Crisis Room Design – Fantasy and Reality

I enjoyed watching the latest Die Hard movie. It’s excellent entertainment. And it’s all about cyber terrorism. So it’s a must for anyone working in the Critical National Infrastructure field. Of course, it’s impossible for anyone working in security to watch a film like this without comparing every small detail to real-life experience.

I was particularly interested in the design of the FBI’s cyber security crisis facility. Just like 24’s CTU, it has lots of colourful screens in darkened rooms but seemed a little short on decent facilities for top-team discussion and decision-making. I assume the set was probably modeled on the National Counter Terrorism Centre in McClean Virginia. This is an impressive facility with an interesting lay-out of well-spaced desks in a large room with a central focus. A very effective layout for managing fast-moving operational issues. And very different from the recently made-over White House Situation Room, which has a layout designed to facilitate centralised discussion and team-work.

It’s not clear how much benefit colour displays offer over traditional flip charts and white boards. But you can’t beat a good “wow” factor. And there are some breathtaking environments out there that are actually used for crisis training. The most impressive one is the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE) complex at the University of Lafayette, which boasts three-dimensional immersive visualization cubes with high definition walls, floor and ceiling, supported by high-speed networks of high performance computers. Just imagine what you can do with all that.

I’m a keen student in the art of designing environments team structures for crisis management and emergency response. These two functions are often confused. But they are quite different. The former is focused on preserving the longer-term intellectual assets of the organisation. The latter is primarily concerned with short-term physical events. They require different environments and team compositions. And small factors such as the size and shape of a room do have a major impact on team dynamics. It’s a shame that so little attention is paid to room design. Because the real art of crisis management is maximising the value of every asset at your fingertips, whether people, information or systems. And you need the right surroundings to achieve this.