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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.