you may receive reports from members of the public. None of these can be quickly and more importantly geo-positioned reliably. Is this one incident or two? What do I despatch? CCTV invariably will confuse the matter further as cameras are hardly ever exactly in the right place and often are damaged or badly operated at the moment of crisis.


In the case of recent events, the decision has been to flood the incident with responders, just in case. But what happens if another occurs at a different place? Do I release those I have despatched to the first incident? Recent history has shown that following events, sometimes worse than the first or second, very often get inadequate attention. Sometimes costing lives because responders are tied up waiting for instructions.


Here is where artificial intelligence can help. Software with the ability to learn and detect patterns and assist commanders in making the right decisions. Identifying the severity of an incident, locating it by referencing landmarks and knowing the likely numbers of people involved. 


This information assists in despatch, positioning and directing second and third waves of responders, so they are ready but not so close that they clog access. And can be redirected if other events occur.



A cognitive software has great potential if you define what it is you wish to discover. 


Recent Fire events Worldwide could have been controlled better using artificial intelligence by receiving all the information from detection systems and responders in real time. Residents could be warned in phases, electronically with automatic and mass notification and fire services alerted more quickly to a rapidly maturing event. Directions could have been given by the software automatically by it knowing the location of the fire relative to the structure and second and third alarms called knowing the spread of fire. Connection to cognitive structural software would be useful to warn of the chance of collapse.


All too often an alarm receiving centre bases its response time only on the acknowledgement of the alert. The first signal in is held pending another for verification without any thought to where in the building the triggers are happening. It is proven that Ai can detect and increase the priority of an event based on historical data. It can learn event times, where they are and what they have been marked as in the past and apply that information to a queue. Service level agreements then based on time to action pre-filtered events rather than just being based on when they arrive in the control room. The smarter software can also analyse CCTV images and show operators where there is motion or indeed if, even before the operator has processed the alarm data; again increasing the priority based on the location of the sensor, motion and threat to the business.


Data is the key, whether that is from an external source, for example, a human, by monitoring social media, by utilising historical public information and your records. Many countries have free access to news, weather and risk and you can easily add sensors virtually anywhere. 


There is no excuse for the poorly designed control room any longer. Where the expectation is on an overworked operator to look at banks of CCTV, receive calls and process that information manually or from a paper operating procedure. No excuse at all.