The Morgan County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) is the definition of a mission-critical organization. Overseeing the safety of some 123,000 residents in north-central Alabama, the agency needs to be ready for anything: the county is frequently hit by severe weather events like tornadoes, and part of it is within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant. To ensure it can mitigate and respond to a wide array of emergencies, the agency needed a technology ecosystem that was flexible, easy to operate, and most importantly, reliable.
Operating two sub-grade floors of the Morgan County Courthouse in Decatur, the EMA’s emergency operations center (EOC) was initially built in 1975-6. Its systems evolved over the years from chalkboards to a combination of TVs and four VGA projectors. By 2019, it was clear that this setup was no longer sufficient.
According to Trent Simon, Emergency Management Specialist, Plans and Operations at the Morgan County EMA, the agency’s foremost demand was greater versatility. “With this update we really wanted the space to be flexible in what we could display, and we wanted to increase the amount of things we could display,” Trent said. “We wanted to be able to use it for different things, because it may only be active in emergencies a handful of times out of the year; it’s not a 24-hour operation center.” During normal conditions, the EMA makes use of the center for training sessions and classes, along with other events.
The second requirement was expandability: the 2019 upgrade replaced the EOC’s aging visual setup with a modern video wall composed of a central 7×2 array of 75-inch LG displays flanked by 2×2 grids of 55-inch monitors. The EMA required a solution to tie these all together and operate them today, with the capability to easily add more endpoints as needed.
Third, the system needed to be easy to use. The main room is a long, narrow space, and with the previous arrangement, it was difficult at times for staff at one end to keep up with what was happening at the other. Before the upgrade, the facility’s displays ran through a 16×16 matrix switcher operated by a stationary control computer. In order to change what was being shown on the screens, staff had to get up and walk over to the computer. In the event of an emergency, this was highly impractical for a staff of four members to operate.
After weighing a number of options, Trent and his team chose a Kramer AVoIP system to serve as the brains behind the EOC’s displays. “I did a lot of research on different systems, and Kramer came out on top,” Trent said. “We could start off where we wanted to be, which was larger than we were previously, but we could also grow it in the future a lot easier than some of the other systems we looked at.”
The Kramer AVoIP system consists of KDS-EN6 encoders and KDS-DEC6 decoders, which provide streaming over a 1-gigabit IP network and are capable of handling 4K60 (4:2:0) video, audio, IR, RS−232, and USB over IP with HDCP 2.2 in unicast or multicast configurations.
The EMA completed the renovation over the better part of a year, beginning in late 2019. They installed a raised floor with integrated power and cable management, tore some walls down to open the space up, and retiled the ceiling before moving on to the technology component. All of the audiovisual equipment was purchased through CDW, and between the facilities maintenance crew, IT personnel, and Trent’s team, they were able to install the entire system themselves.
Due to COVID-related delays, it took the team some six months to get all of the technology installed, programmed, and up and running. “COVID probably prevented some of the Kramer guys coming down or us getting some other guys in here, but it also helped us learn the system’s ins and outs a lot better too, having to do that on our own,” Trent said. “When a couple of issues did arise, Kramer’s support staff was quick to help. “We had a few calls with Kramer’s team and were able to work out all the bugs. My hat’s off to our guys because they really didn’t have any problems.”