How Extron Equipment Enhances Operations at the CDC

Extron matrix switchers are used in diverse environments, from corporate boardrooms to command and control centers to classrooms and training facilities. At the CDC-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Extron matrix switchers are at the heart of the AV system in the agency's EOC-Emergency Operations Center, which monitors emerging health concerns, bioterrorism threats, and weather-related disasters around the world.

The CDC's first EOC was completed in April 2003. At the core of this 7,000 square foot center is a professional AV system anchored by a variety of Extron equipment. That center is still operational and serves as a backup to the new EOC, which opened in September 2005. To learn more about the first EOC, visit www.extron.com/cdc.

Extron Maintained as Brand of Choice

Within the new 300,000 square foot CDC headquarters Building 21, the new Emergency Operations Center occupies the entire third floor. The floor includes a large, 16-cube videowall that provides images of real-time events, statuses, alerts, news, and maps transmitted via cable, satellite, and computer feeds. In addition, there are more than 60 workstations where emergency responders, scientists, physicians, and researchers can monitor an enormous amount of information 24 hours a day. Each of the workstations has a PC terminal and two-way audio that allows agents to handle a number of different communications paths from within the EOC floor.

The 12th floor of Building 21 houses all executive management, including the office of CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. Dr. Gerberding's main conference room, casual conference room, secure videoconference room, and numerous small meeting rooms were all designed around Extron routing and distribution hardware.

"Extron routers are a core component in the CDC's pursuit of immediate information sharing and in the center's total response capability," says Jon Whitwell, Vice President of Operations at Baker Audio, the AV integrator for the headquarters building.

The consultant on the project, Scott Walker, President of Waveguide Consulting, agrees. "The idea behind the building was that information should be readily shareable and displayable, and collaboration should be high," he says. "That meant there would be a lot of signal routing, and Extron was the brand of choice to meet that challenge."

A Comprehensive AV Routing System

Waveguide specified a variety of different Extron matrix switchers, both fixed I/O and modular/expandable, to create a largescale, campus-wide AV signal routing system for the CDC. "We looked at the design holistically," Walker says. "With the need for so many routers and so many CAT 5 products, we decided to use Extron products as our basis for design because we could address so many needs and solve so many problems using one vendor. This is an AV intensive building with approximately 60 meeting spaces, all of which use Extron routing equipment at the core. In fact, the building uses 53 Extron matrix switchers of various sizes and type — small, large, and everything in between."

"Matrix switchers of various sizes meet the different requirements of each room," Whitwell says. "Some rooms are of limited size and scope, and for those, the CrossPoint 450s work well. Other rooms need the multiple routing and display capabilities of the MAV Plus or the Matrix series, which allows us to use a large format frame and populate the boards with as many inputs and outputs as needed and still leave room for expansion."

All rooms on the main EOC floor and all rooms on the executive floor are connected through an Extron Matrix 12800 for RGBHV, S-video, and audio. The main conference room can display four discrete feeds from the EOC, so if this space is videoconferencing with Washington, DC, live feeds from the EOC can be sent back and forth, as well as to the other buildings on campus.

"If a team is working on an emergency on the third floor, they can share video content with any room, and any room can share content with the main floor," Walker says. "There's complete interoperability and interactivity of signal flow between the main EOC floor and other rooms in the building, including the executive management offices, team rooms, and conference rooms. There are about a dozen meeting rooms that are all tied to the master control room, so that when there's a briefing, it's available to all rooms, and anyone working on a situation in any room can share that information without carrying a laptop or USB stick around. It's all real-time interactivity as they share content across campus, all routed through Extron switchers."

24/7 Uptime

The Matrix 12800 is ideal for largescale routing applications, especially in sensitive, 24/7 environments. Self-monitoring features, redundant power, and cooling systems make the Matrix 12800 ideal for mission-critical applications, such as that at the CDC. Hot-swappable components allow the user to replace any part at any time without having to power down the matrix switcher, and the rooming feature enables the Matrix 12800 to be programmed to assign multiple outputs to specific rooms.

"In the EOC alone, we have 13 separate rooms with videoconferencing capabilities, but all 13 codecs are centralized, so that if one goes down, you can simply route the signal to another codec with the push of a button, and you're up and running again," Walker says. "That was part of the thought behind using a large 128 router. A lot is hanging off the Matrix 12800, including cable TV tuners, central PCs, and camera feeds from the main floor to all rooms. That's the beauty of using the rooming capability and the Extron router." Room presets in the Matrix 12800 offer flexibility and convenience, particularly in systems that require switching between several locations. Once a room has been configured and stored, it is switched independently of other rooms so that signals sent to one room will never accidentally "walk in" on another room.

Hurricane Katrina: Extron Switchers in Action

Two years ago, Extron matrix switchers were called into action at the CDC during a national emergency. During construction of the new headquarters for the CDC, Hurricane Katrina hit, and Baker Audio and Waveguide Consulting were asked on a Sunday morning to have key parts of the AV routing system operational by the next day. Specialists from Baker Audio and Waveguide worked around the clock to outfit two special rooms for videoconferencing, which allowed the CDC headquarters to stay in touch with its field operations counterparts.

"Once the level of the hurricane was known, we were asked to do some emergency modifications to the AV system in the middle of the install, even though the new building wasn't fully open or occupied yet," says Jon Whitwell, Vice President of Operations at Baker Audio. "We used Extron CrossPoint 450 Plus switchers for the heart of the videoconference system because we have total confidence in their reliability for mission-critical operations."

Scott Walker, President of Waveguide Consulting, agrees. "This is certainly a facility where you can't afford to have a lot of brittle equipment," he says. "Rarely is it true that AV is a matter of life and death, but this is an exception to the rule. Reliability and support are critical to CDC operations, and both are provided by Extron."

Building in Flexibility

Certain aspects of the CDC headquarters building took on a different level of security after 9/11 and the anthrax scare that followed. There was some re-engineering of building plans, and a great deal of thought went into the AV system. The Department of Homeland Security didn't even exist when construction began on the building in 2001, and a large-scale EOC wasn't in the first iteration of the plan.

"After 9/11, a lot of the spaces had to shift to deal with the enhanced mission of the CDC," Walker says. "But that's what you deal with in a large, four-year project. The world changes in four years, and you have to move the design along with the times. As designers, we have to keep in mind that the building we're constructing may not change fundamentally, but the systems inside of it may change. We have to be flexible and we have to design in flexibility because the systems need to be adaptable to new technology."

Waveguide prepared for future changes by implementing a fiber optics infrastructure and ensuring that the switchers used have a lot of additional capacity. "When there's a major project, we look as far out as possible," Walker says. "That's why we have a lot of fiber running up and down the headquarters building so we're not bandwidth constricted. We're constantly trying to be as future-proof as possible while specifying robust, road-tested equipment. That's where Extron has been a good fit for us."

CAT 5 Transmitters and Receivers

The 12th floor's main conference room provided many challenges to the Waveguide and Baker teams. Late in construction, the design of this space was changed to accommodate more participants. In addition, to promote collaboration and information sharing among all meeting attendees, a reconfigurable 32-person table was designed with VGA and audio inputs and outputs for each seat. Thus, a cabling solution had to be devised to allow for quick reconfiguration and connection of all cables. The answer was a design based on Extron CAT 5 transmitters and receivers.

The CDC uses the Extron MTP T AV Series Mini Twisted Pair Transmitters and Receivers, which transmit and receive AV signals over 1,000 feet or more over a single Category 5, 5e, or 6 UTP cable. For high resolution computer-video, the system is equipped with Extron VTT001 and VTR001 VGA Twisted Pair Transmitters and Receivers.

"We have entire racks full of nothing but Extron CAT 5 interfaces; in fact, this project represented, hands down, the most CAT 5 equipment ever specified in one of our projects," Walker says. "Handling cable infrastructure was a challenge in this project that was continually changing through the course of the construction. When the systems keep changing on an infrastructure that's already been bid and installed, you have to think creatively about how to get all the signals around. Using Extron CAT 5 transmitters and receivers was the answer for the CDC."

Why Extron?

Whitwell says there was never any question regarding the equipment they would use for signal switching and routing at the CDC. "Extron has the most reliable switching and routing gear with RS-232 control out there," he says. "Also, the IP connectivity of the Matrix 12800 and Matrix 6400 are key features that help the CDC keep track of the hundreds of switches taking place throughout the facility. And the ability to keep user override functions accessible with Extron's FPC 5000 touch-screen control is a huge help in proof-of-performance testing and troubleshooting."

Walker adds that Extron was chosen because of its world-class customer support as well as the equipment's reliability. "We've specified Extron routers for many years, and they've been rocksolid," Walker says. "Also, we want to work with companies that understand the need to defer to customers first and ask questions later. On a project this large, invariably there will be electronic failures, and we know that Extron will handle it first and figure out later whether it's under warranty or not. We like to work with manufacturers who will give us the benefit of the doubt first, and sort it all out later."

Jon Whitwell sums it up. "Extron's commitment to customer service and high management involvement in projects of this size reinforces the fact that Extron is the leader in AV equipment, customer service, and product quality, and they have the engineering staff to back it up."

Building 21: The CDC's headquarters and Emergency Operations Center.

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