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State-of-the-Art in Interoperability

Written by Susan Geoghegan

As information technology continues to evolve, the ability to integrate new systems with existing ones becomes increasingly important. Although dispatch operators, officers in the field, emergency units and central management are interconnected, each department utilizes technology specific to its needs. To work together effectively, seamless integration among multiple vendors and systems is essential. This article features five companies that offer interoperable solutions for law enforcement and public safety.

Cisco Systems Inc. 

As the Global Industry Solutions manager for Cisco’s public safety and homeland security program, Morgan Wright recognizes the importance of interoperability between agencies during high-scale disasters. However, he is quick to point out that interoperability in day-to-day police and emergency operations is just as vital. IPICS provides “any voice to any voice” and end-point to end-point communications technology across agency divisions and disparate systems.

The Cisco IP Interoperability and Collaboration System (IPICS) is a cost-effective IP-based solution that offers comprehensive communication interoperability. With IPICS, dispatch and incident response personnel have the necessary tools to get the job done during mission-critical situations. As the cornerstone of this complete system, the IPICS Server allows centralized management of network resources that include the Incident Management application and Policy Engine.

With the IPICS Dispatch Console’s on-screen interfacing, users can coordinate emergency response across incompatible radio systems and among multiple agencies. Push-to-talk functionality is provided with the IPICS PMC client and supports up to eight simultaneous radio channels or virtual talk groups. Interoperability and notification policies can be created, edited and managed with the IPICS Policy Engine.

Wright believes that the future of interoperability technology lies with network-centric IP systems that will provide richer, faster communications. “Video is a key driver and will explode network growth over the coming five years. Moving from talk groups (which are voice only) to media groups (which combine voice, video and data) will redefine the meaning of interoperability.”

Cisco bases its pricing on the number of ports needed. Because the IPICS integrates with existing infrastructure, clients can leverage their existing investments to obtain step-change communications improvement.

Motorola 

Since 2004, MOTOBRIDGE solutions have been used by city, county and state agencies for both fixed and mobile applications. MOTOBRIDGE is a scalable, IP-based system that builds upon traditional gateway components to create a flexible, dynamic interoperability solution for the public safety sector. Its distributed architecture design allows each component to function independently in case of damage or loss of power. MOTOBRIDGE can be easily expanded from a single location to an unlimited number of agencies and users.

The IP Dispatch application allows network administrators to quickly set up communication with radio users via a simple graphical user interface. Pre-configured emergency communication plans can be stored and easily activated with the click of a mouse. All telephone users are connected via full-duplex phone conferencing for effective joint response planning.

According to Silvia Grabacki, senior business manager for Motorola Enterprise Mobility Solutions, MOTOBRIDGE was developed to provide enhanced communications technology to first responders operating on divergent systems. As an example, she points to the recent Gulf oil spill, when Motorola set up a Project 25 700/800 MHz digital system to provide portable communications throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Grabacki also states that the future of interoperability technology lies with the development of an ISSI gateway for wireless connectivity between P25 systems. “With ISSI, users can make group calls and end-to-end encrypted calls across P25 systems, and roam to another P25 system while maintaining connectivity to their home dispatcher.” Because the MOTOBRIDGE system is built to meet the specific needs of each agency, pricing is based on those unique system designs and requirements.

Ordia Solutions Inc. 

Ordia Solutions Inc. has been providing public safety agencies with next-generation interoperable technologies during mission-critical operations since 2005. As advocates of the “5 Cs of Interoperability” (communicate, collaborate, coordinate, command and control), co-founders Joe Ordia and Pedro Martinez understand the importance of supplying front-line personnel with multiple communications solutions.

Ordia and Martinez are veterans of the U.S. Army’s “Command Post of the Future” program, a command and control software system that allows collaboration between ground forces and off-site commanders. As one of its original developers, Ordia states that “The goal of this program was to enable commanders to manage battlefield operations without having to congregate in one physical location.” His vision was to provide the same capabilities to law enforcement and first responders at an affordable price.

The Mobile Tactical Collaboration System (MTCS) and AdvanTraq GPS (AGPS) is a “ready-out-of-the-box” software package that integrates operations planning, real-time collaboration and “blue force” GPS tracking. This cost-effective solution offers military-grade command and control capabilities to law enforcement and emergency personnel. With MTCS, operators and commanders have the ability to develop and share visual data and track resource locations in real time among multiple locations and devices.

Operational benefits of the system include real-time situational awareness, multi-jurisdictional coordination, and multi-disciplinary command and control, all of which contribute to enhanced officer safety. The software integrates with leading CAD/AVL systems and offers remote access on Blackberrys, Treos, iPhones and other smartphones.

As company president and CEO, Ordia sees the tech revolution expanding in the area of mobile data: “Smartphones are now able to process the same amount of information as traditional workstation computers. Putting command post-level information in the hands of every cop on the street is going to significantly increase situational awareness and economy of force.” The MTCS and AdvanTraq GPS package is offered via a traditional software license and as an annual subscription service. GPS devices are sold on a per-unit basis.

Harris Corp. 

For more than 80 years, Harris Corp. has been a leading global provider of assured communications systems and services to both the private and public sectors. The events of September 11, 2001, revealed the need for enhanced communications across disparate radio systems during crisis situations.

Responding to this need, Harris developed the NetworkFirst solution, a permanent gateway that enables continuous interoperability at the network level. Part of the company’s VIDA (Voice, Interoperabilty, Data, Access) solution, this network-level approach allows interoperability across all frequencies and vendors and requires no dispatch technician intervention.

NetworkFirst is a highly scalable system that can be deployed as a stand-alone interoperability solution or as a fully-supported application of an existing VIDA network solution. A key component of the NetworkFirst system, the Interoperability Gateway is a multi-channel codec module that converts incoming analog voice communication into digital IP packets, which are then directly routed through the network to digital radio users or dispatchers.

New and existing radio systems can operate in different frequency bands, providing multi-agency interoperability without the replacement expense. Dispatch Console interfacing utilizes IP technology that allows effective coordination and management of dispatch communications during critical events.

As manager of Harris’s National Public Safety Markets, Dirk Young points out that the company now offers an interoperability solution at the radio level. He states that “The Harris Unity family of multi-band radios is a ‘one-for-all’ solution that supports digital APCO P25 secure and analog communications across VHF, UHF, 700 MHz and 800 MHz frequencies.” This allows first responders to use a single radio to communicate across multiple jurisdictions and systems. It also gives users a full-color, map-capable display indicating user locations for full situational awareness.

According to Young, the next generation of interoperability will be in the 700 MHz broadband space to enable data sharing (including photos and videos) and reliable voice communications: “Current LMR (Land Mobile Radio) technology simply does not have the bandwidth to transmit that much data over available frequencies. The question on everyone’s mind is when the move to 700 MHz broadband will take place.”

Raytheon Co. 

Since 1922, Raytheon Co. has been a leader in the development of defense technologies and the conversion of those technologies for use in commercial markets. The company’s Civil Communications division offers enhanced interoperability to the public sector with its ACU and WAIS applications.

According to Michael J. Bostic, director of West Coast Operations for Civil Communications, Raytheon’s experience in systems integration and architecture led to the creation and deployment of sophisticated, secure interoperability solutions for both the military and public safety.

The ACU-1000 solution allows simultaneous cross-connection of different radio networks to telephone or SATCOM systems, as well as RoIP/VoIP talkpaths. The system connects up to 12 audio devices (and can be expanded to 24) and has the ability to interconnect radios in any band. Neither computer- nor network-dependent for its operation, the ACU Controller software offers three different methods of operation for system redundancy.

With the ACU-2000 IP interoperability solution, disparate communications systems can be connected, monitored and controlled over an IP network. Field-configurable and highly scalable, this modular system builds upon the ACU-1000 by adding SIP capabilities, giving customers the advantages of open-standards SIP protocol and functionality to their existing radio systems.

Raytheon’s Wide Area Interoperability System (WAIS) provides first responders operating on different systems or frequencies with the interoperability needed to communicate across entire regions and states. WAIS software easily integrates into existing systems and allows users to control interconnected, on-site interoperability systems from any point on a network.

Raytheon prides itself on providing unique adaptations of emerging technologies to fit the evolving needs of public safety agencies. One such technology is the One Force Tracker iPhone application that monitors position tracking on live, real-time maps. This exceptional situational awareness application gives tactical teams the ability to effectively coordinate responses during mass casualty incidents. Raytheon’s product pricing varies according to customer requirements.

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

Photos courtesy of Harris Corp.

Published in Law and Order, Jul 2010

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