Flexible cable management insights for AV integrators, designers, and architects.
For the last 200 years, the basic design of American courtrooms has remained unchanged. Visit any courtroom in the country, and you’ll see the familiar judge’s bench, jury box, and witness stand. When today’s courtrooms were being built (from 1940 to 2000), the judicial process relied exclusively on printed documents, not photos and videos from smartphones. As a result, file storage and accessibility became the main priorities for most designs.
No one could have anticipated the changes that the internet, smartphones, and the pandemic would bring to everyday life, including in the justice system. As a result, today’s courtrooms are busy catching up with current technologies, while the courtrooms of the future must also plan for future growth capacity and tomorrow’s technology.
The Courtroom of the Future: Learning From the Past
When the internet came along in the mid-90s, courts scrambled to update their existing infrastructure by installing necessary cabling and connection points.
About a decade later, WiFi became widely available to the public, and another infrastructure retrofit was required to add WiFi routers and signal boosters.
In both instances, the biggest challenge was installing the miles of cabling required. For most courtrooms, that meant trenching the slab or opening the ceilings from the server room to each connection point.
The Courtroom of the Future: Retrofit Costs and Barriers
While addressing cable management in a new courtroom construction project is simple and straightforward, retrofitting existing courtrooms presents its own set of construction challenges:
Publicly funded projects – Because courtroom buildings are owned by the city, county, state, or federal government, construction projects are subject to the Davis-Bacon Act. This law requires that project workers receive a prevailing local wage, which is often in line with local union pay scales. Labor costs can easily double or triple the cost compared to a standard commercial construction project.
The Build America, Buy American Act (BABAA)¹ now requires all federal agencies to ensure that by May 14, 2022, no federal financial assistance for “infrastructure” projects is provided “unless all the iron, steel, manufactured products, and construction materials used in the project are produced in the United States.”
Court is now in session – Many courtrooms can’t close to accommodate the required construction work. Contractors must typically work off-hours to minimize noise, dust, and potential court disruptions. Tools and equipment are shuffled in and out daily, which further cuts into daily productivity.
Material deliveries are particularly problematic, as most suppliers don’t offer off-hours deliveries. On-site material storage may be limited as the building is open to the public during the day.
Historical buildings – Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, not much thought was given to potential future upgrades like electricity, running water, and telephone service. Without utility chases or connection points in place, modernizing these buildings for today’s technology, while maintaining the historical heritage, can quickly become cost prohibitive.
Building code compliance – In many jurisdictions, once the retrofit work reaches a certain size or dollar amount, the entire building may have to be brought up to current code. Depending on the building’s age, this can involve updating windows, doors, stairwells, elevators, and fire suppression systems. Correcting grandfathered code requirements can easily turn a cabling retrofit into a full-on renovation.
Outdated building materials – Stories about lead pipes continue to dominate the news, but there are other hazards potentially hiding in older courtrooms.
From 1965 to 1980, electrical contractors used aluminum when installing building wiring. While the formula was changed in 1972 to address safety concerns, aluminum wiring is 55 times more likely to start a fire compared to copper or copper-clad aluminum wiring options.
Another hazard that can quickly derail your technology retrofit is asbestos. Unlike aluminum wiring, which hides in walls and ceilings, asbestos can be found in a variety of building materials, such as:
Drywall joint compound
Sprayed-on ceiling texture
Asbestos was popular because its fibers added strength while also providing superior fireproofing. The only way to test for asbestos is to send a sample to an EPA-approved lab.
Abatement options include encapsulation, where the asbestos is treated with a chemical-hardening solution to trap the fibers, or physical abatement, where the asbestos is safely removed and transported to a suitable disposal facility.
Another potential issue involves the concrete slab. Some, such as post-tension slabs, use steel cable tendons for reinforcement to offset their thinner thickness and lack of rebar. Any damage to the tendon would be expensive and time-consuming to repair. As a result, post-tension slabs cannot be cut or trenched for cabling upgrades.
In these buildings, most utility services are hidden in the plenum or attic space above the ceiling. While ceilings provide easier access for cabling purposes, when the cabling must pass through a fire-rated wall assembly, specific construction techniques must be used to maintain the fire rating at each penetration.
The Courtroom of the Future:Assessing Technology Needs
While no one can accurately predict the future of technology, proactive AV integrators, designers, and architects typically perform a technology assessment for every courtroom project.
The first step involves establishing a list of the entities that will need to access and use the system. For example, a criminal or civil court would have a very different set of users (and access points) compared to a bankruptcy or small claims court.
However, all court decisions are based on:
The evidence presented
The witness testimony
The local laws and regulations
Evidence is typically found and collected by law enforcement agencies such as the police, county sheriffs, and highway patrol, but could easily include:
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
Department of Homeland Security
Department of Public Safety
US Postal Inspectors
US Customs and Border Protection
US Marshals Service
Medical professionals including counselors, doctors, clinicians, and nurses
As a result, evidence can be collected and presented using a variety of mediums, including:
Documents and financial records DOCX, XLXS, PDF, PPTX, HTML, ODT, TXT
Photos/images JPEG/JPG, PNG, GIF, PSD, EPS, RAW, INDD, and AI
Video MP4, MOV, WMV, AVI, AVCHD, FLV (F4V and SWF), MKV, and WEBM (HTML5)
Audio MP3, AAC, WAV, FLAC, ALAC, and DSD
GPS tracking GPX, TCX, FIT, CSV, and KML
Text messages SMS, BBM, MMS, IPA, and MMSSMS.DB
The next key element to any court case involves the witness appearing in court to testify. But because of the pandemic, virtual court appearances became a necessity to keep everyone safe. Online video conferencing platforms were the solution for many courtrooms and a substantial number of businesses, if their technology infrastructure had the necessary bandwidth, of course.
And while these platforms provided a short-term fix for many courtrooms, they simply don’t include the features or options needed to be effective in the long run. The ideal solution for remote testifying should replicate the in-person option, meaning that:
The court staff control who can view or participate in a court session.
The judge should have the same level of control to mute a participant and direct the proceedings in real time.
The system includes enough access points for cameras, microphones, projectors, and attorney laptops.
Firewalls and file-sharing permissions must be created to protect the evidence and witness confidentiality.
And that’s a snapshot of the technology used in the courtroom today, but what about tomorrow? Here are a few of the emerging technologies to consider for the courtroom of the future.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can be used for presenting evidence or testimony from a different perspective or context.
Holograms are another option for presenting evidence, and unlike AR can be seen with the naked eye.
3D animation brings testimony to life for storytelling purposes or comparing testimony to evidence.
The common link between all these technologies is data collection and sharing, both of which require a robust and scalable network. Effectively managing and maintaining cables and cords provides the critical support, reliability, agility, and flexibility needed to sustain and grow your future capabilities. As a result, flexible cable management will be a keystone component of the courtroom of the future.
The last element of any court case is the local laws and regulations, and luckily, those don’t involve architects, designers, or AV integrators.
The Courtroom of the Future: of Sustainable Design and Construction
A sustainable building involves much more than meeting the minimum number of recyclable products and materials used on the job site. Sustainability starts with building design and continues over the life cycle of the building.
As a result, water conservation, waste reduction, and energy efficiency are top priorities for sustainable products and construction materials. The building materials and products used should be both reusable and recyclable. During their lifecycle, reusable products can:
Be modified, reconfigured, or upgraded with minimal costs.
Accommodate new technology with minimal alteration within the same space.
Be removed and relocated to another location.
Recyclable means that the product can be turned into new products at the end of its lifecycle, which is a key component of a circular economy. For example, when a multi-story building is razed, the steel beams and columns are melted down to become fasteners, saw blades, tools, or possibly a new beam or column. Demolished cement foundations and slabs can be recycled into aggregate for roadways, retaining walls, and landscaping needs. The same holds true for building materials that incorporate aluminum, copper, gypsum, and clear glass.
Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) is another key point of sustainable construction. IEQ involves lighting, air quality, thermal performance, acoustic performance, ergonomics, and their effects on the residents or occupants. By addressing IEQ elements, health and quality of life improve, potentially reducing stress and physical injuries.
The Courtroom of the Future: What Lies Ahead?
The judge’s bench and witness stand will remain a staple of courtroom design for the foreseeable future, but our courtrooms have a history of implementing new technologies as they become available.
Stenographer machines replaced handwritten notes.
CCTV gave way to today’s video conferencing options.
The laptop replaced the briefcase and file boxes.
Flat screen monitors eliminated projectors and projector screens.
Printed documents went digital.
And IT and AV have changed the courtroom, and most everything else, as we kneow it.
The biggest challenge for the courtroom of the future involves designing new or updating existing infrastructure to take advantage of the constantly changing tech landscape to better serve their communities and citizens. More data, higher resolutions, and faster file transfers typically require more robust cabling and effective cable management that’s easy to upgrade or reconfigure based on changing tech needs.
One solution to consider is the Gridd Adaptive Cabling Distribution® system, designed specifically for businesses and courtrooms to smoothly integrate technology. As the building or current tech requirements evolve, the raised flooring system provides quick and easy access to add or move an outlet, or to completely reconfigure the cabling system to meet a new client’s requirements. Whether you’re dealing with a 150-year old historic courthouse, a new ground-up project, or even a modular high-rise, you can future-proof today’s design while lowering future construction costs at the same time.