12 November 2007
A new RTS ADAM (Advanced Digital Audio Matrix featuring RVON-8 VOIP interface) matrix system installation at the City of Houston Emergency Operations Center has raised the bar for mission critical communications in EOC applications. The heart of a supremely flexible and user-friendly VOIP-based intercom system that links the Houston EOC with all appropriate city, regional and federal departments and agencies, the ADAM system was supplied and installed by Bill McKee of Broadcast Technical Services, with manufacturer support from Britt Bowers of Telex RTS. As Terry Moore, who manages the systems at Houston EOC, says, the one word that best describes this installation is “interoperability.”
“The City of Houston Emergency Operations Center handles everything from local 911 dispatching to city, county, state and federal emergency services,” reports Terry Moore. “The Telex solution we employed was focused towards making the Houston EOC a state-of-the-art communications hub, allowing personnel from the police, fire, public works, hospital and medical infrastructure to communicate more efficiently when the EOC is active, which is approximately 25 days a year. Both Britt Bowers and Bill McKee had worked on an impressive RTS intercom installation at Reliant Stadium in Houston, and they came down to our facility to demonstrate the RTS ADAM system. ADAM immediately demonstrated the kind of interoperability we required to integrate all the EOC’s two-way radios, telephones and audio feeds from broadcast into a single system.”
Moore supervised the purchase of an ADAM 96x96 matrix with RJ12 breakout panels, along with 45 RTS keypanels (primarily the KP-832) and PH88R5 lightweight single-sided headsets. Also interfaced to the system are 36 channels of two-way radios, audio from TV feeds and Telex RTS TIF-2000 analog to digital telephone interfaces. Now, a user wearing a headset at their keypanel can answer and make phone calls, communicate with personnel in the field on two-way radios and monitor local and national news feeds, all from a single position, all while maintaining contact with other groups at the EOC.
“ADAM-EDIT functionality allows us to reassign the position without moving any equipment,” Moore continues. “Since the nature of our business is dealing with the unexpected, this level of versatility and flexibility is a great advantage. We have to quickly address who needs to be where, and this system helps us shuffle our coordination positions accordingly when we need to—we can focus on our people, rather than tackling hardware logistics, which wastes time.”
The RTS system has made one big change in particular for Moore and his colleagues. If the average EOC is dark for perhaps 340 days out of the year, things can get noisy when the room is operational. In this sense, the new ADAM system has really affected the noise floor at the Houston facility—it’s a lot quieter. “Those of us that have the role of an EOC manager were a little uncomfortable at first because the room is far quieter than it’s ever been in the past,” says Moore. “It’s odd; usually when it’s this quiet it’s because people are concentrating on a challenging issue and you would go and see if you needed to assist or not. Now there’s less running around—everyone is quietly in control from a fixed position. This has made us recalibrate the way we tune into what’s going on. It has helped our situational awareness, as we can go around the whole room and get a full briefing from all the represented parties; nobody has to get up from their position and nobody loses their situational awareness—they simply latch in, give their brief, latch out and continue to monitor, engaged with their normal process. In that regard, the ADAM system has made us a lot more efficient.”
The system has been used a handful of times since installation, including for Hurricanes Humberto and Erin, and for the city’s annual hurricane exercise. “That exercise was one of our more interesting ones,” says Moore, “as it really showed us how the ADAM system could have an impact on the hands-on end of emergency management. We were aware going into the exercise that linkage between patients coming into the Ellington Field facility and the placement group for our Catastrophic Medical Operations Center needed to improve. The ADAM-EDIT software allowed us to reassign—in real time—a radio normally used by police and fire to allow the ambulances on the street to communicate with the people placing the patients in hospital, all as movement was being coordinated. It was interesting as it was the first time police and fire had been able to allow civilians—a non-uniformed group—on their radio system. It demonstrates that, when you have the tools in place to create an interoperability pathway, you can streamline the work, allowing you to take the creative opportunities that present themselves.
“Though I’m very impressed with what the ADAM system has already done for our EOC, there are still features we haven’t tapped yet: the ability to link two systems together, for example,” Moore continues. “Reliant Stadium is one of the models we followed when building our system, so, by linking our system with the one at the stadium, our crisis communication pathways to and from the stadium during special events—the Rodeo, any of the NFL games, Superbowls, etc.—are a great deal more enhanced. We are proud to have such an exemplary system for our city—we hope this demonstrates how communications and efficiency can be opened up to a whole new level for EOCs around the country using this technology.”
In closing, Moore considered the people behind the products—an essential element of any successful system integration: “Facilities like ours require detail-driven partnerships with our vendors—there’s no margin for error or cutting corners. We need people that stand behind their products. That said, we have an exceptional working relationship with Britt Bowers and Bill McKee; they were very methodical in their approach when it came to ensuring all the equipment was properly in place. EOC is a critical room, so down time is a big deal. The service, installation, attention to detail and all-round quality was of the highest professional standard.”