It is ironic speaking of traffic flow within a Control Room when one of the leading industries in need of a Control Room, is Traffic Control and Departments of Transportation. Whether one is talking about Air Traffic Control, Port Stations, Toll Ways, Highways etc…Control Rooms are critical for efficient flow of traffic operation systems. Most of the time, Traffic Operation Control Rooms are manned 24/7 in a centralized location where the operators can have real time exposure and video surveillance to everything taking place throughout the entirety of the system. For professionals in the industry, this is all common knowledge. So why do I bring it up?
We all know a Control Room is the beating heart to any organization operating mission critical facilities. Traffic Operation Systems is just one example of a mission critical setting. The entire concept arises from making sure each moving piece in operation continues to flow efficiently with as little disruption as possible. As such, this is the common notion for all Control Rooms across multiple industries. But what happens when the idea of a fluid flow is evident everywhere, BUT within the Control Room.
Traffic Flow Design Flaw
Often times when visiting a Control Room, a common trend within the design presents itself. This may not be every occurrence, but it happens enough to be noticeable. It would appear the initial layout was designed in a way that screamed “fit as much equipment possible, as the rooms dimensions will allow.” Yes, there is a huge importance of ensuring every room has the adequate equipment required for operations. But when designing a control room, we must take a holistic approach as opposed to addressing one single factor. Functionality is just as important as the physical requirements of the room.
Much like the traffic systems that control rooms monitor, command centers require an uninterrupted focus. Consequentially, every movement of a bystander presents an equal element of distraction within the room. The breakroom, the exit and all other avenues of transit are major factors inviting constant flow within the room. Minor as it may seem, we can speak in regard to negative outcomes resulting from poor traffic control for days. And although most will say, “it does not bother them,” or “we are used to it,” the reality is people can be easily distracted without recognizing the distraction as a threat. I have mentioned Steve Whitley on a number of occasions. During his audits, he will actually count the number of times an operator is forced to look away from their task by visual and audible distractions. Without fail, his clients are almost always blown away with what the results show. Like many of the errors we have previously discussed, they do not need to affect everyone. It only takes one.
If you are interested in reviewing Steve’s audit and gap analysis work, check him out here. His findings are quite interesting.
What is the Answer
First and foremost, special attention needs to be placed on restricting unnecessary entry into the control room. Identify who needs to enter the room, when, and why. Understand if your room is being used as a resting spot, a social area, a cut-thru, a meeting area etc. If people are coming into the room to give or receive information, can this be information that can be communicated in another manner? In some cases, you may need to alter the way you conduct business pertaining to the Control Room.
For example, the Permitting process is often conducted in the middle of the control room. Try to find a way to isolate that process if possible. At the very least, restrict the number of people entering the room to receive a permit. (You will often have 3-4 guys come into the room for the same permit which adds 2-3 times the amount of possible noise and distraction).
There is no true 'industry standard' for acceptable traffic flow, and every control room is different. However, there does need to be special care taken in how the room is arranged to maximize efficient movement for operators as well as visitors. Don't make it easy for people to congregate in the control room, and do not create traffic paths that invite visitors to walk into the console areas in front or behind the operator. Additionally, forward facing operators toward entry points is important. This allows the operators to engage the visitor visually and controls the traffic path taken by each visitor.
For example, it is better to interact with visitors across the console vs. having someone stand behind the operator to talk. This allows the operator two key factors.
1) To keep his/her eyes on the system while interacting with the visitor and,
2) To keep visitors away from their operating area.
This can minimize excess noise, distraction and interruption as well as provide an extra measure of control system integrity (safety).
As one can see, resolving poor traffic flow is no more than acknowledging it as a potential threat. Knowing where congestion can build and where common areas invite traffic flow, is half the battle. We will continue to highlight common errors in control room design and best practices to resolve them. Should you ever have questions you would like answered, reach out to Corey Wilson at Cwilson@LegacyDenver.com, or you can visit our website Here. We are always happy to help.