Control rooms in an age of change


By Pete Prater, Founder and Chair, International Critical Control Rooms Alliance
Monday, 18 September, 2017


Control rooms in an age of change

The International Critical Control Rooms Alliance aims to foster collaboration and discussion among the world’s 80,000-plus control rooms.

Mission-critical control rooms are complex places — a delicate balance of people, process, technology and environment drawn together to deliver vital services to the organisation and its customers. Often, the control room is the front door to the organisation and so establishes the service user’s experience and expectations, which will directly reflect their confidence in the organisation.

Critical control rooms support many types of operations — oil and gas, rail, maritime, air traffic, emergency services, defence and many more — but what we have learned is that they share many similarities. You could say they are the same, but different. This is a particularly interesting reflection as we see a growing trend for multi-operation control centres such as could be required for safer city initiatives.

As with most things in life, change is inevitable and that is particularly true in the case of critical control rooms. Over the last 20 years the expectations we have all placed on technology through our daily experience has grown enormously, and as consumers we often fail to understand why critical operations find it difficult to keep pace with those expectations.

But keep pace they must, and that means change. It’s not just hardware development that affects our critical control rooms; new concepts such as instant messaging, FaceTime, social media and so on alter citizens’ expectations. All of this must be balanced against an organisation’s evolving requirements and pressures, such as budgets and performance management, as well as other factors such as procurement rules, outsourcing and ownership of control room staff, standardisation, collaboration and interoperability.

Few people enjoy such change, which is a challenge when change is ever-present. How often have you heard a boss say, “Our biggest asset is our people”? Well, boss, if you fail to appreciate the pressures of working in critical control rooms, and the effects of change, then the one thing you will surely face is low morale and associated high staff churn — and staffing makes up a very significant proportion of the critical control room provisioning budget.

The International Critical Control Rooms Alliance (ICCRA) — an independent working group of the TCCA, bringing together critical control room professionals — believes that mission-critical services must continually adapt to the many changing factors affecting them in order to deliver consistently high service in the most cost-effective manner.

Fostering collaboration

ICCRA offers members the opportunity to network and to learn (in part through webinars), providing an environment for international collaboration, discussion and influencing the wider critical control room stakeholder community.

Over a period of many years, those in the leadership of ICCRA have individually had vast experience of control rooms. We recognise that there are already many associations and organisations that focus on niche areas of critical control rooms and are primarily technology focused (eg, TCCA, NENA, EENA), while some (such as PSCE and APCO International) focus on specific market verticals.

What ICCRA intends to do is to deliver to the agents and operators of critical control rooms all they need to know about what is happening around them, in order to help them be the best they can be. For instance, a typical control room director does not need to know the technicalities of how a next-gen Triple Zero call is made, but they certainly need to know that there is a thing called NG000 and the opportunities and challenges it presents to them.

So ICCRA’s goal is to become the focus and platform for critical service control room discussion, learning and best practice development globally. We will cover all aspects of control rooms across all vertical markets, from public safety to utilities, from airports to border protection to banking. We will target operations and technology, but also personnel and environmental issues such as ergonomics, staff retention and control room construction. With an estimated 80,000 critical control rooms out there, there is a lot that we can talk about.

We have identified four special interest groups (SIGs) that will develop agendas involving operations, technology, environment and ergonomics, and people and performance. George Rice, executive director of the US-based Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT), will lead the technology group. Ged Griffin, visiting fellow at the Australian Institute of Police Management, is the operations SIG lead. David Watts, managing director of CCD Design and Ergonomics, is the working environment SIG lead. And Sarah Wilson, a UK-based fire and rescue services control room director, will lead the people SIG.

The highlight of our first year of operation will be the International Critical Control Rooms Congress, to be held in Geneva from 5–7 December 2017. The event will focus strongly on the emerging topics of interest to our four special interest groups; we will also have a keynote presentation from the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service and a visit to the CERN control facility. Delegate registration, sponsorship and exhibition opportunities can be found at www.iccraonline.com.

In summary, ICCRA serves critical control room operators, managers and directors and those who support them in fulfilling their important work (eg, ICT, HR, operations, finance and business teams, suppliers and consultants). Membership of ICCRA is open to any person or organisation engaged in the provision or support of a mission-critical control room service. If you think you provide such a service, you probably do, and you should consider ICCRA membership.

Image courtesy US Department of Defense

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