July Forum: 700 MHz Broadband For Mission-Critical Public Safety Data

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” While this phrase often makes us think of a scam or sparks memories of timeshare-property pressure sales, in this case it is very true. Canadian emergency responders have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity...


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Today, Canadian public safety entities use existing commercial networks for their voice and data needs. Some 700 MHz narrow- and wide-band spectrum is already dedicated to public safety in Canada for voice and some low-speed data use. However, securing dedicated spectrum for broadband applications for public safety will ensure wireless broadband networks (a system of systems across the country) can be built with the needs of public safety in mind moving forward. Canadian police, fire, EMS and other emergency professionals must have access to modern, reliable, and robust communications capabilities, including high speed data and video, to communicate with each other across agencies and jurisdictions during emergencies and during day-to-day operations. Emergency responders must stop being a costumer that simply takes a number and waits for service when bad things happen. Responders need to be the owners and in control over who has access to this spectrum and when. Responders should not have to compete for bandwidth with the teenager who is sending live video to all of his friends of the very emergency responders are dealing with. There is an expectation that when things go wrong responder can communicate within their agencies as well as with their partners in the community.

Here are three examples of this technology at work to help save lives:

• Firefighters from New Brunswick are asked to fly to British Columbia (or California or Australia) to help fight wildfires. The wireless device (future versions that are hardened and intrinsically safe) they use at home immediately connects to the 700 MHz system in British Columbia (or wherever), authenticates them as a public safety user and gives them full broadband access to mission-critical data, including GIS location tracking, situational awareness information about where the fires are located (based on access to wireless sensors that have been deployed), and full topographical and/or satellite maps.

• Paramedics are called to the scene of a mass-casualty event along the Washington State-British Columbia border. British Columbia incident commanders quickly realize that they require assistance from their U.S. counterparts and deploy wireless patient-care telemetry devices that connect via the 700 MHz Broadband network. Because the network was built using the same spectrum and standards, the U.S. responders can immediately get access the information required (as authorized by previous governance and standard operating procedures) to successfully respond to this joint operation.

• Police are called to an active-shooter situation at a local college. Based on broadband access to the 700 MHz network, they immediately deploy three teams into the school via three different entry points. 3D in-building location and tracking devices (originally spearheaded by the fire community) allow team leaders, the local incident commander and headquarters to be aware of one another’s location. They then access the IP-based speaker/microphone system in the college, overlay sounds on the building floor plan and immediately identify victim/suspect location information. Simultaneously, fire and paramedic teams responding have (as authorized) access to the data to begin planning their response.

The issue of spectrum and possible nationwide broadband network(s) is very complex and potentially expensive, and at this point Canadian responders have more questions than answers. What is known is that dedicated public safety spectrum for the creation of interoperable wireless broadband networks for data and video transmissions is the 21st century vision for communications system for Canada’s responders. Availability of such networks responds directly to the ministers’ responsible for emergency management announcement on Jan. 26, 2011, about the approval of the new Communications Interoperability Strategy and Action Plan for Canada. One of the top priorities outlined in this excellent, cooperatively built strategy is that of 700 MHz broadband. In fact, in the Ministers’ Communicae they stated: “…the Ministers discussed the current consultation related to the 700 MHz broadband spectrum and securing a portion for the use of emergency responders for public safety and security purposes. Provincial and territorial ministers expressed support for this approach as it offers significant interoperability enhancement potential. The use of the 700 MHz spectrum would link public safety and security stakeholder communities across Canada and along the Canada-U.S. border, while promoting innovation and Canada’s digital economy.”

The allocation of 700 MHz spectrum truly represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that ties directly to community and responder safety, innovation and the health of Canada’s digital economy. Stakeholders and citizens are encouraged to get informed and put this issue on your organization’s and government’s radar; inform your boards, municipalities, provincial/territorial governments and other governing bodies that spectrum allocations will have a significant impact on public safety in Canada; and work with tri-services colleagues and others to advocate a strong voice for public safety in advance of spectrum allocations. For more information on the Tri-Services Special Purpose Committee’s work on the 700 MHz Broadband for Mission Critical Public Safety Data, please visit www.action700.ca.