A control room or operations room is a room serving as a central space where a large physical facility or physically dispersed service can be monitored and controlled. A control room will often be part of a larger command center.
A control room’s purpose is production control, and serves as a central space where a large physical facility or physically dispersed service can be monitored and controlled. Central control rooms came into general use in factories during the 1920s.
Control rooms for vital facilities are typically tightly secured and inaccessible to the general public. Multiple electronic displays and control panels are usually present, and there may also be a large wall-sized display area visible from all locations within the space. Some control rooms are themselves under continuous video surveillance and recording, for security and personnel accountability purposes. Many control rooms are manned on a “24/7/365” basis, and may have multiple people on duty at all times (such as implementation of a “two-man rule”), to ensure continuous vigilance.
Other special-purpose control room spaces may be temporarily set up for special projects (such as an oceanographic exploration mission), and closed or dismantled once the project is concluded.
Examples of control rooms
Control rooms are typically found in installations such as:
- Nuclear power plants and other power-generating stations, many oil refineries and chemical plants
- Airlines, such facilities are often referred to as Operations Control Centers, responsible for flight operations dispatch, monitoring, and support
- Major transportation facilities, such as bridges, tunnels, canals, airports, and rapid transit systems, may have 24-hour manned control rooms to monitor and report on traffic congestion, and to respond to emergencies
- Various military facilities, ranging in scale from a missile silo to NORAD. The term “operations room” is also used.
- NASA flight controllers work in one of several “flight control rooms” in mission control centers; affiliated facilities such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have their own control rooms;
- Computerized data centers, which often serve remote users in multiple time zones worldwide
- Network operations centers
- Large institutions, such as universities, hospitals, major research facilities (such as particle accelerator laboratories), high security prisons, and theme parks
- Emergency services, including police, fire service and emergency medical service
- Call centers may use a control room to monitor incoming and outgoing communications of customer service representatives, and to provide general oversight of the call center.
- Rail Operations Centers, such as the Union Pacific Harriman Dispatch Center, control rail operations over thousands of miles of railroad. Train dispatchers staff these facilities 24/7/365 to manage efficient rail operations. In the UK these are usually operated separately by each Train Operating Company or by Network Rail and will include traincrew and rolling stock resourcing on a 24/7 basis. Connection to individual members of traincrew will usually be by mobile phone.
The control room concept is also used in non-emergency contexts:
- In television production, the master control is the technical hub of a broadcast operation common among most over-the-air television stations, television networks, and color suites.
- Sound recording studios typically each have their own control rooms where the recording is actually made
Special hazards and mitigation
Control rooms are usually equipped with elaborate fire suppression and security systems to safeguard their contents and occupants, and to ensure continued operation in emergencies. In hazardous environments, the control room may also serve as an area of refuge for personnel trapped onsite. The rooms are typically crammed with equipment, mounted in multi-function rack mount cabinets to allow updating. The dense concentration of equipment often requires special electrical uninterruptible power supply (UPS) feeds and air conditioning.
Since the control equipment is intended to control other items in the surrounding facility, these (often fire-resistance rated) service rooms require many penetrations for cables. Due to routine equipment updates these penetrations are subject to frequent changes, so that a control room maintenance program must include vigilant firestop maintenance for code compliance.
Due to the nature of the sensitive equipment inside control room cabinets, it is useful to ensure the use of “T-rated” firestops, that are massive and thick enough to resist heat transmission to the inside of the control room. It is also common to place control rooms under positive pressure ventilation to prevent smoke or toxic gases from entering. If used, gaseous fire suppressants must occupy the space that is to be protected for a minimum period of time to be sure a fire can be completely extinguished. Openings in such spaces must, therefore, be kept to a minimum to prevent the escape of the suppression gas.
A mobile control room is designated as particularly in high risk facilities, such as a nuclear power station or a petrochemical facility.[further explanation needed] It can provided a guaranteed life support for the anticipated safety control.