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Radio over IP Offers Cost Effective Option for Emergency Communications

With Radio over IP(ROIP), the advantage is that we can expand the types of devices we use -- not just connecting public safety radios, but any device that a responder might want to use at any given location.

Representatives from emergency response agencies across the United States championed the use of Internet Protocol (IP)-based voice emergency communication interoperability solutions, citing faster deployment, reduced costs, and dynamic compatibility with any communications system as the primary advantages.  These emergency response representatives convened for four separate panel discussions hosted by COMCARE in May and June.  Broadcast over the internet, the four Webinars reached approximately 400 members of the emergency response community and private sector technology groups from all over the country.
Radio over Internet Protocol, or RoIP, is already being implemented by the US military and agencies across the United States to link disparate radio and telephone systems to allow for seamless communications.  There are a number of competitive solutions, but each of them convert the wide variety of over the air and wired communications protocols into the common language of Voice over IP, and then manage connections and call groups dynamically depending on the emergency. 

"RoIP means that we no longer have to buy an expensive new radio system for every organization to get interoperability," said RoxAnn Brown, Director of Nashville, Tennessee Emergency Communications Center, a COMCARE Director, and the moderator of the webinars.  "We have a fast, flexible interoperability solution for all organizations involved in emergency response, separate from the critical, but more complicated and expensive, issues of delivering new radio systems to first responders."

"Our RoIP network joins forty-two federal, state, local, tribal, transit, and utility agencies that we need to rely on to be able to communicate together in the event of an emergency, and we've connected them without changing out their existing radio equipment," said Patti Morris, the Olympic Public Safety Communications Alliance Network (OPSCAN) Grant Administrator.  "We are the first project in the United States to deploy this magnitude of a RoIP network, and we've been named by Homeland Security as the best example of a rural interoperability solution capable of connecting local agencies in an affordable manner."

OPSCAN used a DHS SAFECOM grant to connect the different radio and telephone systems of the public safety and other entities that operate on the Olympic Peninsula, the remote and sparsely populated far Northwest corner of Washington State. "Our local transit agency, which covers the entire peninsula, has been connected to our RoIP network since February and they've gone from 5% coverage to 90% coverage," said Ms. Morris.  "This project started when one of our deputies lost his life when he was unable to call for backup because of limited communications capabilities.  With our RoIP network we firmly believe that no other emergency responder will lose his or her life because we have not provided them with a reliable means of communication."

"The power of the internet is that we can transmit all types of data to the far reaches of the world," said Ms. Brown.  "With Radio over IP, the advantage is that we can expand the types of devices we use -- not just connecting public safety radios, but any device that a responder might want to use at any given location. Plus, RoIP allows responders to extend the reach of public safety radios and other devices outside their usual geographic boundaries to include any authorized party."

"There are a number of sophisticated RoIP solutions available today that can solve local interoperability problems, and because they are all based on international Voice over IP standards it is relatively simple to connect these local systems together when the emergencies are larger," said David Aylward, COMCARE Director.  "We hope the various government grant programs, including the special $1 billion plan this year for interoperability controlled by the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security, will adjust to this new technology", he added.  Aylward concluded: "Today we're talking primarily about voice interoperability, but we can use the same transport, technology, and core services to enhance situational awareness using data sources as well as enabling voice conversations.  And we can get this done in the near future."