Apr 14 2021

Charlotte, N.C., Enhanced Its Emergency Operations Center with Video Walls

The municipality upgraded its emergency operations center, resulting in rapid improvements.

For the better part of a year, the city of Charlotte, N.C., had its sights set on Aug. 24 — the kickoff date for the Republican National Convention. The video walls in the police command center and ­­ real-time crime center, which were initially installed before the Democratic National Convention in 2012, were nearing end of life, so upgrading them — and installing a new video wall in the fire headquarters’ emergency operations center — topped the city’s priority list.

“That was our whole goal for the year,” says Crystal Cody, the city’s public safety technology director.

Her team was in the midst of soliciting bids when the coronavirus pandemic hit and the state went into a monthslong lockdown, stalling the project. Amid lockdowns came rumors that the Republican National Committee would move the convention out of Charlotte due to coronavirus restrictions.

“We basically had to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Cody says. Despite the challenges, the video walls were ready in time for a truncated convention. Former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence attended the first day of delegate meetings in Charlotte.

Still, on any given day, the new video wall at the Charlotte Fire Department’s headquarters allows officials to track fires better and to see adjacent areas to ­understand whether nearby buildings are at risk, explains Alison Brooks, research vice president specializing in public safety for IDC’s Smart Cities Strategies program. They can also track traffic and construction issues more accurately, helping them get to ­people in crisis faster and save lives.

“In a nutshell, the point is to provide as much meaningful info as possible, as quickly as possible, and a picture can often accomplish this much faster than either text or audio,” Brooks says.

A Look at Charlotte's Upgraded Video Walls

The video wall at the emergency operations center has been a game changer. Before the project, the EOC, which had been housed at a training academy near the airport, had six projectors on the wall. They were controlled by a workstation in a back room, so to project something, employees would have to email it to a technician.

The city’s command centers all have CineView III LCD video wall displays that can show camera views from throughout the city, an ­application important for operations, ­mapping, dashboards and analytics, social media feeds, traffic control, and more. At the new EOC, each table has two HDMI ports.

“We can access the video wall from any device,” says Katie Yeloushan, an emergency management planner with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management. The video wall wraps around the room, making it easy for everyone to view content, regardless of where they’re sitting. That was valuable during the ­convention, when more people were in the EOC than ever before.

76

The number of screens installed on the city of Charlotte’s three CineMassive video walls

Source: City of Charlotte, N.C.

“They were able to get all the information they needed from the video wall,” Yeloushan says. The same imagery could even be displayed at the EOC and the command center across town.

The city also replaced the processor, network switch and back-end infrastructure to manage the video walls in the real-time crime center and ­command center. It installed a Genetec video management system that connects to networks and displays in both ­locations. It also replaced all of the audiovisual controls in the command center, including lighting, overhead speakers and microphones.

Charlotte's EOC Is Now Better Prepared

The EOC first opened in July, and the video walls were the last components installed. “It was really cool to see how excited they were to have this new equipment,” Cody says.

As with any new technology, there was some initial discomfort among users, but they got used to it quickly, Yeloushan says. The system enables users to build templates for events. For instance, for a flooding event, the video wall would display televised weather reports, video feeds and dashboards showing water levels.

“Anybody who walks into the EOC can go and look for that template and just click on it, and it pulls up everything they need to see,” Yeloushan says.

Cody was amazed that there weren’t any major shipping delays considering the worldwide supply chain issues amid the pandemic. She credits CDW•G and CineMassive for that good fortune. “They knew the purchase orders were coming, they knew the contracts were coming, so they made sure they had the supply chain in the pipeline,” Cody says. 

Equally important to the project’s success was the team’s adaptability, she says. “This year has taught me, if nothing else, that we have to remain patient, that we have to really stretch our flexibility. That’s the word of the year: flexibility.”

Charlotte Stays Flexible Ahead of RNC

Months before the Republican National Convention, Crystal Cody, public safety technology director for the city of Charlotte, N.C., began ­following the event’s hashtag on Twitter and set up news alerts so she could learn of changes as soon as possible. 

Her team worked closely with CDW•G, which served as project manager, and with CineMassive, the manufacturer of the video walls and software. “I can’t say enough about what good partners they were,” she says. “There are a lot of vendors that would say, ‘You want to do what?’ ”

Due to the lockdown in the spring, most meetings were virtual. “We would get on the calls, and the CDW•G project manager was always like, “OK, what are we doing today?’” Cody says. “She was always very ­organized and really kept us on task. There weren’t any big gotchas. No one came away from the meetings like, ‘There’s just no way we can get this done.’ That was important — to keep the team morale going.”

Charlotte needed to have the command center completed before the convention, but the city also wanted it operational for other events, such as Independence Day and other celebrations. 

“Everything was just so volatile at the time,” Cody recalls. “We didn’t know when we could close the command ­center and take it offline for a week and a half — but we worked through it.”

Photography by Chad Weeden