At first glance, the city's command post for policing the Freakfest Halloween party on State Street this weekend simply looked like any room full of desks, phones, and computers -- possibly a call center. Located at the Madison Fire Department's downtown offices on West Johnson Street, this temporary space for managing police and emergency services for the city over the weekend was opened to visiting members of the media on Friday afternoon in advance of the start of operations later in the evening.
The command center was quiet for the time being, with MFD spokesperson Lori Wirth showing the setup technicians putting the finishing touches on the pair of stations that will be used for operating the surveillance cameras on State Street. From these seats, the Halloween command operation will be able to rotate any a camera's perspective and zoom in on any potential issues arising during the Halloween revelry. These images can also be displayed on one of three large screens at the front of the command center, visible to the entire group of law enforcement and other emergency personnel working in the room.
After a few minutes inside, the setup was looking less like a call center, though, and more like the adaptation of a classic TV set. With big screens in front and a pair of desks directly facing them, a ring of work stations around the perimeter and in back, the sole station situated in the center of the room resembled nothing so much as the captain's chair on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
MPD Assistant Chief James Keiken, who was helping make final preparations to the room, said this was an apt comparison, as the command center will operate in a similar manner as the bridge of a seagoing (or in this case, a spacegoing) vessel.
Representatives of numerous law enforcement and emergency agencies -- including the Madison Police Department, Madison Fire Department, Capitol Police, Dane County Sheriff's Office, Wisconsin State Patrol, and more -- will be monitoring the situation on State Street and around the city from 17 stations, with MPD Assistant Chief Randy Gaber commanding the operation from the central desk. He'd could be either Captain Kirk or Captain Picard, joked Keiken in the spirit of Weird Al. All the room needed were the iconic bleeps and hums from the '60s series to make the effect complete.
Keiken concluded that this comparison could even be useful as a teaching tool to explain how a command center of this type operates during a large-scale public event.
Like any bridge, the command center will be gathering information from a variety of sources, processing it for the police to keep on top of the revelry. There is a trio of stations for 911 operations, and another for police intelligence, which aggregates information about arrests and other details to try and identify potential patterns through the night. There is an array of desks lined with phones for the operation to keep in contact with officers in the field, as well as Mayor Cieslewicz and his entourage, who will observing the video-feed scene from the city's Emergency Operations Center, located at the Water Utility near the Coliseum on the south side.
Then there's the pair of stations for the surveillance cameras, which are perhaps the biggest change this year. Located primarily on the 300 through 600 blocks of State Street, these cameras are situated mostly atop light poles, and in at least one case, the side of the Statesider private dorm near Frances Street, at the foot of which has been the single largest trouble spot during the disturbances that notoriously ended the Halloween revelry from 2002 through 2005.
In all, the room was an impressive technological display, one that transcended its pop culture association. There was plenty of new equipment, systems largely paid for by federal grants from the Department of Homeland Security and Metropolitan Medical Response System, explained Keiken. These resources will be used to assist multiple teams of EMTs patrolling State Street on foot (as vehicles will not be able to navigate the crowds), as well as fire inspection teams examining bars and house parties for dangerous overcrowding.
Everything will get put to use over two nights this weekend, opening for business for the typically smaller Halloween prelude revelry on Friday night, and then in full operation for Freakfest on Saturday.