Nuts and Bolts

The technology side of radio interoperability should be the easy part.

by / May 8, 2007


a lot of money to replace them."

There's not a lot of incentive, Clark said, for a local agency to break the bank to purchase technology for interoperability's sake -- for a catastrophe that may or may not happen.

"It's the same problem they had in New Orleans," he said. "How much money do you want to invest on a category 5 storm that you might not see in your lifetime?"

And there's another issue, McEwen said.

"Unless you have good communications within your agency to do your own job, you're not going to be really enamored with, ?????????¢??How can I improve things to talk to my neighbors?'"


Gateways to Interoperability
Most of the time, Clark said, internal communications are all that's needed. And interoperability can be achieved -- and might have to be achieved -- by use of gateway devices, McEwen said, like the Raytheon ACU-1000, which can be deployed quickly to connect disparate systems.

As Kearns said, these communications systems are prestaged and preprogrammed to allow quick deployment, but that takes prior coordination.

"At the strategic level," he said, "you can utilize larger and more network-centric versions of these gateway technologies to link together dissimilar system infrastructures so that interoperability is essentially permanently in place and users of one system can talk with users on a linked system on a routine basis."

Florida has used the ACU-1000 and other emergency deployable interoperable communications systems, in numerous situations.

"They are extremely useful," said Silvia Womack, 911 communications chief of the

Okaloosa County Department of Public Safety. "Any county in the state can request its deployment. It also can and has been deployed outside of the state for emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina. They have been used for every type of emergency -- tornadoes, hurricanes, conferences, the Super Bowl and even the Space Shuttle retrieval mission."


Learning From the ?????????¢??Amateurs'
Steve Rauter, former deputy chief of the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Department in Chicago and current 911 director, said he wants on-scene, off-network tactical radio solutions for most interoperability needs.

"My issue is in-the-hand tactical interoperability," he said. "I want the technology in the hand -- not at some controller far away or an IP-based system that is fairly brittle."

There's a time and place for the IP-based solution, he said, but not in critical, on-scene communications -- at least not yet.

"Some of the military IP solutions are starting to come out," Rauter said. "Those are in essence hardened; they're encapsulated, meaning they're not wide open to anybody who wants to smack into them."

But as far as public safety is concerned, he said, the IP-based system hasn't arrived yet. "I don't want to have to wait and reboot my radio before I can go into a fire scene; that just doesn't make sense to me."

Some manufacturers sell radio systems and call them IP compatible when they're really not, Rauter said. "Some of the bigger manufacturers, including some of the biggest, will tell you they've got IP from end to end, which is completely false because the radio is not IP compatible -- though they will tell you it is."

He said public safety officials could take a page or two out of the amateur (ham) radio playbook.

"For at least 35 years, the ham radio community has enjoyed multiband, multimode radios, and we're trying to migrate some of that technology to public safety," Rauter said.   "Give me a bag of them with some AA batteries, and I can deploy some folks to go do work. The technology lends itself to instantaneous work. You're going to hear people opposed to that. They're going to say that you need




Jim McKay Contributing Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout.