How To Implement An Effective Emergency Communications System

Chicago’s UCV is powered by iGT satellite technology.

The city of Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) ranks as one of the largest 9-1-1 facilities in the United States, handling as many as 27,000 calls daily. OEMC is responsible for incident command for all major events and incidents in the city. This includes its Joint Operations Center, police, fire, streets and sanitation, mayor’s office, Chicago Transit Authority, city-wide camera network, emergency operations cents and other city stakeholders.

Tasked with preparing for and responding to emergencies faced by the city and its citizens, OEMC provides support to people and institutions for disaster recovery, mitigates the effects of these events, and, whenever possible, prevents emergencies and disasters from occurring or worsening, according to its website.

To support these important municipal goals and critical operations, OEMC sought a reliable communications infrastructure and backup communications system. OEMC needed a system to help coordinate the city’s delivery of police, fire and Emergency Medical Service resources. Chicago’s new system also needed to interoperate with the Department of Homeland Security, the Illinois Office of Emergency Management, and other federal and state emergency management agencies.

To this end, OEMC researched emergency communications systems, reviewed the market landscape, and selected and deployed satellite communications to address the law enforcement, public safety and emergency communications challenges and to maintain continuity of operations both during and after an emergency.

OEMC developed the Unified Command Vehicle, powered by iDirect Government Technologies (iGT) satellite communications technology. The iGT Internet Protocol satellite communications network can operate on the go, completely independent of the city’s terrestrial infrastructure, or integrate seamlessly into any landline network and operate on the move.

The vision for the Unified Command System included projecting the technical and logistics footprint of the OEMC to any point in the Continental United States using commercial Ku-Band satellite; providing incident command and communications coordination (including radio interoperability/cross-banding) for major events and critical incidents; and leveraging commercially available technologies and standards where possible.

The resulting Unified Command Vehicle meets the most demanding mobility and security requirements for public safety and national security users, enabling real-time secure and reliable video, data and voice transmission while in transit. It supports all of the city of Chicago’s 9-1-1 call volume at any selected location that is remote from Chicago’s 9-1-1 center by redirecting 9-1-1 call traffic across the satellite link to the command vehicle.

The command vehicle with satcom serves as a voice and data gateway for call processing and Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD). Additionally, it supports local dispatching of police and fire communications. The innovative technology is making Chicago as safe and prepared as any large metropolitan area can be.

Chicago’s Unified Command Vehicle is able to provide instant situational awareness while on the move, eliminating the setup and align procedures for reach-back satellite communications. The system is easy to use, also eliminating the requirement for expert technicians on site for setup and operation.

The satellite-based emergency management solution supports public safety emergency communications with voice, data and Internet services that are fast and easy to deploy on short notice—a critical need in a crisis or emergency. The system provides for a centralized management with high reliability, unlike terrestrial communications systems that can experience widespread outages for various reasons such as weather / storms and other environmental factors or malicious activity. The satellite-based system provides complete data path diversity, which is a must when responding to critical situations.

The satcom-powered Unified Command Vehicle helps Chicago law enforcement personnel, emergency managers, first responders and others tasked with protecting lives and property to: 1) access critical information quickly, reliably and seamlessly anywhere and anytime, including on the move; 2) support “always on” broadband services with the secure transmissions of voice, data and Internet, including live video feeds; 3) effectively operate public safety communications system and manage emergencies; and 4) provide incident command and communications coordination, including radio interoperability / cross-banding.

The UCV also allows Chicago to: 5) coordinate major events, both non-emergency events such as Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and threatening situations such as a fire; 6) operate completely independently of the city’s terrestrial infrastructure; 7) integrate seamlessly with terrestrial networks and extend global Internet Protocol networks when terrestrial systems are not available; 8) share real-time data for situational awareness such as camera feeds, medical support, route information; 9) leverage point to multi-point applications; and 10) comply with local, state, and federal emergency communications guidelines and maintain interoperability.

Today, the Unified Command Vehicle supports 92 channels for 9-1-1 traffic. Eight channels are for private police and fire use, and 23 channels are for general purpose calls. By redirecting Chicago’s 9-1-1 calls to the command vehicle, OEMC can remotely coordinate rescue efforts and dispatch police, fire and EMS units.

The Chicago Fire Department uses the iGT satcom network to transmit live video of an emergency, so the fire department can assess the emergency and the response effort. The city’s entire 9-1-1 call volume can be supported from any location with the United Command Vehicle. The satellite network ensures multiple users can share the network without sacrificing quality due to more data transfers.

Equipping emergency operation centers, law enforcement and first response teams with the information they need to ensure rapid and effective communications in times of crisis is critical as demonstrated with the city of Chicago’s adoption of satellite for its Unified Command Vehicle. The always-on, secure satellite system enables OEMC to keep Chicago’s public safety officials interconnected and prepared for emergencies.

Karl Fuchs serves as Vice President of Technology for iDirect Government Technologies (iGT) and may be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2012

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