CLEMSON — The integrated approach to major event communications at Clemson University received another significant boost this fall. Avtec Inc., which contributed more than $500,000 in 2017 to the Watt Family Innovation Center to aid Clemson’s emergency management operations, recently donated $30,000 in the form of two Scout dispatch software positions.

Members of Clemson's emergency operations team at unified command during a football gameday.

Avtec recently donated two dispatch software positions (nearest laptop) to aid Clemson’s emergency management operations during major campus events.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The latest donation from Avtec has allowed university officials to move the unified command center for home football games from Memorial Stadium to an off-campus location.

“This most recent donation has allowed us to set up additional, networked communications in a geodiverse location,” said Sarah Custer, Clemson’s emergency management director. “Now, unified command — which consists of about 20 people representing a dozen different organizations — is able to watch over the entire event and make well-informed decisions.”

Greg Mullen, associate vice president for public safety and chief of police, is an avid supporter of the latest technology aiding his team during major events.

“As we continue to integrate the necessary response and recovery components required to meet the challenges of today, especially those facing Clemson as it expands its reputation and position as a premier university, robust communication capacity is the foundation,” he said. “Through our strategic partnership with Avtec, we are able to create a foundation for today, while focusing on the future.”

The new dispatch consoles at unified command have allowed emergency operations officials to reconfigure the setup for football game days. Stadium operations now consist of branch directors from CUPD and Fire/EMS, along with the city of Clemson and representatives from Athletics and CCIT. External operations are managed by branch directors in separate locations, while the Watt Center is available as an alternate location for stadium operations. The dispatch consoles at each location are networked together for seamless collaboration.

Avtec is based in Lexington, South Carolina, and Chief Executive Officer Michael Branning is a 1986 Clemson graduate. His son, Alex, is a junior at Clemson. Avtec is the largest independent developer of dispatch consoles in North America, with more than 1,000 systems in service across public safety, transportation, energy, government, business and industry.

Custer said Avtec made the offer to donate the additional software on Aug. 17 — just two weeks prior to the first home football game — and the company sent an integration engineer to unified command and had the consoles up and running for the opener with Furman.

“It’s taken our response organization to the next level and truly allowed us to operate under the full meaning of the incident command system,” she said. “This is true of any major event, whether it’s a football game or large-scale emergency requiring this room to stand up.”

Twana Wright, CUPD’s communications coordinator, is one of the primary users of Avtec software on game day. With a single click, she can select from hundreds of units or individual channels and communicate any necessary reallocation of resources in the event of an incident. The consoles also allow her team to speak with stadium operations personnel over an intercom.

James Gowan serves as an information officer for the intel branch on game day, working alongside Wright and others at unified command. He said the Avtec software allows for greater flexibility and has reduced both the room noise level and the number of devices for emergency operations officials.

“I used to have four channels, meaning four radios, available to me at all times,” Gowan said. “Now it’s all on one screen, and it’s much more convenient and efficient.”

Bill Daniel, Clemson’s longtime fire chief, has seen radio communications advance a long way in his time with emergency operations. Daniel said the software has given unified command more resiliency and redundancy.

“Previously, our stadium contingency plans were to set up on the tailgate of a truck or get to the Watt Center,” he said. “Now, command and control is in a protected, static location. We were not in this space last year, so Avtec understood our squeeze time for procuring the consoles. It would have to be a catastrophic situation to leave our new location thanks to Avtec.”