More on Situation Rooms.

After the last entry, some research on situation rooms in general.

The Hackitectura site has a page on situation rooms with some interesting links.

The White House Situation Room is presumably the best (or most important) in the world.

“In 2006, the Situation Room underwent a renovation to bring it up to date with new technology. The main conference room now has six flat-screen televisions for secure video conferences, and the technology linking them to generals and prime ministers around the globe makes it less likely that the encrypted voices and images will go black (which happened regularly in connections to Baghdad). Officials found the old room’s wood-paneled walls too noisy, making it hard to hear for those listening in via video or telephone. The new room has less mahogany and more of what officials describe as “21st century whisper wall…. The NSC watch officers, who were previously seated so they stared at walls rather than each other, are now seated on two tiers of curved computer terminals that can be fed both classified and unclassified data from around the country and the world. And, where the old Situation Room suite had only two secure video rooms, the new one has five and a direct, secure feed to Air Force One…. The area also features privacy booths for phone calls, windows with privacy glass (frosted at the flip of a switch), and procedures and technology to prevent unauthorized cell phone calls and text messaging….Not all presidents use the room in the same way. John Kennedy spent most of his time during the Cuban missile crisis in the Oval Office or the Cabinet Room and would go down to the Situation Room only to read the teletype. Lyndon Johnson used the room so often during the Vietnam War that he left his Oval Office chair down there. Presidents Nixon and Ford almost never used the room. George HW Bush and Bill Clinton used it often. In most cases, a visit from the president is a formal undertaking. But George HW Bush would often call and ask if he could come in and say hello and see what was happening in the world.”

Another is Cybersyn: “Cybersyn was a network developed in Chile between 1970 and 1973 under the socialist government of Salvador Allende…. A very young team of Chilean techs collaborated with British cybernetics pioneer Stafford Beer to develop a Chile-wide system to coordinate nationalized industries. The aim of the project, however, wasnt to control factories and workers, but to regulate the network as a living organism, where autonomy of the different cells was compatible with the overall functioning of the organism. Of course, the right wing coup detat didnt allow the project to be completed, but its promises are still of great appeal. One of the interests of this workshop was to realize the social potential of the concept – which astonishingly was designed almost simultaneously to Arpanet itself (1969). ”

This article describes how Microsoft used a situation room during the 2005 Zotob Worm attack on Windows 2000, also described here. (Doesnt sound quite so professional as the White House: That means at any given time during an incident there’s lot of people, a lot of empty coke cans, and a lot of pizza boxes. Sometimes there’s a sleeping bag in the corner, or it might be a pile of stuff someone fashioned into a spot to nap in the middle of the night. ).

BP has one. Its not clear from the article where this is and whether it is simply plant control room with a fancy name, but it “The Anomaly Situation Room was a small conference room with a glass windowed common wall to the Control Room. This allowed viewing of the day-to-day operations in the Control Room as well as a meeting facility. SoftBoard interactive whiteboard, Dukane projector, NEC 42″ plasma, Crestron control panel and an Intel TeamStation video-teleconferencing system, outfitted the room. GUS workstation graphics could also be selected and displayed in the room….Also, as part of the overall project, was the Auditorium. Because of its size, in addition to the Dukane and SoftBoard display system, four 27″ Princeton model AR2.7T presentation monitors were suspension mounted two on each side of the room. This facilitated easy viewing for those employees located to the sides and rear of the room. An Intel TeamStation was also installed to satisfy the necessary video-teleconferencing capabilities between bp sites. The SoftBoard also allowed the Users to work collaborately with internal and external sites as well.”

This article describes the US EPAs situation room: ” The goal is “to make sure we have the information we need, when we need it and where we need it, to react to terrorism, but also to be proactive,” said Debra Stouffer, the EPAs chief technology officer. “Its all data access….. Its a matter of just being prepared so we could react timely and accurately,” Stouffer said. The situation room the EPA envisions will come in several forms. The first version, expected to be in place around October, will actually be a desktop computer application known as a dashboard. Just as a cars dashboard includes a speedometer, odometer, gas gauge and other indicators in a small amount of space, an electronic dashboard is a graphical user interface that consolidates key application or data sources so an employee can find desired data with just a glance. The initial room will package information “readily available, to give a feel for the capability,” Stouffer said. A more complete virtual situation room, which should be ready by years end, goes further. Rather than simply make information available, it will integrate data that EPA employees consider important to monitoring environmental indicators and spotting trends. “There are many agencies already doing this kind of thing to protect our nation,” Stouffer said. “Most situation rooms enable you to react. We are proposing being able to identify trends. Thats the big difference.” ”

A lecture (in Spanish) by Beatriz Colomina traces the history of situation rooms to Buckminster Fuller and the Eameses, who apparently built a demonstration prototype in Moscow in 1958. NASA built one in the 60s, and from then on it was all go. However, I think theres a difference between a functional control room (for an oil refinery or space shot) and a situation room as I understand the term: the latter exists to control a large scale process involving humans, not just machinery.

CNN has a news programme called The Situation Room. The idea has even been used as a metaphor for academic studies of business processes: see this article which argues that: “Work presented in this paper forms part of a wider research in defining a methodological framework for situation room analysis (SRA), and its employment for complex (business enterprise) systems study. More specifically, we investigate the area of multiparty collaboration and decision-making activities by using the central metaphor of a situation room (SR). The latter term is broadly used in the context of military operations and has specific semantical connotations. These connotations are deliberately exploited in order to propose an analytical scheme based on it, which aims to assist planning initiatives and decision making in a particular application domain. Historically speaking, a SR is considered as the intelligence analysis centre used to stay abreast of the latest intelligence reports and updates. For the purposes of our aim, i.e. the multiparty collaboration and decision-making activities from within the SRA framework, it is easy to see that the latter should be data-driven.”

You can rent your own situation room from the IISS: “the Situation Room has full videoconferencing capacities…A number of flat television screens allow users to follow how international and specialist broadcasters are covering breaking news.” (Sounds like a room with two tvs to me..)

The technology is now more democratic, of course. Anyone could build a pretty good situation room for the price of half a dozen PCs and a good broadband link. But the concept has a corporatist (even if sometimes left-wing corporatist) history. Its a place from which to be secretly omniscient, and to manage the outside world, to react and to monitor indicators and identify trends. James Bond villains tend to have them as well, usually based around a large device that is about to destroy the earth.

It would be nice to have a proper analysis of the psychological impact of situation rooms. These environments must suffer from Groupthink, reinforced by the factual and objective intelligence they see, on all that seductive technology. (Did Baudrillard ever comment on this sort of thing?) The immediacy of seeing it as it happens must also tend to turn room users into passive watchers of events (how can you look away when its happening right now?), discouraging them from thinking, planning ahead, and setting their own agenda.

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