Crisis, what crisis?

Crisis, what crisis?
AJAR-tec’s winning entry to this year’s large category for Most InAVative Commercial Project involved a complete re-housing of British Airway’s crisis management and operations centre. Project manager Joe Duchscherer reveals how an enlightened client makes for a refreshing change of pace.

There was something slightly different about this one,” recalls AJAR-tec’s project manager Joe Duchscherer. “Normally on a building project, the AV might be around 10-15% of the total cost, but this one turned out nearer 30%.”

This was no ordinary project. British Airways had taken the decision to move its existing Operations Control and Incident Centre along with other crisis and operational management facilities to a new building elsewhere on the Heathrow Airport site. To give some idea of the criticality of these facilities, it’s worth bearing in mind that BA operates a fleet of some 300 aircraft world-wide and 30,000 staff. Additionally, somewhere in the world a BA plane takes off or lands every 75 seconds.

“The really interesting part of the tender process,” continued Duchscherer “was that following us being awarded the AV portion of the job, via consultants Turner & Townsend, we were invited to meet the two remaining contenders for the building refurbishment contract. BA had determined that the AV/IT component was the pivotal part of the project, so this decision was taken with a view to establishing whether we could work with one bidder better than the other.”

BA’s brief to AJAR-tec was to design, supply, install and commission a new integrated audio visual system for their Operations Control Incident Centre (OCIC), Emergency Procedures Information Centre (EPIC), and Disruption and Briefing rooms, newly relocated at their Headquarters at Waterside. The company was also to provide a communications and audio visual system that would integrate and link those areas.

The heart of the newly refurbished suite was to be the OCIC. “BA’s existing OCIC was a lot smaller and more limited in functionality than the system we envisaged for the new site. The brief was really to develop that, and bring it on to work with the operations department, which it didn’t before. Through weekly planning meetings at AJAR-tec we worked very closely with BA’s Crisis Management Team (CMT). We wanted to understand their requirements of the new system, the flaws in the old system that they were dealing with and to work out how to design them out of the new one.
“We set out to provide a system with the latest available technologies, but also one that would be future proof and viable for another ten or so years,” stated Duchscherer.

The OCIC functions as a 24/7/365 information centre, bringing together the heads of department at BA, the police and other agencies, and operations and engineering people in one place. Up to 33 people can work in the chamber at once. Laid out in a horseshoe arrangement, the chairman, deputy chairman and log-keeper are located at the front with the rest of the team members seated in the round. Both chairman and deputy chairman are equipped with 15” AMX touch panels which supply full control of the OCIC’s AV/IT systems.

These systems are housed in 5 main equipment racks but as Duchscherer points out, all this technology is irrelevant if the room doesn’t function correctly: “The key thing was to allow the people to manage their job and use the resources that are available to the best effect, and instantly. We’ve put a massive amount of work into interface design, again involving the client at every stage.”

Information really is the name of the game here. The OCIC can make use of an incredible amount of sources. 18 laptop sources are available from the team member’s seats. There are 18 more fixed data sources, which include everything from flight data to weather information, and a further 14 video sources. Any of these sources can be switched to appear on the room’s five displays. There are four Sharp 52” HD plasma displays mounted on the front wall, and in the centre of these is a rear projection screen, driven by a Barco IQG500 projector.

Matrix switching is handled by Sierra Video 32x32 and 32x16 RGBHV units. The video system also incorporates an Exterity IPTV system allowing television feeds to be switched onto the displays. Kramer VP-100A and WP210s provide the interface between the matrix and the PC sources.

Also key to the function of the OCIC is the videoconferencing system. The Tandberg 6000 series codec can operate over both a 2mb ISDN line or 6mb IP connection. BA still maintains ISDN links with its other operational sites such as those in Newcastle. Four Sony BRC 300P PTZ cameras are controlled by the chairman's panel, AJAR-tec having pre-programmed positions to focus on each team member. They can also respond to a “look at me” button located at each desk.

One of the things that was least satisfactory at the old site was the sound system, which adversely affected communication amongst the team. “The audio system for the new OCIC is a fully digital one,” said Duchscherer. “There is a Beyerdynamic gooseneck microphone at each position and a mute/talk switch to accompany it. 33 microphones are mixed through Biamp AudiaFLEX units with outputs being routed to both the video and audio conferencing codecs as well as the internal voice reinforcement systems.”

The Clear One XAP 400 audio codec also interfaces with BA’s own Cisco VOIP system and meeting pace conference system.

The OCIC’s sound reinforcement system consists of four zones of Tannoy CMS501 ceiling speakers powered by Australian Monitor AMIS 120p amplifiers. When a particular microphone is open, the nearest of the zones is dropped to enable greater intelligibility and prevent feedback. The components of the audio solution in general were selected to ensure the best possible voice replication.

Joe went on to say: “We were involved early on with the acoustics of the room. There’s a good solid ceiling, which helps, the floor is carpeted, and the back wall is covered with some acoustic panelling. Working in a round room can make things a little interesting acoustically.”

Whilst the OCIC is the headline facility, it’s not the most used. Operations Control forms the overall hub for the complete British Airlines global operation. Here again, knowledge is key. AJAR-tec has provided a string of ten NEC 57” LCD screens, each of which can be individually selected to display local or remote data and video sources. Again source selection and switching is controlled via a single 15” AMX touch screen controller located at the desk of the operations control manager. Throughout the site AJAR-tec specified Unicol universal bracketry for the displays. This was to allow for easy replacement of with spare displays if the need arose.

The refurbished facility went live in May 2007, within the schedule specified by BA and importantly for AJAR-tec the client supported their entry to the InAVation Awards with a glowing statement. “AJAR-tec completed the project with complete competence.” It reads. “Their unique partner-styled approach to us as a client involved as at every stage of the project. The offsite prefabrication, testing and training enabled us to be completely familiar with all aspects of systems operation when we moved in.”

It goes on to conclude: “British Airways is still excited by our systems capabilities six months after implementation. We consider it an outstanding contribution to the business continuity of the airline and feel we have an installation that is the envy of the aviation industry.” And who can say fairer than that?

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