The Changing Face of Security Console Design

Oct. 27, 2008
A Thing of Beauty

Wide spread changes within the security industry in recent years have resulted in a dramatic shift in the approach to security console design. Today's consoles are smaller, more attractive and more functional than ever before. From aesthetics to ergonomics, there is no shortage of influences effecting this transformation. Increased public awareness, the emer gence of digital technology, system integration, flat panel screens, touch screen technology and new ergonomic standards are all responsible for the profound effects on recent security console design.

Historically, security operations centers were hidden away in the depths of buildings, in basements or backrooms where they were seldom—if ever—seen by the public. Because of this, the focus of security console design was mostly function over form. Consoles were rarely things of beauty. No one cared what a console looked like, as long as it was functional and held the equipment necessary to get the job done.

Out of the Closet into Full View

Security is transitioned into a primary concern of the government, corporations and the general public. Security operations have moved to the forefront. In an effort to increase a sense of security, organizations are choosing to make security operations in their facilities extremely visible. “As a result, the technical furniture industry's approach to security console design is changing to include aesthetic considerations,” says Wayne Cook, director of sales for The Winsted Corporation, designers and manufacturers of technical furniture.

Fortunately, evolutionary changes in security technologies are aiding this aesthetic overhaul. Advances such as the emergence of digital technology and the integration of flat panel monitors have allowed designers to create attractive security consoles with compact layout designs.

For instance, new digital video recorders (DVRs) are rapidly replacing their more cumbersome analog predecessors for use with CCTV surveillance systems. These digital devices are now typically smaller and use less space within the console. In most cases, they are even eliminated from the console altogether. Digital file servers allow seated console operators to access real-time or archived information even if the electronics are located behind the scenes in an equipment room.

As an added benefit, moving heat producing larger electronics out of the main security console and into separate secured vertical racks in temperature controlled equipment rooms means there is less heat being produced inside the security console. This arrangement lends itself to aesthetically pleasing, ergonomic consoles and greater comfort for all 24/7-security personnel.

Advances in security system integration are also aiding the smaller console design. The days of having numerous large CRT monitors to view simultaneously are numbered and will soon be a distant memory. Also, many different aspects of a system are able to communicate with each other. For instance, access door controls are linked to cameras, which are linked to multiple surveillance controls. As a result, operators are paying closer attention to information relevant to current security situations.

Today, operators are able to set cameras to send signals to electronic switchers if a camera detects motion, or set door and access control panels to turn on particular cameras and view images on monitoring screens if they are used at inappropriate times. As security systems become more intelligent, console operators require fewer control elements within the console. Security consoles have become part of the IT infrastructure that allows interoperability and integrates access control, CCTV, biometric security, lighting and fire and alarm systems.

Studies Drive Design

Ergonomics and anthropometry, the studies of workers and their relationships with the console environment and body measurements, are a driving factor in the new console designs. Ergonomic standards have been revised to consider these new technologies, including an understanding of anthropometry and our bodies (heads, necks, eye movement and posture) interacting with this working envelope.

P revious console standards that were set back in the sixties were based on ergonomic studies done with a person's posture in a “sitting tall position,” with their hips, shoulders and ears in a perfect straight line. Realistically, no one will sit in such an uncomfortable position, especially for the long duration of eight- to twelve-hour shifts.

With this understanding, the new ergonomic standards are based on more realistic assessments of how operators work at desks and security command/control consoles. “By nature we are hunters and gatherers. Common sense tells us that, when hunting, we look way out in front of us so our eyes can scan the horizon. When gathering, our eyes are focused down in front of us in close proximity,” says Cook. “Regardless of what our modern occupation and tasks are, these fundamental truths haven't changed.”

According to Cook, recent ergonomic studies show humans sitting in a more ‘relaxed position' with our heads tilting forward approximately 8-15 degrees, eyes looking minus 30 to 35 degrees down for the proper viewing angle and the average viewing distance of 30 inches to the monitor screen(s). With that in mind, new console designs have a lower target angle to view all primary monitors.”

Touch screen technology is also beginning to affect the ergonomics of new console designs, especially in high security and high attention environments. Case studies show when people get extremely nervous under high stress situations, they have trouble operating a computer mouse and finding an emergency icon to click on, which adds to delayed response times.

Studies also show that people have less trouble pointing with their finger at touch screens to increase accuracy and quicker response times. As a result, touch screens are becoming more and more prevalent in high security, high stress applications.

Consoles incorporating touch screen technology feature shorter distances between the operator and the monitor screen, so operators can comfortably touch screens while sitting in the “relaxed position.” With these changing trends happening concurrently, technical furniture manufacturers are rising to the challenge and reacting quickly to create new security consoles that are ergonomic, aesthetically pleasing and functionally superior.

“Several of Winsted's System/85, low profile and Prestige Slim-Line console systems are designed so the operator's targeted viewing angles are proper with respect to all monitors and electronics. You also have the ability to incorporate large LCDs, plasma monitors, rear projection screens or video projector systems in front of the low profile consoles on security room walls,” says Cook.

Of course, solutions vary from security center to security center both in form and function. A campus security office, retail store or a corporate installation will be significantly different from a government security operations office or nuclear power plant control center. They all have different demands, from the number of cameras, electronic equipment and operators at each console to the different aesthetics or material requirements.

Design for Crisis

More often than not, security operations centers are designed for day-to-day normal operation procedures. They include just enough consoles to accommodate operators in such work routines and very little more. When upgrading or creating a new environment, consider crisis situations for your command and/or control security operations centers and your clients' as well.

In most current environments, when a crisis arises, security and emergency service personnel, management and perhaps even government officials are suddenly crowded into diminutive security rooms. They analyze information coming to them on small consoles and screens. It's an impossible situation for quick action and effectively handling a security incident.

It has become apparent that crisis situations are not always imagined scenarios created for the sole purpose of training security personnel. Regardless of your security installation, facilities are going to grow. Security is not getting simpler; it's becoming increasingly more complex.

Even normal operating procedures have changed. You see an increasing number of surveillance cameras, limitations to access and the integration of all security systems within a facility being viewed as important investments. Security consoles, operations centers and command/control environments must be designed to handle these changes. Design for crisis, hope for routine.