Integrated technology enhances training at new Columbia Gas facility

In a tiny village at the corner of Columbia Circle and NiSource Way in Gahanna, Ohio, nearly every day is interrupted with emergency calls.

But things are supposed to go awry in "Safety Town," the heart of a high-tech facility just opened by Columbia Gas of Ohio, a subsidiary of NiSource Inc., one of the largest utility companies in the United States. The new, 28,000 square-foot center provides training for emergency response, maintenance of existing pipelines, and customer service.

One of the main features of the Central Ohio facility is the outdoor Emergency Response Safety Town, a mock neighborhood of mini-homes and businesses complete with underground utilities and meters, where trainers can create and control various emergency scenarios.

While utility workers attempt to tackle gas-line challenges, the sounds of dogs barking, kids playing, and couples arguing drift down the gravel streets. Such realistic noises are part of the overall technology design provided by Integrated Building Systems.

From the cabling infrastructure to the hidden-rock speakers in Safety Town, modern technology solutions enhance every aspect of the training, helping Columbia Gas provide real-time, interactive programs for thousands of employees from across the state.

Here's an inside look at technology in the new training center:

Audio-visual systems enrich training

Interactive audio-visual (AV) systems produce common neighborhood sounds and support real-time, interactive training. In the village, for example, Columbia Gas trainers can immerse employees and technicians in real-world situations, and then record, stream live, and playback the training scenarios. Other AV components -- including fixed microphones, cameras, paging horn speakers, and hidden rock speakers -- add to the realism of each training situation.

Live video tools create dynamic classrooms

This new Columbia Gas facility can accommodate up to 161 trainees at a time. During training, outdoor cameras record and stream live video to indoor monitors for real-time observation. These recordings can later be reviewed to ensure procedures are followed appropriately and used for classroom instruction.

Digital signage shares critical daily messages

Inside the main building, digital signage greets employees and visitors with critical daily messages, the time and temperature, and other special announcements.

Intuitive AV systems support flexible spaces

An ever-changing audience will fill smaller classrooms like this one as well as large training rooms -- which means the AV systems must be easy to use and adaptable for a variety of applications. In these spaces, the AV devices support video, screen sharing, conferencing, and more, with intuitive touch-screen controllers.

Fast, reliable infrastructure connects all technology

Hidden in the walls and ceilings and neatly integrated in the furnishings is a high-speed cabling infrastructure that connects all of the high-tech systems used throughout the training facility. Proper installation, labeling, and cable management ensure reliable transmission of information for voice, data, video, and security systems.

Design-stage planning yields seamless integration

Based in Merrillville, Indiana, NiSource opened a similar training facility for Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania in Monaca, Pennsylvania, last summer. Planning is underway for facilities in Massachusetts and Virginia. Integrated Building Systems created the technology plan for the Monaca center, knowing it would be a design template for all the training centers.

 Design-stage planning for technology improves coordination with the entire project team, minimizes change orders, and ensures seamless integration of the systems that are essential for a connected work environment. For Columbia Gas, having a technology plan anchored by an accurate budget helps the company clearly understand its total cost of ownership and return on investment -- but more importantly, ensures they create an effective facility for employee training that incorporates best practices and improves safety.


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