Sector North Carolina’s new command center: Saving money, improving response

WILMINGTON, N.C. - Personnel at the Coast Guard Sector North Carolina command center stand watch using their latest technological updates such as audio equipment, a new display system and revamped desks to maximize space, Oct. 25, 2011. The upgrades were focused on increasing watchstander efficiency and improving response time. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lieutenant Kevin Sullivan.

Post written by Lt. Kevin Sullivan.

Less than five months after becoming operational, Sector North Carolina’s new command center is an improvement over the previous facility in Fort Macon. The new design and technology improvements have resulted in improved functionality in both day-to-day operations and emergency response.

The design improvements include a soundproof glass wall with sliding door that separates the communications room from the rest of the watch floor. The glass wall allows for visual communications between watchstanders with the ability to audibly isolate the space for briefings or training being conducted. The communications room was designed to provide improved acoustics from lessons learned at Fort Macon. The new speaker layout enhances the sound quality while reducing static and feedback.

The furniture was selected to maximize limited floor space and support the requirements of multiple computer systems and monitors. Despite only having three full-time watchstanders on the floor, there are positions for six. This setup allows a qualified watchstander to provide close supervision to a break-in while providing for integrated surge capability during major events.

A technological improvement that the new facility provides is the display system. The big-screen display systems for maintaining situational awareness and sharing information can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sector watchstanders saved taxpayer money by designing and implementing a system with 90 percent of the capability of the dedicated system for less than $10,000 by utilizing off-the-shelf audiovisual components.

The command center is linked to the new Interagency Operations Center, which was critical to the Coast Guard’s recent response to Hurricane Irene. The IOC served as the Incident Command Post during the response. The IOC allowed our port partners to work alongside the Coast Guard, utilizing cell phones and wireless devices while operating remotely via the command center’s information flow. Having the ICP and command center directly linked, ensured critical information flowed quickly between the ICP and responders in the field. The heart of the system is the facility’s emergency generator and uninterruptible power supply. These two pieces of equipment kept the command center online during several hours of power outages and countless power fluctuations throughout the storm. The constant power source kept radios, phones and computers running, allowing watchstanders to maintain communications with the maritime public to ensure their safety.

In a mission where seconds can save lives, the technological improvements focused on crew efficiency are key to getting rescuers on scene to save lives.

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