IP-based system provides speed for emergency response teams
- By Ben Bradley
- Apr 01, 2012
Emergency preparedness requires critical communications to be response- ready—help can’t wait when disaster strikes. Public safety units need immediate access and the ability to share relevant data in order to respond quickly. This necessitates a reliable network with consistent speed, connectivity and reliability. Without a seamless, unified information system, a response operation could be compromised. Public safety divisions in northwest Oregon face potential disasters such as tsunamis, extreme floods or hurricanes, so when they decided to update their outdated communications system, they sought expert help to build the most cost-effective, technologically comprehensive solution.
Updating the System
First responders in Clatsop County, Ore., were challenged by an outdated communications system transmitting over diverse terrain, from the rugged coastline to the dense forests in the state’s northwest region.
The units wanted a unified system that would serve their critical communications needs and link the various units, including fire rescue, sheriff and police departments. They needed a solid infrastructure for the rapid data sharing vital to coordination in an emergency situation.
The public safety units had been standing by for an allocation of Public Safety Interoperable Communications grant money and state partnership expenditures to start the update. After multiple delays of the funding, they decided to launch the project on their own, driven by a sense of urgency to update their technology for emergency preparedness critical to their function. Exploring their options, they turned to Cascade Networks. Specializing in the engineering and development of integrated communications systems in geographically challenging environments, Cascade offered the ability to architect a cost-effective solution to include wireless Internet, fiber optic connectivity, VoIP and wireless and two-way systems, which was just what the units needed.
A comprehensive IP-based communications system enables effective information sharing across multiple channels—in real time. Ultimately, this solution allows for increased information security, better radio coverage and efficient operations for all units of the collaboration.
The public safety units in northwest Oregon specifically requested the use of products from Cambium Networks—formerly Motorola—based on Cambium’s reputation for product quality and reliability. Working to that end, Cascade proposed using Cambium’s point-to-point licensed Ethernet microwave solutions (PTP 800), which offer a high level of redundancy and the ability to scale throughput capacity as demand increases for maximum value and responsible use of public funds.
“This backbone enables Clatsop County to upgrade their public safety communications network to the next-generation IP based systems,” said Keith Young, senior sales engineer at Cascade. “These systems integrate two-way radio, VoIP, video and high-speed data seamlessly, which was not possible on the old analog-based hardware.”
The PTP 800 microwave backhauls proved to be a perfect solution, providing flexibility and high dependability without incurring high costs. The elimination of leased lines and expensive analog-to-digital converters reduced overhead as well as potential points of failure.
WAV Inc., a value-added vendor that provides Cambium products and technical support, proved instrumental to the solution deployment. Since WAV maintains a large stock of inventory, it was quick to expedite delivery to Cascade of the necessary hardware components. With no lead time or delays, the project remained on the planned timeline and kept overall costs down.
The PTP 800 operates in the 6-, 11-, 18-, 23-, 26-, and 38-GHz licensed bands at up to 368 MBps full-duplex throughput and with user-configured channel bandwidths from 7 to 50 MHz. Scalability is easy with the exclusive licensed radios because they won’t need to be replaced for future upgrades.
With its small footprint and split-mount architecture, the point-to-point 800 bridges provide high performance and ultrareliable connectivity that link over heavily forested areas and large bodies of water—perfect for the landscape of northern Oregon.
Technology Cuts Costs, Saves Lives
On a two-year timeline, the public safety divisions of Clatsop County were able to connect critical communications sites in the county. Starting from a simple goal to eliminate the ongoing expense of leased lines, the project proved to offer more advantages and long-lasting benefits to the public safety municipalities. The microwave backbone established a long-standing infrastructure that allows for future expansion. The units also are to implement cameras and alarms for site security and data sharing, including a dedicated secure connection enabling two departments to use the same computer-aided dispatch and records system.
“When we began the process in Clatsop County of moving from an assemblage of stand-alone assets to a system of integrated communications, the project seemed insurmountable,” said Brad Johnston, deputy chief of the Astoria Police Department. “It was with the help of Cascade Networks and the Cambium PTP that the overwhelming process turned into the achievable.”
As grant funds become available, the emergency response units are able to purchase stand-alone sections of the system that link into the new backbone resources. The scalability of the Cambium point-to-point system allows them to purchase lower bandwidths at a substantial savings. While the larger bandwidth is not necessary, the PTP 800 maintains uniformity and the ability to upgrade bandwidth in the future without replacing the entire system.
“In the future, we also hope to extend spurs from the backbone system to shelter sites and public safety buildings that are not public safety answering points,” Johnston said. “The region has seen so many disruptions in phone lines between central office exchange codes that these links will allow communications between public safety agencies during the disruptions. It also will allow the local agencies to become voting sites or radio control points using ROIP.”
The project continues to expand into neighboring counties interested in exploring similar successful solutions. Because of the considerable cost savings created by the elimination of monthly leased line fees—approximately $500 per month per link—the price tag for the deployment, including engineering, FCC coordination, installation, turn-up, and testing, costs a fraction of the anticipated state grant money.
Employing IP-Based Systems for Improved Community Security
Not just for emergency planning, IP-based systems are a costeffective solution for communities or any organization requiring reliable information management in a collaborative environment. This technology has revolutionized the effectiveness of any critical communications system.
IP-based systems offer advantages in four primary areas:
Planning. Once in place, the IP-based solution becomes mission-critical in the planning of security-related scenarios. Decision-makers can optimize the communications effort as supported by the solution tools.
Training. Emergency preparedness dependent on training exercises benefits from the IP-based system for its ability to simulate use in realistic emergency situations. Using the system in training offers greater disaster preparedness and improved results as the disaster teams learn to work in partnership with each other.
Real-time control. The IP-based solution connects communications, seamlessly integrating all methods and devices in real time. As quickly as various forms of radio and wireless data are picked up to process incident alerts and details, first responder units can be deployed from emergency facilities, on driving routes or from other strategic locations.
Debriefing. The success of future emergency situations relies upon the lessons learned in prior incidents. A connected network of communications provides incident data that can be reviewed and analyzed for the purpose of disaster training. Emergency teams can examine the events as they transpired, evaluate the units’ reactions, and determine areas of improvement. The data available for these debriefings are of enormous value.
The technological advances of the IP-based systems impact people’s lives and improve operations by integrating key components. As need increases, the system can be expanded so that complex services function more efficiently. A consistent architectural model unifies the components, streamlining information flow for secure distribution and data sharing. Key decision-makers are empowered by the increased speed of operations and command of relevant information. These advances contribute to the overall success of any critical response, and in the case of emergency preparedness in public safety, successful communications means greater protection of lives and property.
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Security Today.