West Virginia University Information Stations (Digital Signage)

Within minutes of learning of the horrible tragedy that occurred at Virginia Tech University on that fateful day of April 16, 2007, the concept of the West Virginia University Information Stations was conceived.  WVU Television Productions personnel were tasked by the Office of The President to immediately develop a 24/7/365 information system and network that would span two campuses of WVU in Morgantown, West Virginia with both indoor and outdoor deployments.  With solemn resolution, a professional team was put in place to create an innovative combination of technologies to assist in protecting the nearly 30,000 students and 7,900 faculty and staff members in the event of a campus emergency, as well as provide current and pertinent information to the campuses utilizing digital signage.

The deployment of each digital signage installation is based upon identifying key pedestrian traffic areas across the university properties, including the public and residential complexes, in an effort to notify as many people as soon as possible of any problem on the campuses.  The network was designed to interface, in the event of a campus emergency, with the WVU Department of Public Safety who triggers a three-pronged emergency notification using technology that in turn issues a text message to subscribers of cell phone service, an email message to subscribers, and an RSS feed that switches the standard digital signage across our campuses into emergency notification mode.  Within seconds the digital signage screens display one of two types of ALERT messages… EMERGENCY (red screens) or WEATHER (green screens) along with information about the current situation and what actions the public should take until further notice.  Driven by powerful databases designed by the WVU Information Stations team this system has responded consistently in less than 10 seconds from the time the alert is issued.  A cross-campus redundant fail-over system has been developed to avoid a single-point-of-failure in the event of a loss of power or IP network connection to the network system.  Periodic emergency message tests are conducted by the WVU Department of Public Safety and WVU Information Stations to assure quality of service.  The WVU Information Stations team can also remotely access and manage the system using their smartphones during an ALERT event or from their home computers.

The WVU Information Stations team consists of the WVU Television Productions (WVU TVP, now called WVU Video) Manager of Operations (Spencer Graham) and two Professional Technologists (Jennifer Gillum and George Cicci) supported by five WVU TVP Engineers.  The Professional Technologists specialize in database / network design, graphic arts and content design using the X2Omedia Presenter software platform.   Working within a reasonable budget the team has invented a cost effective method of broadcasting the West Virginia University message and provide a reliable and efficient emergency messaging system that assists in protecting lives on three campuses separated by three miles.  The Office of the President and WVU Administration, the Directors of WVU Video and WVU Web, and the WVU Video Engineering Manager have been wonderfully supportive of, and encouraging to, the WVU Information Station team from the outset.  The WVU Information Stations team underwent the coursework to receive the professional designation of Digital Signage Certified Experts (DSCE) from the nationally recognized Digital Signage Experts Group.      ( http://www.digitalsignageexperts.org/ )

By upgrading our base software platform to X2O Media Presenter, the vast majority of the time this digital signage network displays current information about all things WVU such as daily events calendars, WVU News and Information, student organizations, special events, athletics and WVU video productions.  A twenty-four minute loop of information rotates through three minute client specific pages such as WVU Libraries, the U-92 College Radio Station, WVU Arts & Entertainment, Student Organizations, current weather and extended forecasts, and WVU Athletics programs.  Custom designed site specific pages play at various client locations such as the WVU Law School, the WVU College of Business & Economics, the WVU Health Science Center, the WVU Alumni Center and the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) stations.  Seeking streamlined and efficient use of personnel time, the WVU Information Stations team targeted certain economies of scale found by re-tasking and re-purposing existing campus databases to limit redundant data entry by various clients.

An intricate IP network combined with powerful SQL databases permit specific clients to update their general messaging in a matter of minutes utilizing customized web forms.  The message approval process is easily governed at the client managerial level for content and appropriateness of each message.  The database includes a message start date and end date so that only current information is broadcast to the public.  Databases and content creation are managed from a state-of-the-art Master Control Room located within the WVU Television Productions offices.  Each specific page carries the general West Virginia University branding, yet also provides the client sub-brand to differentiate specific client look and feel.  The databases pull information from individual client WVU web calendars for ease of use as well as content created by our graphic artist for a stunning image.  Short periodic WVU videos are also broadcast that highlight such video segments as The WVU Minute, The WVU Health Report, The WVU Interactive Video Network, The Mountaineer Sports Network, The WVU News produced by the School of Journalism and University Relations programming.

Growth of the WVU Information Stations is managed in specific phases.  The first phase was to research, design and install this digital signage and alert system at ten key areas on the university properties on two campuses within the first six months.  With that goal accomplished the next phase focused on refinement of the emergency broadcast system and several additional deployments of digital signage on campus.  Another phase placed the entire system and content deployed to individual television sets on Cable Channel 7 (SD) and Cable Channel 72.1 (HD) in more than 5,500 dormitory rooms on campus via the campus cable television network in real-time.  Drawing from the databases, an integrated marketing widget has been created for use on many social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, iGoogle and blogs.  The latest phase targeted the installation of this digital signage in seventeen student residential complexes in key pedestrian locations such as the reception desks and cafeterias.  What initially began as a deployment of ten digital signs strategically placed on campus in October 2007 has grown to more than seventy individual deployments in January 2010.  Future phases will target a discreet and attractive digital sign in every classroom on campus to alert students, faculty and staff in the event of a campus safety issue in a timely manner and to export the technology 170 miles away at a regional campus over the existing network infrastructure.  Currently we are designing ways to transport the messaging to desktop computers, wayfinding applications, video walls, other social media venues, and use as a desktop computer screensaver.   As the network has grown, the demand for an entrepreneurial model has increased from both WVU and non-WVU prospects to take advantage of certain opportunities for judicious advertising, promotions and programming.

The future of the West Virginia University Information Stations is only constrained by their innovation and ingenuity.  The team is always looking for the next challenge to conquer!

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About swgraham2

Mountain Mists is an opportunity to develop some thought processes individually as I journey through this wonderful world; as someone who values highly effective management techniques and the art of leading teams; and through my association with West Virginia University as a professional technologist and network manager specializing in digital signage.
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