In our article entitled September 11th – The Challenges of Emergency Communications in High-Rise Buildings, we presented one aspect of the communications challenges faced by first responders arriving to the scene. Another finding in the 9/11 Commission Report was that all units at the scene did not work together effectively. The Commission Report states "...The FDNY and NYPD each considered itself operationally autonomous. As of September 11, they were not prepared to comprehensively coordinate their efforts in responding to a major incident". One of the major changes since 9/11 is that interoperability is now mandatory. All agencies are to go through training according to the National Incident Management System (NIMS) including exercises and drills to ensure interoperability in terms of using a unified language and clear terms across the board are implemented and are part of the operation.
Following the training at NIMS, all agents, fire, police and first responders use the same consistent terms, common glossary for equipment, and standardized definition of who does what. That’s all well and good, however without proper communications technology and solutions to channel and enable real unified communications means across all agents, no amount of consistent terminology can bridge over multiple units working in multiple scenes and locations.
Interoperability refers to a property of a product or system with interfaces that are completely understood to work with other products or systems, present or future, without any restricted access or implementation.Furthermore, when it comes to major disaster events and emergencies, interoperability MUST be enforced technologically on a multi-sphere level: from land, air and sea to support all incoming emergency response teams.
Once interoperability is achieved, the way all the gathered information and data is directed to and from local headquarters or a local command and control post makes the difference between a unified working force and separate autonomous units.
To assure true interoperability during emergency crisis, there are several points that must be taken into account:
As in most disaster and emergency events, most public communications networks collapse and leave all relevant units stranded without any means to communicate. For precisely this reason, a private wireless network that is independent of any existing communications infrastructure has to be implemented in order to assure communications at all times.
As long as different agents use different radio frequencies to communicate, no consistent frequency can ever be used by all agents at all time. This is also due to the ever changing constraints and surroundings thrusted by such circumstances.
To accommodate these challenges communications equipment must enable the flexibility for all personnel to change frequencies based on need at any given time. Software Defined Radio (SDR) based communications solutions enable one to change, modify or configure the wireless link parameters to best fit and optimizes the developing on-the-move situation.
As often is the case in emergency situations, most means of communications are unavailable – the network must allow for continuous connections, and must reconfigure itself around broken paths.
Today, the most commonly used mode of communications is radio-based TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio). This has long been the standard communications platform for public safety, transportation, emergency response teams, police and oil and gas sectors among others, but it may no longer be the obvious choice for a communications platform. TETRA is an official standard set up by the European Telecommunication and Standardization Institute (ETSI).
MESH Based Communications
Today, with the awareness for interoperability, a greater transition and openness to a wider range of technologies can be seen. While TETRA-based communications systems provide the basic means to communicate, overcoming interoperability challenges will require collaboration between technologies. Those include MESH-based technologies – a fully connected "Self-managing" and "Self-healing" network where all units are connected to each other and could act as a relay to other units in the network. Mobile MESH takes Traditional MESH to the next level and delivers all MESH values while on-the-move whether by helicopters, vehicles, personnel. This allows for dispatch teams to communicate as a unified workforce immediately upon arrival at the scene.
International Efforts to Overcoming Interoperability Challenges
To overcome the above issues, organizations such as SAN, a consortium led by Airbus, Indra, Mobilicom and other European companies offer a unique and advanced Hybrid approach of standard LTE and Ad-Hoc combined with 4G MESH networks for public safety scenarios. SAN project aims at developing a 4G LTE broadband mobile wireless communication system providing a wide range of ad-hoc and relaying/mesh routing capabilities.
The Complete Story
To complete the process of implementing interoperability codes and conducts, technology is, and should be, an integral part of this process. Using a unified language and clear terms across the board must be completed with the technology to support the overall objective of working as a unified entity.
Yossi Segal is the Co-Founder& VP of Research and Development for Mobilicom
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