The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly of Mission Critical Control Room Evolution: (Part 1)
By David Jones, Business Development for Mission Critical Control
In my first article, I mentioned that during my time in the Mission Critical Control Room (MCCR) industry, I’ve seen a lot of things that have changed. Some changes have been for the good but many other changes have not. These are “the good.”
Let’s start with the positive changes.
The technology being used in the control room is what has changed most of all and, for the most part, these changes have been beneficial to control room workers, support teams , and stakeholders.
Moving to Digital Infrastructure
With the world leaving analog behind and switching to digital everything, the technology used inside the control room is following suit. Things like high-speed network-based solutions, like video and data over IP, has become more commonplace. Higher and higher transport speeds are needed to move massive amounts of information around, so the use of fiber optics replaces the trusted copper cable. And considering the move to sometimes necessary remote participation, the IT infrastructure should allow for secure, remote access that includes a variety of computing and hand-held platforms. When improvements are being considered, the IT department is a very necessary partner in the planning process.
Data Display and Control
Modern control rooms use video display systems of one size or another to create the visualization experience. The video resolutions and aspects ratios being displayed in the control room have changed dramatically and mostly for the betterment of the control room environment. The original computer video displayed in the control room was just barely better than the NTSC television signal that we watched at home. The video resolution being displayed and viewed in the early control rooms has changed from the original IBM standard Color Graphics Adapter (CGA) to Enhanced Graphics Array (EGA) to other-GA’s resolution and now through HD to QHD to 4K and soon 8K resolution. The question is, just how much resolution does one need in a modern control room visualization system?
Regardless of the display resolution, the value of this visual space is dependent on the ability to display data in a meaningful way. Source-driven video displays and a modern content controller, allow the control room operator to quickly and easily configure and reconfigure the on-screen source content as operational requirements change in the control room. This is nearing a ‘content on demand’ model. Users can easily select one or more feeds as needed and dynamically position windows of information to suit the situation. Data windows can be preset, allowing for easy recall of pre-configured information to suit specific situations or individual users.
Awareness of Human Factors
Another positive change has been the renewed focus on understanding and utilizing “Human Factors” sciences when designing the physical and technical spaces of the MCCR vis a vis the “new” technology including lighting and acoustics requirements. For a variety of reasons, unfortunately not all MCCRs are created equally when it comes to their being designed using modern Human Factors theories. In some cases, the end-users are unaware that the science of Human Factors exists and in others, the person or group designing the control room environment for the end-users relies on the wrong Human Factors information source. Worse, they provide a cookie-cutter/one size fits all design that may not fit the space or the work being done.
When designing a new MCCR or refreshing an existing one, these three factors should be investigated and discussed not just with a consultant but with an experienced technology integrator. An integrator with a broad base of experience will understand not just the display and user control components of the space. A well-rounded integrator will understand networking and be able to hold their own with an IT department to be able to discuss infrastructure requirements and possibilities.