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Rebuilding communications after a natural disaster

 

When a massive earthquake occurs, coordination of communications can be extremely difficult to mobilize. Rescue and aid efforts become hampered due to the surface ruptures and powerful aftershocks. Roads and buildings are badly damaged, making it difficult for communications vehicles to get to the scene. Electricity and telephone outages prevent key communications.

Turkey faces some unique challenges when it comes to major earthquakes; much of Turkey sits on an earthquake zone known as the North Anatolian fault. On Aug. 17, 1999, a massive earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale, devastated northwestern Turkey’s industrial belt, leaving up to 20,000 people missing amid the ruins of a collapsed building. It is estimated that 2,000 people were killed and another 10,000 people were injured. In this particular earthquake, the city of Izmit was mostly destroyed.

The earthquake took down most of the telecommunications infrastructure including underground cables, communication towers and switching centers. The scale of devastation and human loss made it very hard to mobilize emergency measures. This resulted in a problem of coordination on all levels among the search-and-rescue teams and the Turkish governmental agencies.

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The tragic events and lessons learned prompted the government of Turkey to task several agencies with emergency management reforms on national and regional levels and to create the Istanbul Seismic Risk Mitigation and Emergency Preparedness (ISMEP) project. The project calls for increased mobility, simplicity and operational flexibility to ensure that response communications can effectively occur in future instances.

ISMEP’s goals are to strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of emergency management; to enhance emergency preparedness and response awareness; to reconstruct major public buildings; take inventory of vulnerable cultural, historical and heritage assets; and take supportive measures for efficient implementation of development laws and enforcement of building codes. One of the main components of the ISMEP project is to enhance emergency preparedness by improving the emergency communications systems for Istanbul’s disaster management center.

The ISMEP project team members found that communications were severely interrupted and telephones were out of service during the initial hours following the earthquake. The emergency response efforts were hindered by a chaotic environment and a lack of coordination among various organizations and public safety agencies, a lack of predefined procedures, authorizations, and logistic support, as well as minimal contact with medical teams.

http://www.mesanas.com.tr

To remedy the situation, the government of Istanbul asked MESAN Inc., a communications consultant company in Turkey, to provide several presentations and demonstrations of various solutions to solve their communications problems.

MESAN Inc. learned that the disaster management centers are currently operating from two different sites. There are 24 radios systems in each site, each belonging to the major public safety agencies within Istanbul’s metropolitan city. Each radio system operates in different bands and frequencies. The agencies also use satellite phones, PSTN lines, IP phones, and GSM for communications. The proposed solutions call for connecting these two sites and integrating the accompanying radio systems and other communications devices.

The disaster management center needed an interoperable solution that was not only able to tie together these existing radio systems but was also scalable. Local public safety agencies and responders did not have the funding to completely replace their existing radio systems. And the solution needed to allow for different communications systems to be added one by one.

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After several presentations, JPS Communications’ ACU-2000 IP and Cisco’s IPICS solutions were chosen to provide interconnections between the various types of communications systems that will be used in the disaster management center. The center will serve as a centralized coordination point for all of the city’s public safety agencies and services, including law enforcement agencies and utilities, during major events.

“The ACU-2000 IP and Cisco’s IPICS was chosen because it was not only flexible but easy to install and use,” said Gokay Atilla, director of Istanbul City’s disaster management center.

This solution combines the advanced radio interface and radio interoperability features of the ACU-2000 IP with the IP interoperability capabilities of Cisco’s IPICS. Built upon an open standard IP connection between the ACU-2000 IP and Cisco’s IPICS, the solution allows the disaster management center to map and extend the radio resources connected to the ACU-2000 IP into Cisco’s IPICS virtual talk groups; thereby enabling comprehensive interoperability among radio users, cellular and desktop telephony users, IP phone users and PC users. It also enables a dynamic, multi-agency and multi-tenant control of communications resources and an advanced, policy-based response for incident management.

“The new system simultaneously cross connects the different radio networks and telephone services that the disaster management center uses,” Bostan said. “Also, in the case of a natural disaster and if [the] communications infrastructure collapses, the disaster management center will now be able to continue to communicate using the ACU-2000 IP and IPICS solution.”

In the aftermath of any earthquake or any other natural disaster, interoperable communications is a must. On-scene communications between local first responders and other public safety personnel arriving to the site is critical to regain control of a chaotic situation resulting from the earthquake.

“The ACU-2000 IP and Cisco’s IPICS interoperability solution allows high-quality communications between all local public safety agencies, has the flexibility to be used in a wide variety of situations, provides an easy means to connect outside agencies that arrive on scene to deal with unusual emergencies, has provisions to link up with distant experts, and allows control and monitoring at a central command post,” said Adel Faddah, JPS Communications’ director of sales for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

After the solution is deployed, the center will be able to communicate with different communications systems using the new system.

“The governorship of Istanbul has future plans to purchase communication, command and control vehicles and to remedy other interoperability systems currently in place,” he added. For more information, e-mail jpspr@jps.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, May/Jun 2008

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