Chalk up one for the Department of Homeland Security. In a move to immediately address the radio interoperability problems of 43 smaller first responder agencies, DHS is providing them with ICRI (Incident Commanders Radio Interface) audio bridges. The portable ICRI unit can accept inputs from five incompatible radios and one telephone at a time; automatically switching audio conversations between them as required. Made by Communications-Applied Technology, the ICRI is a portable, easy-to-deploy interoperability solution for first responders.
The ICRI donations are being made under Phase II of DHS’ Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program (CEDAP). Aimed at first responder agencies serving populations under 100,000, CEDAP has already made 1,100 equipment awards covering not just radio interoperability, but information sharing, chemical detection, sensor devices, and personal protection.
By the time you read this, the next application cycle for CEDAP equipment grants should be under way. First responders can learn more about the process and how to apply by logging onto the Responder Knowledge Base. ICRI Technology Update
We have covered the ICRI on a number of occasions because this unit is one of the smartest, most affordable radio interoperability solutions available. This said, Communications-Applied Technology has developed a range of ICRI variants in the past few years. Most cost less than $10,000, with interconnection cables included.
The original ICRI is a portable 10x7x3-inch ruggedized portable switch that can interconnect the audio between five incompatible radios and one telephone. The system works by plugging into the microphone and earphone outputs of each unit, then switching the audio between them using whatever paths the user has selected.
Even in its original configuration, this ICRI can be set to create multiple talk groups, allowing an incident commander to interconnect responding police to each other and responding fire/EMS in a similar fashion. The ICRI can be powered using four AA batteries, which will let it run for 30 hours at a time. You can also plug it into a car’s 12VDC cigarette lighter or a 120VAC wall plug using an adaptor.
There’s a MILSPEC 810 version of this unit (ICRI-E) that is also waterproof and sandproof. Communications-Applied Technology also makes a slimmed-down portable version called the ICRI-WF, for those times when weight and size are critical factors.
To meet the needs of larger mutual-aid situations, Communications-Applied Technology has created the new ICRI-4T (Four Talk groups). It has the ability to accept up to 10 different radios and to support up to four separate independent talk groups. The ICRI-4T can be bought in a waterproof Pelican case or in a rack-mountable unit.
The ICRI-EOC (Emergency Operation Center) is a rack-mountable unit designed specifically for headquarters/dispatch use. Available in five and 10 port models, the ICRI-EOC makes it possible to permanently hardwire radio interoperability right at the Command Center level, rather than setting it up in the field in an ad hoc manner.
Finally, Communications-Applied Technology is offering a mini ICRI that’s slightly larger than a paperback novel. Dubbed the ICRI-2P, this unit supports two radio and two telephone ports and runs for five hours on a 9-volt battery.
Snapshot of an ICRI Recipient
Serving a suburb of Philadelphia, New Jersey’s Mount Laurel Police Department (MLPD) is exactly the kind of agency that can and will benefit from a CEDAP-donated ICRI. Because of its location, the MLPD has the New Jersey Turnpike running through its territory. Not only does this present a lot of opportunities for direct responses at the local turnpike exit, but the MLPD frequently responds to mutual-aid situations with neighboring police departments, New Jersey state troopers, and various fire/EMS agencies.
Radio interoperability—or rather the absence of it—is a big issue for the Mount Laurel Police Department. “Our county has just switched to a digital trunked UHF radio system,” explains MLPD Lieutenant Joseph Lehmann Jr. “Meanwhile, we operate on a conventional analog UHF radio system. The New Jersey State Police are on 800MHz, and are moving to a digital trunked 700MHz in the near future. Other agencies can be found on VHF and UHF; and our mutual-aid frequency is in VHF.”
One can understand why the MLPD applied for an ICRI and why the department is looking forward to getting its from DHS. “Having an ICRI will really make a difference because we respond to a lot of mutual-aid situations,” Lehmann said. “It will help us bring everyone together and help all of us do our jobs better.”
It took two tries for the MLPD to get an ICRI from CEDAP. “I put in both applications for the same device, and we got it the second time around,” Lehmann said. He was scheduled to head to Florida in August 2006 to be trained in the ICRI’s operations, with the actual unit expected to be delivered later this year.
An Interoperability Solution for Today
Over the past few years, the ICRI has enjoyed tremendous acceptance by first-responder and military agencies alike. The reason is simple: It is an affordable, quick-deploy solution that works. This is not to say that the ICRI is the only answer to the interoperability conundrum; it isn’t. However, while departments weigh the costs and hassles to Project 25 open standard radio systems, the ICRI offers a right-now response to the problem of incompatible radio systems.
But should your department invest in such a product when the money might otherwise be used for a Project 25 upgrade? Well, consider the facts. Even if your department does manage to build a P25 system and convinces neighboring police, fire, and EMS agencies to do likewise, chances are that someday, sometime, you’ll find yourself in a mutual-aid situation where you can’t communicate with someone.
To use an extreme example, a 9/11 WTC situation can draw in agencies from hundreds of miles away. Unless you have some kind of ICRI-like device in your arsenal, chances are that you won’t be able to talk to some of them! We applaud DHS’ decision to give smaller first-responder departments the ICRIs they need.
James Careless is a freelance writer who specializes in first responder communications issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.