For decades, interoperable communications have been a documented public safety problem. Following 9/11, this communications nightmare was brought to the forefront. Fortunately, the combination of federal funding and new technology availed many affordable solutions for first responders. This article provides an overview that can be deployed by any discipline (Fire, Law Enforcement and EMS).
Having been immersed in the world of interoperable communications, I began to explore a solution that would achieve three specific goals based on desired outcomes and identified gaps. As you have read in many articles, the region in which I serve (the City of Charlottesville, County of Albemarle and the University of Virginia) has collectively planned and determined new preparedness strategies together for more than 15 years. And while we are implementing a new Motorola Public Safety Digital 800 MHz radio system and have established a parallel networked region-wide using Nextel's Direct Connect iDen system (which will also be linked to our 800 MHz radio system), there are functional voids that remain.
The three goals were:
- Tactical voice interoperability with outside agencies (FBI, Health, National Guard, etc.)
- Ability to establish voice/data communications via satellite
- Ability to perform emergency/preparedness alerting to first responders and citizens
Making the Decision - The SWEET principle:
In order to make any decision, it is best to have a procedure that will guide the process to the desired outcome. After reviewing many solutions, I came to the following decision process called SWEET. SWEET is an acronym for:
W Within one hour (to meet Rapidcom* guidelines)
E Easy to adapt when new devices are to be added (without technical support)
E Easy on the pocketbook (fits into the reasonable grant funding stream)
T Tested and durable for the environment
*Rapidcom is a SAFECOM initiative to establish interoperable communications within one hour of an incident.
Now let's see how this process applies to the solutions chosen to meet the goals and eliminate the gaps.
Goal #1 - To interconnect voice via disparate wireless devices - Selection was the Incident Commanders' Radio Interface (ICRI?). Website: www.radiointeroperability.com
W - within one hour - how about less than 5 minutes
E - Easy to adapt when unexpected devices are added - no problem/no technical support.
E - Easy on the pocketbook - generally less than competitors and within grant funding
T - Tested and durable - has been tested by the military and numerous public safety agencies.
The ICRI is used by many public safety agencies and was recently purchased by the Virginia State Police to be deployed in each of its seven statewide divisions. Its simplicity is its true value. Turn it on, connect the wireless device(s) by cable, turn radios on and you are in operation. The ICRI will also operate on 8 "AA" batteries for 30 hours. It comes in a number of sizes and configurations and can fit in any vehicle. The ICRI can connect to any radio, cell phone, satellite phone, Nextel Direct Connect?, or other wireless device.
Goal #2 - To communicate by satellite, establish a tactical wireless network and enable wireless video. The selection was Edge Access. Website: www.edgeaccess.com
W - Within one hour - how about 5 minutes or less
E - Easy to adapt - generally the adaptability is enhanced by the ICRI.
E - Easy on the pocketbook - comparatively and for the service it's within available grant funding.
T - Tested and durable - it has and is being used by the military and public safety.
The Edge Access Integrated Interoperability Solution (IIS) by my comparisons was the best buy based on the capabilities provided. The system provides 512k download capabilities via the XtremeSat satellite service, standard telephones, wireless printer/fax, wireless video, 802.xx hot spot phones, creates a - mile wireless hotspot and provides many channels of Voice over IP (VoIP) as well as allowing telephony access through the ICRI - which provides the ability to talk to virtually anyone in the world.