The Operations Center
We assist in the design, operation and training for Operation Centers of all shapes and sizes.
For many years I have been interested in the design and functionality of the Operations Center and the technology and training associated with Intelligence Briefings. This has taken me to some interesting locations around the world, from Cold War briefing rooms, to state of the art electronic centers, even Airline Operations Centers. The more you see the more the core requirements become apparent, and the more obvious the flaws appear.
There are many operations centers laid out and developed every year, from secret military installations to corporate operations centers proudly displayed to all VIP visitors. Operation Centers are often designed to be functional, and impressive. Sometimes the decision to be impressive can get in the way of being functional. Many do not take into consideration the overall scenario when they will be needed most, and many designed for emergency management are less than satisfactory. In the late 1990's I was vocal that placing the New York Mayors Emergency Bunker in 7 World Trade Center, destroyed on 9/11. This Rudi Guilliani $15 million monstrosity was a 46,000 square foot, bomb proof fortified bunker right in the middle of the target zone. Logic would have dictated building it away from the center and with far less risk of damage. Mayor Bloomberg replaced it with a functional Ops Center costing $2.5 million. Again when the ego of corporate and government leaders and their desire to show off their power house gets in the way of functionality there will be consequences.
The development of Operations Rooms has been amazing since I first encountered the Maritime Ops Rooms of Coastal Command in the UK. This photo is of the Ops room in Plymouth, ours at RAF Kinloss covered more ocean, but employed the same technology. It should be noted that this was at the end of the 1960's and a new Ops Room was constructed utilizing overhead projectors.
The overhead projector being an indispensable projection tool in the 1970's. To look at the style of briefing was to look at a performance of an actor on the stage saying his lines to the audience. The good actors could be heard, the bad ones could not. Some brought the plot to life, others droned on and on. The plotted ships moved thanks to the young Airman balancing on an old pair of step ladders and moving the markers. Accuracy was less importance than not falling off.
Even today I have a huge pile of military charts to pin on the wall to cover the hot spots around the world. Once familiar with military charts, they become your best friend. Never crashing, never slow to load, and a source of interest for everyone. But sadly advanced computer technology has replaced the vast majority of the old methods of analyzing and presenting information.At the touch of a screen real time video can be switched to large screen monitors, or LED projectors that can cover an entire wall. Graphic animation can play out the many scenarios, and computer generated video can bring the operations to life. We have what amounts to a huge video game and we are part of it.
The Operations Center could be for trading stocks, money or futures, moving freight and packages, scheduling flights, or fighting wars. The similarities are the same and the technologies are converging. We see more advanced and expensive technologies in major corporations than in the military. The intelligence operations to keep commerce flowing around the world are often astounding to the casual visitor. Software scans millions of websites, Blogs, social networking and billions of communications every day. The software we use monitors more information in a minute than the average person sees in a lifetime.
But when the glitz and glamour and the visual impact of these huge monitoring centers is put aside they are really simple in concept, and built from a small number of interconnected modules. Look at this picture from an Australian Ops Center and you will notice many stations are copies of each other. They may perform different tasks, but there is standardization of equipment, and the ability to switch, or duplicate tasks to meet demand, or failure.
This shrunken picture of the AT&T Global Network Operations Center does not do the sheer physical magnitude justice, but the reality is that humans can visualize problems and solutions better than they can read then on a screen. To be able to comprehend vast quantities of information the human brain needs to see it on a large video screen, or better still on many large video screens. The brain reads text and dials at 200b/s and interprets visual images at 10Mb/s. Hence the need in large scale networks to be able to visualize, not read numbers or messages.
In other applications the reading of text may be sufficient, and Operation Centers can be designed with this in mind. We use large input visualization technology, alongside text retrieval and display to mine down to the original news, or communications feed. But there are many applications where a simple room, a oversized table, and network connections for laptops, as well as a number of large screens will suffice. Often in military operations a tent, trestle table and ruggedized laptops are all you get.
More shortly ........