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Coach2100 for Situational Control

Written by James Careless

When you think of U.S. cities vulnerable to natural or manmade disasters, O’Fallon, IL may not immediately come to mind…but it should. Located 16 miles east of St. Louis, “the 26,000 residents of O’Fallon live near the New Madrid fault, which is very seismically active,” said O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham.

“We are also close to Scott Air Force Base. Although the base is an important boost to our community thanks to the thousands of jobs it supports, Scott is a major USAF refueling point, making it a natural terrorist target. Add the fact that we live in tornado country, and coordinated emergency preparedness before an event is critically important.”

To provide such coordination in an accessible, reliable, and cost-effective manner, the city of O’Fallon recently implemented Coach2100’s Command and Control platform. Designed to work securely over the Internet and provide password-protected access to authorized personnel equipped with a wired, wireless, or mobile Internet connection, Coach2100 C&C is being rolled out to O’Fallon’s police, fire/EMS, and public works departments.

When fully operational, it will allow city planners to develop Web-accessible C&C scenarios before events occur; and permit first responders to interact with and update these plans during actual emergencies.

“With Coach2100, our police will go to the scene with their in-car laptops, and be able to communicate directly with their commanders in real time using data, voice, and video,” Graham said. “They’ll also be able to get access not only to data about the locations they’re attending and the people they’re dealing with, but tap into predefined plans online that will tell them when and what to do.” In addition, Coach2100 provides a multimedia two-way system that can act as a backup to first responder radio and telephone systems and help deal with extra traffic in mutual aid situations.

Coach2100 was founded in 1998 to provide Web-based solutions for command and control of contentious events. Coach2100 allows business managers and leaders to build and train teams, engage in team preparation for execution of a negotiation, then memorialize the event and, using that history, train and prepare for the next negotiation. Business leaders can communicate with any member of their teams, any time and anywhere globally.

After the chaos of 9/11, the company realized its Coach2100 architecture and interactive technology could also be used by first responders to manage emergency situations. So it teamed up with Sun Microsystems to provide two-way, 128/256/NSA level-bit encrypted communications for security applications in a seamless, scalable Command and Control platform.

Also, individual Command and Control emergency response plans can be structured to provide varying degrees of access to different users depending on their clearance and authorization levels. This ensures compartmentalization of sensitive data as needed and provides extra layers of security within the system.

Should an unauthorized user be detected, Coach2100 Command and Control architecture makes it possible for an administrator to instantly lock him out. The hierarchical access structure also allows system administrators connected to the Internet anywhere to make last-minute adjustments; including adding new users and team building as the event requires.

In addition to the city of O’Fallon, Coach2100 is currently being used by “a three-letter federal agency, which often refers to a federal law enforcement, defense or intelligence organization,” said Federal Computer Week magazine (www.fcw.com). Clearly, the feds have faith in Coach2100 C&C.

How It Works

Once the Coach2100 Command and Control system has been deployed, the person responsible for putting together a coordinated emergency plan opens up a “project” on the system. The project lays out the actual Command and Control system that will be used during an emergency. It also details the chain of command (including each rank’s responsibilities), the procedures to be implemented during emergency situations, and the resources to be made available to first responders in the field, including those that will help update the plan with current situational information. Add the hierarchical access structure, and the C&C plan is complete.

Now let’s consider Coach2100 from an officer’s point of view. Let’s say he is on the scene of a tornado strike. Using a handheld wireless phone, PDA, or in-car laptop computer, the officer can immediately connect to his department’s emergency plan and get information about the areas to which he personally is assigned. Within these areas is access to the resources that officers need, such as building maps or community evacuation plans, plus specific instructions as to the officers’ specific tasks in this emergency. As they complete the tasks, these can be “checked off” electronically on the Coach2100 platform, letting commanders know what the officers have done to date, and what there is left to do.

Using the same system, airborne observers in a helicopter can communicate with officers and others on the ground. They also can input GPS coordinates of trapped victims; allowing rescue vehicles to go directly to their locations as soon as possible. An officer who has noticed the imminent collapse of a building can warn everybody on the scene with a short text message, and a commander wanting to evacuate his people quickly can alert everyone with a few keystrokes.

To put the power of Coach2100 Command and Control into perspective, imagine if it had been deployed in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. At the first sign of trouble, police and firefighters could have been alerted to the clear and present danger of collapse. Meanwhile, city officials could have coped with the loss of their physical command center by shifting to another location: Being completely mobile with multiple backups, the Coach2100 system would have provided uninterrupted continuous C&C communications and situational awareness. At no time would leadership or first responders have been in the dark about the event as it unfolded.

At a distance, state and federal officials would have been able to follow the events at Ground Zero more accurately and have direct input into the deployment of reinforcements and relief. Meanwhile, satellite links could have picked up the gaps left by the collapse of cellular and land line telephone in lower Manhattan.

Putting Coach2100 Command and Control in Context

The specter of 9/11 highlights a truth about emergency planning: Good as they are, Coach2100 Command and Control and other emergency planning tools and technology are not enough to prevent chaos when disaster strikes. What is also required is intensive cooperation, preplanning, and joint exercises by police, fire/EMS, and other government agencies before trouble hits; so that the necessary plans and procedures are in place when the “real thing” happens.

In turn, all the interagency cooperation in the world cannot do much if it isn’t translated into clear, concise plans before things go terribly wrong. This is where Coach2100 and products like it come in. They help cities such as O’Fallon translate cooperative good will into concrete preparations.

This brings us to a third point: Interagency cooperation and the right technology won’t solve anything if there isn’t the political will to buy and implement it.

Fortunately, “we are a city that thinks a little more progressively than most,” Graham said. “We’re not going to sit around for others to do proper emergency planning before we step up to the plate. If we did, our citizens would hang us out to dry!”

When all these elements are in place, then communities are truly able to protect themselves against natural and manmade. In such circumstances, Coach2100 Command and Control can be a real asset.

James Careless is a freelance writer who specializes in first responder communications issues. He may be reached at jcareless5000@yahoo.com.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2006

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