Thunder Over Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky

Picture this: A half million people gathered along the banks of the Ohio River, between southern Indiana and Kentucky. The crowds on each shoreline stretch nearly two miles wide in anticipation of "Thunder Over Louisville" — the nation's largest fireworks display that kicks off the world-renowned Kentucky Derby Festival. This 30-minute pyrotechnics spectacular uses more than 60 tons of fireworks shells and requires approximately 7,000 feet of fiber optic wiring. It's bigger than some Olympic ceremonies. Most of all, timing is critical. With AMX integrating the show's preliminary countdown, it could not be more perfect.

Thunder Over Louisville always begins right on cue. Down to the millisecond. It's been that way for the last 15 years thanks to the ingenuity and technical savvy of Communications Electronics Design (CED), an AMX Dealer based in Louisville, Ky. CED manages control, communications and audio/video systems for the event, an undertaking that begins months in advance to ensure a seamless production.

"It's pretty intense," said Tim Creed, President of CED. "We always try to do something new (every year) and to automate the show as best we can."

GPS Timecode

CED uses custom software designed to keep a running log of all system operations throughout the day of the show. In the command center, AMX tracks real time. In here, a designated countdown clock is linked to a GPS (Global Positioning System) timecode generator. The GPS timecode is driven by an AMX Enhanced Master / RS-232 Controller, all year long until the moment the fireworks extravaganza commences.

"It's very important, especially when the fireworks are synched to an air show," said Creed. "One year, there was an F-15 fighter jet that flew down river at about 500 miles per hour and 700 feet high. When it reached the bridge (that spans the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana), it went vertical and kicked on the afterburners. At the exact moment, the fireworks began. The timing had to be just right. It's what the pilots call 'TOT' — Time On Target. We wanted to make sure that the time they are seeing in the cockpit, we are seeing in the command center."

Command Center

As the nerve center for the entire show, from fireworks and sound to central communications for law enforcement and emergency response agencies, the Thunder Over Louisville command center houses a tower / countdown box complete with an AMX Wall/Flush Mount Touch Panel. A series of LED buttons on the tower are programmed to light up as start-time approaches. The AMX panel displays corporate logos and, during the final moments, numbered graphics from 10 down to zero.

"The countdown is like the launch of a rocket," said Creed. "Next year, we are thinking about putting a countdown clock on the bridge and make it out of 18-inch alphanumeric so people will be able to see it down river."

Remote Cameras

At past Thunder Over Louisville performances, CED has used AMX to integrate remote surveillance cameras at strategic points throughout an area called Waterfront Park. These cameras send video images on the fiber optic network back to the command center, where police authorities have the ability to monitor the crowds of people. The cameras are installed on cranes that rise high above what is known as "Ground Zero." By navigating a wireless handheld AMX Touch Panel, the police officers can direct each camera to pan, tilt and zoom in at the touch of a button.

"Since they use this kind of integrated technology back at police headquarters, they are very accustomed to using the AMX Touch Panel," Creed said. And that makes Thunder Over Louisville a booming success.


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