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Data, Voice, Video and Text Merging

Written by Susan Geoghegan

Prior to Project 25 (P25), the use of disparate digital communications systems among agencies seriously compromised emergency operations. The P25 suite of standards involves digital Land Mobile Radio (LMR) services for local, state and federal public safety organizations. Compliance with P25 allows more effective and reliable inter- and intra-agency communications in both routine and mission-critical situations.

Interoperability has also been enhanced by addressing the issue of radio spectrum capacity. The FCC has taken steps to make additional band space available to public safety agencies with an 800 MHz rebanding mandate, as well as a 700 MHz narrowbanding plan for the UHF and VHF spectrum. To comply, agencies are faced with assessing their communications infrastructures and making the necessary changes to meet these requirements.

Televate

From turnkey network deployment to customized application development, Televate is an information technology consulting company that provides interoperable voice and data solutions to public safety and government agencies. With extensive experience in wireless technology and end-user devices in police, fire and emergency services, Televate’s program management team understands the importance of operational interdependence.

In mission-critical environments, first responders need rapid access to comprehensive information with reliable technology applications. Advances in wireless technology and the increased availability of broadband-intensive applications require scalable, cost-effective platforms to support them. Choosing the right solution is dependent on a variety of factors, such as operational and coverage requirements, spectrum availability, technology options and budgetary concerns.

Mobile data terminal (MDT) and automated vehicular location (AVL) technologies continue to evolve, forcing many public safety agencies to upgrade their systems in order to remain fully operational. Televate’s project managers and engineers work with the customer to assess their current systems infrastructure, determine future needs, and assist in network design implementation and operational management.

Televate’s Wireless Network Turnkey Services are provided by a team of technical and program management experts with more than 30 years of combined wireless experience. They deliver solutions that support an extensive list of systems and networks including trunked and conventional LMR systems, narrowband through broadband data, and IP networks.

They can assist with security and system assessment, technical planning, and the design and implementation of interoperable, multi-band communications systems. Management services are provided for a number of areas, such as budgeting and finance, procurement, risk and spectrum.

The company’s Mobile Data Systems Turnkey Services provide enhanced MDT/AVL applications that are easily integrated into public safety environments. Their innovative solutions include multi-band public safety radio system deployment, regional LMR voice interoperability, CAD systems, and multi-functional mobile public safety interoperability applications.

In 2005, Televate personnel managed the launch of the Wireless Accelerated Responder Network (WARN), a District of Columbia broadband pilot network operating at 700 MHz. WARN allows local, state and federal government to exchange data at broadband speeds and supports demanding streaming media applications. The process consisted of spectrum and technology evaluation, acquisition of products and services, negotiation with existing broadcasters and FCC filings, and network implementation. WARN has been the recipient of the IACP Leadership Technology Award and was the NTIA 2006 demonstration program for spectrum sharing.

Deputy CTO for the District of Columbia Robert LeGrande gives most of the credit to Televate for providing the technical expertise and professional leadership needed to successfully launch the system. Televate’s Managing Partner Rick Burke said, “These achievements and the lessons learned from the pilot have positioned the National Capital Region to build the nation’s first dedicated public safety regional broadband network.”

Televate also played an integral role in the development of a grant that was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Recently, it was announced that Los Angeles County and 80 cities within its jurisdiction will receive $154.6 million as part of the Broadband Technical Opportunities Program (BTOP). The BTOP grant will fund the deployment of an interoperable public safety broadband network that will serve more than 80 public safety agencies and up to 34,000 first responders.

The Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (LA-RICS) put together a comprehensive plan to develop a robust LTE network that provides voice and data sharing for all agencies within the greater LA region. A scalable wireless network that can be seamlessly expanded and integrated as needed, LA-Safety-Net will support a host of applications, such as CAD, law enforcement queries and realtime streaming video.

According to Burke, “LTE is the new frontier and will forever revolutionize public safety communications. This is the hottest topic in public safety communications interoperability today.” He went on to say that “Televate designed the budgetary network and crafted most of the BTOP supporting sections and the overall financial analysis and justification. LA-RICS is an excellent example of unifying a region’s communications. They are over 80 independent jurisdictions building common and interoperable radio and broadband wireless networks.”

Mutualink

Mutualink’s interoperability network solutions provide public safety agencies with the capability to share voice, text, video and data communications over a wide area network (WAN). The company’s unique approach to interoperability solutions not only addresses first responder needs, but encompasses all organizations within a community that are vital to effectively handling emergency operations.

The events of 9/11 led to a heightened awareness of the need for interoperability across disparate networks and agencies. However, deployment of these solutions often produced unexpected challenges. As Mutualink’s President and CFO Colin McWay pointed out, “While the technology was extremely robust, what we learned pretty quickly is that interoperability isn’t just a technology problem. In a lot of ways, it’s much more of a human problem. It’s not that difficult to get two different radios to talk to each other—the real difficult part is to get people to want to do it with one another.”

Previous interoperability architecture was based on the classic “hub and spoke” technology. According to McWay, those who represented the spokes often felt they were ceding control of the communication assets to the “smart thing in the middle.” With the advent of Homeland Security’s mandates for effective nationwide interoperability, selling palatable IT solutions to first responders became crucial.

To achieve this, Mutualink’s Chief Architect Joe Boucher eliminated the “smart thing in the middle” and pushed intelligence to the edge where people can control their own assets. The result was an N-scale and ad hoc solution where people can make decisions to come together and share resources on the same preparedness network.

Mutualink is a unique invitation-based system that allows users to maintain control of their respective resources. Unlike other interoperability solutions, there are no centralized switches or servers, allowing users to communicate directly with one another as desired. The icon-driven system is easy to use and provides drag-and-drop navigation to add radios, video or phones to an incident.

Mutualink’s network architecture consists of three primary components: the Mutualink Interop Network, the Interoperability Workstation (IWS) and the Network Interface Controller (NIC). The Interop Network operates in a peer-to-peer environment that can be accessed via dedicated or virtual connections. The auto-discovery feature allows existing participants to instantly view new subscribers joining the network and minimizes configuration changes when new entities are brought into the network.

The Interoperability Workstation is the point of communication among entities on the network for voice, text and data sharing. It can be used as a standalone system or a mini-console, or it can be integrated into an existing console position. As the primary operational user interface for the Mutualink system, the IWS is easy to use and manage.

The Network Interface Controller enables ad hoc integration of communication devices for radio, intercom, telephone and video resources. The Radio NIC integrates with radios at all frequency ranges and broadcast protocols, whether trunked, analog or digital. With the Intercom NIC, first responders and other network participants can broadcast and receive critical messages. The Telephone NIC and Video NIC features allow effective sharing and management of voice and video resources during an incident.

McWay pointed out that, in accordance with the Safecom Interoperability Continuum, Mutualink holds daily roll call exercises in which a FEMA-trained response expert contacts sets of customers, creates an incident and then breaks it apart. This not only prepares first responders for an actual emergency, but it also allows them to form human relationships with people they may have to communicate with in the future.

In March of 2009, the town of Huntington, N.Y., opened its new state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center to serve as the hub of operations for the effective coordination of resources during crisis situations. As a former regional director for FEMA, Town Supervisor Frank Petrone envisioned a network that would encompass the entire community. “One of the unfortunate lessons of 9/11 was the need to ensure that all responders be able to communicate with each other,” Petrone said.

Mutualink provided an interoperable emergency communications system that would allow police, fire and emergency medical personnel to communicate across disparate networks. In addition, the center is equipped with fire band radios, county-issued satellite phones, trunk scanners to monitor all frequencies used by emergency agencies, and work stations with Internet access.

Polycom

Founded in 1990, Polycom is a global leader in unified communications (UC) solutions with industry-leading standards-based telepresence, video, voice and infrastructure solutions for both private industry and government agencies. The Polycom Open Collaboration Network provides an open and interoperable solution that gives agencies enhanced flexibility and investment protection for their UC environment.

Company co-founder and CTO Jeff Rodman pointed out that agencies should look for applications and services that make the best use of their existing infrastructure to ensure improved performance and reduced costs.

First responders undergo continuous training to build and improve upon the critical skills needed to perform their jobs more effectively. Polycom’s immersive telepresence solutions allow police, fire and emergency personnel to attend training sessions directly from their work stations without interrupting daily operations. The Polycom® HDX® series telepresence solutions include Polycom Ultimate HD technology that delivers high quality voice, video and content for unsurpassed performance.

HDX solutions provide cutting-edge options for data and information sharing during conferencing and deliver sharp, clear images. Polycom StereoSurround technology provides enhanced voice quality even when multiple parties are speaking. The company’s patent-pending Lost Packet Recovery (LPR) feature protects IP video calls from the damaging impact of packet loss, making the system more forgiving of bad network connections.

In addition to training, Polycom Public Safety solutions can be used for daily briefings across multiple stations, command and control coordination, administrative meetings and crossagency emergency field communication. In 2009, a U.S. Homeland Security grant administered to the state of Missouri allowed the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management to enhance its disaster preparedness program.

Recognizing that collaborative emergency response can be best served through video conferencing, the county deployed Polycom HDX telepresence solutions and the Polycom Converged Management Application (CMA). The Polycom Video Border Proxy solution was deployed to enable connections with outside organizations, while the RSS® 2000 server provides on-demand recording and streaming.

Springfield-Greene County OEM Director Ryan Nicholls stated, “We were impressed with Polycom’s ability to deliver a complete end-to-end, cost-effective solution for the entire 18-county roll-out.” The Polycom video network has also allowed the county to connect via video with critical outside private and government agencies, such as FEMA, the Red Cross and the National Weather Service.

Located in California’s Santa Clara County, the city of Milpitas is home to an extremely high concentration of technology companies. As a result, the city’s fire department is always on the alert to assist in hazardous materials spills and industrial accidents. In addition, Milpitas’ firefighters are frequently called upon to deal with numerous traffic accidents that occur during peak commute times.

Because the department plays such a crucial role in the safety of this area, ongoing training of fire and emergency personnel is essential. However, as Bill Marion, Information Services director for the city, explained, “Whenever the fire department had to hold training, fire and emergency personnel from all four engine companies in Milpitas were required to meet in person at one location. This was not good for public safety.”

Recognizing the need for a video conferencing application with multi-station training capabilities, the city decided to upgrade its network to support the department’s video needs. The fire training room at the department headquarters was equipped with a rack-mounted Polycom video system, and a set top Polycom video appliance was installed in each fire station. This gave firefighters the ability to interact with instructors during a training class from their home station without compromising the safety of the community.

According to Matt Jackson, director of Government Markets, public safety agencies experience optimum ROI with Polycom’s telepresence solutions. Video-based training saves time and money and allows uninterrupted response time for emergency personnel. Faster response time can result in lower insurance rates, but most importantly, it benefits the community and its citizens.

Frequentis USA

With company roots that date back to 1947, Frequentis provides innovative solutions for police, fire and emergency operations. Designed to meet the demands of today’s emergency response requirements, the company’s public safety solutions can be customized to suit each customer’s specific needs. The company focus is on human-machine interface usability, resulting in user-friendly applications that allow first responders to concentrate on the task at hand.

Market need for a true integrated, cutting-edge product with modern software architecture led to the development of the FREQUENTIS PROTECT™ product line. Designed and developed in cooperation with public safety professionals, the system allows emergency personnel to record and manage all events of an incident. The Frequentis Safety Framework™ is one component of the FREQUENTIS PROTECT system. It provides a safe and secure data exchange environment and seamlessly connects all subsystems. Other components include application solutions for CAD, MDC, RMS, GIS and AVL.

PROTECT™ 9-1-1 provides GIS-based Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) functionality, the ability to accept an incoming emergency call directly from the map, and an instant call playback feature. With PROTECT™ CAD/GIS, dispatchers can manage voice, data and video communications systems, while the decentralized, fully distributed architecture facilitates data sharing across all networks and agencies.

PROTECT™ RMS and MDC/AVL are mobile solutions that give first responders access to critical information, as well as the ability to run reports from any mobile vehicle or workstation, resulting in increased productivity and greater public safety. Concurrently logged and filtered voice and data records provide an unbroken chain of evidence for the analysis of processes with the PROTECT ™ Log solution.

In September of 2008, Frequentis USA Inc. entered into a partnership with SouthCom Dispatch in Matteson, Ill., to design and deploy an NG9-1-1 compliant, fully integrated CAD, RMS and 9-1-1 telephony solution. Using a “scrum” development approach, Frequentis was able to introduce new software every few months, giving the dispatch center the flexibility needed to fine-tune its operations. The solution integrates 9-1-1 Voice, CAD/GIS, mobile data terminals, records management, alarm management, paging and recording. The SouthCom PSAP consists of six working positions, one training position, and up to 80 mobile data and remote workstation users.

The emergency telephony and radio systems are seamlessly integrated into the CAD system, allowing operators to focus their attention on a single screen when taking calls and dispatching to emergency personnel. The CAD system also integrates with Keltron fire and burglar alarms, allows for recording of the VoIP phone lines, and interfaces to the Illinois NCIC system called LEADS.

SouthCom police and fire/EMS personnel assisted in the design of the records management system, ensuring that both agencies have the features needed to properly complete incident reports and manage information. Incident information need only be entered once into the system, enabling data sharing and storage and cutting down on time spent re-entering crucial information.

Fire/EMS records management reports can be generated and submitted weekly, monthly or yearly in a FEMAaccepted format. Because the Frequentis USA system provides such high levels of integration, reports are automatically created from the CAD incident. Police records management includes UCR reporting to state and federal agencies and allows officers to complete reports from the mobile data terminal.

As Frequentis USA President Robert Nitsch pointed out, “Frequentis is an engineering company with only one focus: mission-critical solutions. We seek complex, mission-critical problems such as those in the public safety market sector and solve them with state-of-the-art technology. We listen, design, build and deploy equipment and services that provide end-users with solutions that help them cope with their everyday stressful work environment.”

Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Fla. She can be reached at sgeofl@ embarqmail.com.

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2010

Rating : 9.5


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