University of Alabama

When the University of Alabama asked Interactive Solutions (ISI) to design and build an Emergency Management Center on their campus, we had no idea how quickly it would be put to the test. 

Background

Interactive Solutions (ISI) started began working with the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 2005 as a part of a project with the College of Continuing Studies. As our reputation for high quality work grew across the campus, other departments and colleges within the University began reaching out to ISI asking for our assistance. We have worked on everything including digital signage in the student center, smart classroom technology and an executive conference rooms for the provost. 

In many cases, we were given the opportunity to partner directly with senior members of the IT department and academic leadership to design and build state-of-the-art solutions throughout the campus to meet their exact needs. 

Challenge

In the wake of several school shootings such as the Virginia Tech shooting, the University of Alabama’s Event Services Department began working in 2011 with the Campus Police Department to create an Emergency Management Center on campus. The idea was that University officials and personnel would have a central location that they could go to in the event of an emergency to meet as a group to review all news feeds and coordinate their communication efforts more effectively. 

ISI was brought in to consult on the design and installation of this project early on. It was determined that this room would be setup in Bryant–Denny Stadium because it was a central location on campus and it was the best equipped building to handle severe weather due all of the concrete that surrounded the structure. This decision would turn out to be the most important one in the whole design process.  

Solution

The Emergency Management Center (EMC) was outfitted with 12 screens that were all connected to a large video switcher that would allow those using the center to connect to a variety of cable and satellite feeds for news updates. They also had access to all of the University surveillance camera feeds on these displays along with real time social media updates. 

Throughout the room, there were 30 laptop connections and 16 PC stations so that the team could work on crafting messaging and sending it out to media outlets and the campus community in case of an emergency. The first test for this command center would come sooner than anyone could imagine. 

On April 27, 2011, an EF4 multi-vortex tornado with sustained winds of 166-200 mph hit the city of Tuscaloosa as well as Birmingham and several surrounding communities. It knocked out power across the city of Tuscaloosa where the University is located and tore a six-mile-long path through the city destroying homes, businesses and government buildings. One of these buildings happened to be the mayor’s office including the Emergency Management Center for the city of Tuscaloosa. Because the University’s EMC was built in a room within the football stadium surrounded by several feet of concrete, it was not damaged by the storm. So, in this time of crisis, the University opened their doors to city officials so that they could use this newly completed Emergency Management Center to essentially run the city of Tuscaloosa and manage this crisis. That center ran 24/7 for 6 months with city officials using it to manage all of the decision making, disaster recovery and all communication after the tornado. As a testament to resilient design and well-executed installation from the ISI team, there were no service interruptions or technical issues with the new system during that critical time. 

Conclusion

The ISI team was glad that the Emergency Management Center we had helped design and build helped aid in the disaster recovery efforts for the city of Tuscaloosa in their time of need. However, our friendships with many of the staff and faculty at the University made this tragedy even more personal than others. As is the culture of the ISI team, we felt the need to do something more. In the days and weeks after the tornado, the ISI staff gathered a list of supplies from the city of Tuscaloosa disaster relief team. We collected food, water, clothes, and toiletries for the people of Tuscaloosa, loaded them in a truck and drove them down to Tuscaloosa ourselves.

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