A command and control centre (CCC), by definition, centralises the monitoring, control and command of an organisation’s overall operations. It is most often associated with crisis or disaster management in the context of a city or state government body, police or even military agencies. It is also used by universities, transportation departments, utility companies, and any other organisations that need to manage distributed operations. Command centres have been a critical element for successful management of operations and/ or security management, and have been transforming with the advancements in the technological space. With the introduction of rapidly evolving new technologies, new organisational challenges and threats, command centre design and construction have become more complex and challenging than ever before.
Today, CCCs need to be modular and should be equipped with correlation rules, process flows, rich algorithms, analytics, reporting, a geospatial platform, an Internet of things (IoT) platform, and other open platform systems. Since each organisation has its own specific needs and purposes for establishing such infrastructure, the command centre should be highly configurable, scalable and operator friendly. In the case of a city governance or safety body, a social media platform can cover voice, text, video, and mobile apps for citizens to interface with the CCC and thus take it to an entirely new level and provide better and efficient services to citizens.
Challenges faced by organisations in the planning and operations of CCCs
Perception of command centres today
A CCC is a centre for information collection, analysis, decision making and management. Its primary purpose is to gather and process all the information required to plan and respond – quickly and effectively – to potential emergency incidents.
The fig. 1 next page depicts the building blocks of a command and control solution, which primarily comprises field sensors as data collection points, database systems as information repositories, and communication systems as means for information dissemination, along with the key modules that empower information analysis and presentation of outcomes in a command centre application.
The following are a few examples of factors driving the need for CCCs:
- Increasing technology dependence leading to the need for an integrated and efficient control and management platform.
- Efficient data handling needs for big data, data mining, analytics, IoT etc.
- Integrated view to address social, residential, commercial and national security needs.
- Need for reliable, flexible, sustainable, real-time and scalable systems to provide an integrated view of all sensors compatible with proprietary networks and legacy systems.
- Need for a collaborative work environment across teams working in silos at different locations.
- Disparate systems impacting operational efficiencies of businesses and driving up costs.
- Structured methodology for incident handling ensuring effective decision making and response.
- Transition from manual processes to system-defined automated or hybrid process.
Evolution of command centres
The concept of a command centre can be traced back to the 19th century and has continued to evolve since then. In conjunction with technological advancements, a new variety of threats have also arisen. However, each incident has fuelled innovations in counter response, resulting in further advancements in technologies. The fig. 2 next page represents the advancements in terms of threats and counter-response systems over the last three centuries.
Establishment of a command centre
Often, command centres are conceptualised at later stages of establishing the technology components and infrastructure, and in most of these cases, they end up as inadequate or unsuitable control rooms which are not able to achieve the organisational goals.
The first and foremost step is to ensure that the functional goals and measurable key performance indicators are clearly defined at the pre-design stage itself. The selection of the right technologies and service level agreement (SLA) requirements is essential as it directly impacts the end results and the budget required for setting up such infrastructure. Once the functional requirements are documented, the requirements in terms of equipment specifications and other IT and non-IT requirements can be finalised. One of the key parameter for efficient operations of a command centre is defining an incident and its severity. This primarily helps in identification of associated stakeholders, operational process, sensors and systems for finalising the steps to be followed as part of the standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Many a times we primarily emphasize upon the digital part only while forgetting about the importance of physical infrastructure design in the operations of a command centre. Being a monitoring and command centre which operates 24×7 for all 365 days of a year, the physical infrastructure for such a facility should be designed post considering the vital parameters such as ergonomics, seating layout in order of operational needs for better collaboration, secure and resilient operations.
Once we are clear with the functional requirements and the physical infrastructural design, the next step shall be building capacities within the organisation for operating under such technologically advanced systems in line with the defined goals and KPIs for operations. A regular performance assessment and feedback process ensure that there is a continuous improvement in operating efficiency of the command centre by addressing the feedback for optimisation in relation to the people, process or systems. The last but not the least step is to devise a framework with periodic reporting of welldefined SLAs for measuring the KPIs through performance evaluation.
Key challenges in today’s CCCs
Presence of manual integrations
A key indicator of a wrongly designed command centre is when manual integration of multiple information feeds is done by analysts to provide the operators the tools they need. This can lead to an inefficient utilisation of resources and time. Taking steps to train and improve the efficiency of operators, to derive information efficiently from the feeds puts them in a position to respond to events in a timelier manner, and potentially adds additional value to the organisation.
In many cases, there is a gap between the exchange of information between command centre operators and field personnel. This results in the loss of ‘crucial’ time and a loosely prepared response.
Many command centres get information from various sources, but this information is not structured and hence there is an overload. There is a need for systematic integration and clear flow of information so as to give maximum usable actionable information (intelligence) to the operator to take decisions.
Low real-time incident analysis
Currently, the command centres are used primarily for post-incident analysis. For example, when an incident has already occurred, the authorities scan the video footage and other sensors for the evidence. However, this approach leads to the most crucial time being squandered.
Operators face an increasing burden of addressing all corporate and regulatory compliance issues including ineffective implementation of security policies (training of operators and remote staff – which needs to be consistent across the organisation).
Lack of coordinated responses
Typically, in command centres, the coordinated responses are ‘cordial’ but lack any real coordination – as such, information and intelligence fail to flow effectively. Additionally, planning and logistics are also generally in disarray, due in part to administrative difficulties with resource acquisition systems and meeting regional demands for support resources.
Over dependence on personnel
The response to the same incident may differ from one person to the other based upon his/ her skill sets and trainings. Sometimes if a particular operator is not available, there is nobody to respond to a particular type of incident. A well-planned command centre should not have such dependencies and must ensure standard process-driven procedures with consistent outputs.
Inefficient video walls
One of the most valuable assets of a command centre is its video wall, but many organisations fail to leverage its full potential. Often, operators work on their individual tasks, leaving them disconnected from command centre priorities; moreover, the video wall does not help, or worse, acts as a distraction. One of the major reasons for this failure is that the information is not designed to be viewed by an operator/ analyst from a distance on a large wall monitor, so the picture and video is too small to decipher, fonts are too tiny to read, and maps are displayed with labels and icons that are illegible. Thus, even information that may be of critical importance is not displayed in a way that can be ‘seen’ by the command centre team.
Lack of authority
During a crisis situation, a command centre should serve as the nerve centre for the duration of the response. By its nature, it should be perfectly selfpossessed to connect all departments and stakeholders as they coordinate throughout the crisis, with the tools to provide a current understanding of the situation and support response efforts. However, it is observed that command centre teams are typically not empowered to play this critical role during an emergency, and cannot provide risk intelligence and authoritative decisions in a timely manner.
Lack of human-systems integration
It is caused by lack of consideration of the strengths and shortcomings of contemporary equipment design, humans, and past design experience and performance during the allocation of functions process. Poorly defined criteria for the selection of CCC staff also result in personnel with low competency and skill levels being deployed for the task at hand.
Monotonous operator tasks
Command centre operators have to monitor the workstations and video walls continuously. Owing to the nature of the work, their attention may waver, leading to slippage of crucial information.
A command centre or a showpiece
A command centre can be a real showpiece for an organisation – tours can be given to potential partners, the board, investors and others. However,during such visits, it is observed that, typically the entire visualisation of the command centre is changed to match the interests of the visitor. This includes changes to wall displays, operator screens and even access authorisation on such occasions. However, this should be avoided as it dissolves the core purpose of having a command centre.
Instrumental infrastructure for regulatory compliance
Sometimes CCCs are seen merely as an instrument to aid in the faster recovery of insurance claims or to comply with local regulatory compliance. However, this use should not be encouraged as it is just an ancillary function.
Utilising the concept of operations
With rapid technological advancements, an increasing number of complex systems are emerging. This has led to an urgent need to understand the importance of the concept of operations (CONOPS). CONOPS is an adaptive concept that learns as and when new threats emerge, and as new technologies and tools become available. CONOPS not only throws light on usage of the systems but is also essential in determining the combination and type of systems that will be used for the organisation’s benefit. CONOPS helps in guiding the selection and design of technologies, while a lack of understanding of an organisation’s CONOPS may result in underutilised and inefficient systems.
When designing a command centre, it is imperative to revise CONOPS in light of the new systems and environment. By having a well-developed CONOPS, an organisation will be better equipped to understand which systems are required, how they should be integrated and how they will benefit the organisations. Within a command centre, incoming data must be gathered, categorised, processed, analysed and displayed in order to optimise decision making and presentation of relevant information to the end users/ stakeholders.
The below given fig. 3 depicts a sample customised CCC framework for a smart city which primarily focuses on the integration of various sensors and systems for effective service delivery.
Suggested best practices
Having the best of technologies and world-class infrastructure alone cannot help in utilising command centres to their maximum potential until operators and managerial staff are suitably motivated and trained to operating these centres. Hence, it is very important to follow the best practices and guidelines.
Standards for ergonomic design of control centres
Lighting: Lighting is a very important factor which has to be taken into consideration for CCCs. One of the main concern in a CCC is discomfort caused due to the glare off viewing monitors. This can be avoided by using appropriate lighting directly above the work surfaces. A combination of dark and light work surfaces is generally used as darker work surfaces, making documents stand out and easier to read, while lighter work surfaces can make the room seem larger and easier to view the wall displays.
Adequate briefing space: In order to be of maximum utility, the centre should ideally have some adjacent spaces for executive briefings, meetings and possible press conferences. One very useful technique is to avoid any obstructions and structural features such as pillars, and separate the spaces with glass partitions. This allows maximum use of large-format video displays, as well as person to person visual connections while also ensuring the efficient use of usable space without any visual obstructions, especially in case of emergencies.
Avoid distractions: If planned correctly, simple measures can eliminate the unnecessary distractions affecting the efficiency of command centres. For example, entry and exits (excluding fire exits) should not form part of the peripheral visual fields of operators and supervisors. Similarly, the visitor gallery area to showcase the command centres should be designed in such a way that the command centre staff doesn’t notice the presence of any such visitor while also ensuring the confidentiality of their work without any work disruption.
Interagency cooperation: A CCC should ensure interagency cooperation for effective response. The responders should be exposed to the planning and operational considerations of outside teams, and conversely, give the outside teams insight into the dynamics of wildland fires.
Communication systems: Radio inter-operability problems are typically cited as the biggest problem encountered during emergency operations, causing coordination difficulties between cooperating agencies and distinct responders, and even within the same agency. Hence, the communication systems are to be designed to sustain themselves in all situations, with inter-operability across all participating agencies.
Acoustics design: Acoustics are also important in a control centre. Inadequate acoustics will be fatiguing to an operator, making it harder for her/ him to concentrate.
Communication/ citizen notification: In communicating evacuation needs to the public, difficulties in enforcing and coordinating personnel evacuation is a major challenge. However, in such cases, if timely communication saves even a single life, it is a great achievement.
Effective use of video wall: The video wall display should be planned very carefully to ensure its effective utilisation, or else it will just remain a mere showpiece. It should be clearly visible in a format that is easily understandable and relatable for all operators.
Media relations: The effective use of the media acts as a force multiplier. Unified interagency coordination with local media outlets assists in the efficient and accurate flow of information to the public. The media, when utilised to the fullest extent, can serve as one of the strong modes of faster communication with a deeper reach.
Scalability and reliability: Fundamental infrastructure such as electrical feeder inputs, building space and load-bearing capacity should be planned at the initial stage itself, keeping the future scalability and reliability aspects in mind.
Personal and data security: CCCs are typically a one-stop repository of information; hence, they pose a lot of risks from the security perspective. A thorough analysis of one’s security needs is recommended, along with a plan for multi-layered security considering the movement of personnel, materials and data. Access to
the CCC facility should be restrict-ed to a single main entrance as far as possible Robust access control mechanisms, including electronic surveillance, biometric based access control, and a physical log book, should always be maintained.
Training and education: Training and education are the key to testing operations and tactics, identifying and mitigating risk areas, planning resource allocation and evacuations, calculating resource needs, and predicting fire behaviour. As part of this, virtual tools for lessons learned, best practices, tactics and useful technologies should be developed for every user level.
Site location: The very purpose of having a command centre stands defeated if the site selected for its establishment is not protected from natural disasters.
Fire safety: Fire safety standards and related local regulations are to be adhered to while constructing the command centres.
Efficient workflow management: Workflow should be comprehensive, with clearly identified roles and responsibilities of the individuals. It should work in various architectures such as:
- Hierarchical command and control rooms.
- Division of work.
- Division of work areas.
Efficient SOP s
SOPs act as a set of guidelines and checklist that can be activated and referred to throughout incident management. This allows for a consistent and efficient response to an incident situation. SOPs also enable an organisation to follow the previously established best practices for responding to a particular type of incident/ event. SOPs are customised for different conditions and keep on evolving with time.
Throughout the process of responding to an incident, all activities and resource utilisations are tracked against the response and recovery plan and the operating procedure checklist. Each instance of performance tracking and movement towards completion of the task is, once again, provided as feedback into the incident being managed. Each task is recorded in the operations log which serves as the central repository for all actions taken in response to an incident and helps to establish the procedures that were followed, those that were modified, and the results of all such actions.
Effective integration with third-party systems
The command centre software must be scalable and flexible enough to talk to multiple third-party systems for a seamless exchange of information. It can be integrated with government databases like geographical information system (GIS) maps, criminal databases, prison systems, and passport, unified ID, regional transport, fire departments etc.
Advanced technology implementation
Today, cities and critical infrastructure face a wide range of threats, ranging from terrorism and civil unrest to petty crimes. To reduce the impact of these threats and make our cities safer and to assist authorities in decision making, it is critical to adopt the new and emerging technologies. One such emerging technology is artificial intelligence, integrated with behavioural analytics, which is gaining popularity due to its ability to aid in preemptive response. This, coupled with a state-of-the-art command centre, can lead to huge benefits.
A sample use case utilising such an advanced technology is given below:
In case an event occurs, the sensors which judge parameters like facial expression, sound analytics and video analytics will send an alert before completion of the incident.
Apart from the behaviour analytics, some of the other emerging technologies that can be leveraged to empower command centres are:
- Big data management/ analytics.
- Augmented reality, artificial intelligence and gamification.
- Sentiment analytics (social media).
- IoT-enabled smart devices.
- Virtual assistants.
The most crucial component in a command and control system is the people who operate it. These people can – as a result of their operating procedures and management – become either the strongest or the weakest link in the system design. In some cases, command centres staff feel neglected while undertaking routine monotonous tasks and consider their operations in shifts under extreme pressure to be a punishment. As a result they get demotivated and do not perform up to the standards. The most important step in mitigating such risks is to ensure that all personnel involved are fully and continuously trained to a recognised standard and are rewarded and recognised for their work .
Command centre operator motivation and selection
The following are a few of the sample motivations and selection processes that can be adopted:
- Renaming the designations and roles to be associated with operators like Marshal and Social Media Analyst. An operator should feel proud to be referred to by his new designation.
- Regular operator evaluation and rewards for the most efficient operator.
- Organisation-wide recognition of best performers.
- Well-defined growth path for operators and other related individual contributors.
- Pre-assessment interview process to evaluate the parameters below:
a. Certificate in information and communications technology.
b. Interest in command centre operations.
c. Any eyesight or health-related problem.
- Final selection based on written test and interview.
Command centre operator training
Command centre operators should be trained compulsorily based upon their deployment role and level. The training should include classroom as well as practical training at the command centre.
Co-locating various command centres for integrated operations
In some cases, co-locating the data centre is beneficial as it helps to achieve a seamless exchange of information between two or more related departments. The design of such co-located command centres has to be done in such a way as to ensure privacy, and at the same time, allow easy sharing of common information.
Since a command centre is already integrated with multiple sensors, systems and external databases, it can be expanded into an integrated CCC for unitfied city operations. An integrated CCC (IC3) is typically utilised by government agencies that need to collaborate proactively on various issues and events affecting citizens at large. The key value of an IC3 is that stakeholders are able to work together in neutral territory, exchanging knowledge and experience that cannot easily be communicated via written or more formal, less interactive channels of communication. This helps in ensuring faster and effective response to incident situations with real-time flow of consistent information.
The definition of the scope and functions of CCCs may differ across organisations based on their interests and operations. However, a well-planned and fully efficient CCC can bring in unimaginable benefits. A command centre should be customised to organisational needs. A successful and efficient command centre should have its own clearly defined CONOPS, KPIs for measuring its performance and its own set of SOPs for effective operations.
Until now, the operations of command centres have been focused to ensure best possible and effective response to an incident, with an increasing focus on innovation and collaboration. Next-gen CCCs will transform this mind set and move from a reactive approach to a proactive approach, thus ensuring that all stakeholders work in collaboration to address incidents before they materialise.
Owing to the burgeoning population in cities and rapid digital penetration, there are unique challenges that need to be addressed using technologically advanced and robust systems. Today, cities and critical infrastructures face a wide range of threats from terrorism, natural disasters, and civil unrest to petty crimes. To reduce the impact of these threats and to assist authorities in decision making, it is critical to adopt the new and emerging technologies with an integrated approach to make our cities safer. The need for shared situational awareness is increasing dramatically and the systems must ensure that during any emergency, the security networks remain healthy and security staff has access to the required information. The system must be designed to facilitate data into actionable information. This can be achieved by a state-of the- art integrated command and control centre (IC3) with fused, interoperable capabilities that enable people and systems to work more effectively. An IC3 would require unified command, especially since similar information captured by different agencies may lead to multiple interpretations, with multiple teams being deployed for the same action. A well-planned and fully efficient IC3 customised to organisational needs can bring in unimaginable benefits. Until now, the operations of command centres have been focused to ensure best possible and effective response to an incident, with an increasing focus on innovation and collaboration. Nextgen IC3 will transform this mind set and move from a reactive approach to a proactive approach, thus ensuring that all stakeholders work in collaboration to address incidents before they materialise.
– Neel Ratan
India Government Leader & Regional Managing Partner – North PwC India