The Interoperability "SWEET" Spot

June 1, 2005

Interoperability and technology solutions in general have inundated the public safety market. With so many solutions available, there must be some easy method to help guide first responders through the selection process. After reviewing the local interoperability situation and determining the Interoperability Gap (IG), the next natural step was to find the interoperability “SWEET spot.”

According to Webster’s Online Dictionary, a “sweet spot” is, “The place on a bat, club, racket or paddle where it is most effective to hit a ball.” The goal in this case is to find the most effective way to achieve tactical interoperability.

The acronym “S-W-E-E-T” helps locate the spot and in this case stands for:

While this is not a highly scientific process, it does give credence to a process that facilitates the desired outcome.

In Charlottesville, VA, three main IGs were identified:

  • To interconnect voice via disparate wireless devices
  • To communicate by satellite and establish a tactical wireless network
  • To alert first responders and/or citizens using text messaging and to e-mail or wireless devices

Now let’s review the solutions selected and see how they measure up to the SWEET spot analogy.

Goal No. 1 – To interconnect voice via disparate wireless devices – Selection was the Incident Commanders’ Radio Interface (ICRI),

S – The ICRI is simple to deploy and to train others to use, with no technical support.W – Within one hour. How about less than five 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 or devices by cable, turn the radios on and you are in operation. The ICRI will also operate on eight 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 No. 2 – To communicate by satellite, establish a tactical wireless network and enable wireless video. The selection was Edge Access,

S – Edge Access is easy to deploy.W – Within one hour. How about five 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 within its 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 quarter-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.

To set up Edge Access, turn the unit on, press the setup button and it self deploys the TracStar Systems satellite dish, self locates automatically and establishes the wireless network – all within five minutes. The system comes with a computer server that establishes the wireless hotspot and can be used for other programs such as incident command, hazardous materials reference, GIS applications and much more.

Goal No. 3 – To alert first responders and/or civilians quickly via text messaging to e-mail and other wireless devices. The selection was the Emergency Email Wireless Network (EEWN),

S – Simple to deploy. It is web based; enter your user name and password.W – Within one hour. Within seconds, you are up and running.E – Easy to adapt. Can send messages to any wireless device, e-mail, voice or desktop. Also has connectivity to the ICRI, allowing messages to be sent interoperably to all devices connected via the ICRI. There’s even a satellite interface.E – Easy on the pocketbook. Web based and the price is right – no expensive infrastructure to purchase or maintain. Premises installed also available.T – Tested and durable. Being used by public safety agencies and has over 500,000 nationwide subscribers. Has handled over 500,000 million messages since 1999, making it the most used solution in the country.

The EEWN is done through a web portal or from a cell phone or Blackberry and is as simple as using Yahoo or other free online e-mail accounts, but it is much more versatile. It can be used from an emergency operations center (EOC), on site at an incident or from anywhere else. Log in, enter your message, select the list and send – within seconds, the message reaches subscribers.

Through the use of multiple canned messages, many emergency operations plan (EOP) notifications can be automated such that they become dynamic and make the EOP more effective. The EEWN is being used by the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association to provide E-News to its members for both general and sensitive information. It also has the ability to attach files such as pdf documents, images and/or maps or other instructional files. EEWN also provides free weather warnings to anyone in the United States directly to alphanumeric pagers, wireless phones, Blackberry devices, e-mail, etc. Subscribers can self-register within 30 seconds or the administrator, if desired, can establish lists.

In short, Charlottesville has determined its IGs and overcome them by implementing the aforementioned solutions. In less than five minutes and operating from a single vehicle, the following can be achieved:

  • Voice connect between disparate radios and wireless devices
  • VoIP
  • Satellite telephone service – fixed and wireless (wireless within the hotspot)
  • Quarter-mile wireless network hotspot
  • Wireless video enabled (wireless digital video camera included)
  • Internet access with 512k broadband download
  • Notification/alerting system accessible from any Internet-enabled device

All of this can be purchased in a single interoperability suite, or individually and can be purchased by local government off of the GSA contract and definitely hits right on the Interoperability SWEET spot.

An important end note: There are many other good interoperability solutions that may suit your department’s needs. The intent of this column is to report on the tactical interoperability equipment that was purchased to support the Charlottesville public safety agencies and to provide a process that you may apply to your interoperable communications purchases.

Charles Werner, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 28-year veteran of the fire service and is deputy fire chief of the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department. Werner serves on a number of local, state and federal interoperability working groups, and is technology chair for the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association and chair of the Commonwealth of Virginia First Responder Executive Committee. In addition, he serves on the SAFECOM Executive Committee and Advisory Group.

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