Communicating in a disaster

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brey1234

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In today’s high-tech world, it is almost unthinkable that firefighters cannot effectively communicate with police officers or paramedics seamlessly during emergencies. There are situations where first responders must carry with them up to seven communications devices if they truly want to reach colleagues of varying disciplines and uniforms in emergencies.

Communicating in a disaster - TheHill.com
 
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wuzafuzz

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If everyone would stop "rolling their own" and chasing the newest available bands with wild abandon, interoperability wouldn't be nearly the problem it is today. At some point one has to wonder what the heck use mutual aid channels are when we have different ones in low band, others in VHF-Hi, some and the 450's, and so on. Of course different bands are suited for different environments.

As usual people created their own problem and now they want Big Brother to make it all better. Now it's such a complex mess I doubt it will ever really be fixed. But we'll throw billions of dollars at it on the way to nowhere.

Perhaps the newest dual band professional radios will be part of an answer, assuming everyone can settle on one common band for mutual aid channels. (Do what ever you want internally, but interop happens HERE.) Otherwise everyone will be dependent on complex infrastructure which may or may not be working right in the super-disaster feared by emergency planners.
 
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N_Jay

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All these recent articles mean only one thing.

The lobbyists are hard at work. ;)
 

rescuecomm

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As long as the title of communications officer belongs to a person responsible for scheduling dispatchers, you won't see a lot of change. In my county everyone rides a different horse: LEO-s ride the UHF blue horse, EMS rides the VHF white horse, FD's ride their VHF red horse, etc. If one asks what VTAC, UTAC, and ITAC channels are in their radios, you get an uncomprehending stare. You would think that anyone in charge of a PSAP would be required to have a course in radio communications.

Just venting,

Bob
 

stevelton

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I am the Director of Communications for our county EMA. I am getting ready to start different levels of training for all of our officers. Everyone will get the "basic". After that, who ever wants to sign up for Dispatcher training, (we are not the PSAP, so no state course, just my own power point and teaching methods :). After that, I am going to select/ask for volunteers to under go an elite radio operator training. This way, hopefully, we will have our own people to handle communications and assist with interop within our county. I guess I will see how this works next year with the midwest FEMA drill.

Steven
 
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DaveNF2G

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A couple of other factors are in play here as well.

The FCC, for one. An executive branch oversight agency that can't say No when industry profit is at stake.
 

jim202

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Most radio interoperability use starts with the dispatcher telling units to go to a stated frequency.
So if you want it to happen, start with getting the dispatcher to be the switch in the railroad tracks
and get the field units to switch to the common channels where they can inter communicate.

If using these common channels doesn't become second nature at an incident, they will never
be used when they are really needed. Get the field commanders use to using these frequencies.
Get them to realize the value of having the entire operating mutual aid units on a common radio
channel and not relying on the dispatcher to relay messages to units on different channels. Don't
forget that it may take the use of a gateway system to tie units of the different bands together.
These gateways are a wonderful tool when used on a regular basis.

Even the federal agencies are using gateway devices. I am even starting to see a number of military
units starting to use the gateways to interface different systems together and also include public
safety agencies in some of the incidents they are involved in.

Jim




I am the Director of Communications for our county EMA. I am getting ready to start different levels of training for all of our officers. Everyone will get the "basic". After that, who ever wants to sign up for Dispatcher training, (we are not the PSAP, so no state course, just my own power point and teaching methods :). After that, I am going to select/ask for volunteers to under go an elite radio operator training. This way, hopefully, we will have our own people to handle communications and assist with interop within our county. I guess I will see how this works next year with the midwest FEMA drill.

Steven
 

wuzafuzz

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Don't
forget that it may take the use of a gateway system to tie units of the different bands together.
These gateways are a wonderful tool when used on a regular basis.

Even the federal agencies are using gateway devices. I am even starting to see a number of military
units starting to use the gateways to interface different systems together and also include public
safety agencies in some of the incidents they are involved in.

Jim
Gateway devices are a really cool concept. I'm not familiar with the details though. How many of them are ready to go on a moments notice? Or are they usually brought into play when an incident scales up over time?

We had some dispatcher enabled patches between our UHF system and the local PD's VHF system when I worked for a sheriff's dept in So Cal. Obviously that was setup in advance, and didn't include flexibility for other players on short notice.
 
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N_Jay

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A couple of other factors are in play here as well.

The FCC, for one. An executive branch oversight agency that can't say No when industry profit is at stake.
The FCC has the same problem that the FAA and FTC (and other Administrations/Commissions) face.
They have the dual and conflicting roles of "promotion" and "Regulation".

This is nothing new,and not unique to the FCC.
 

jim202

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Virginia now has gateway systems connected to some 58 dispatch centers in several areas of the state.
These gateways have the normal radio channels that are used every day connected. It only takes a
few mouse clicks to inter connect multiple dispatch centers and their needed radio channels together.

The dispatch centers can even send text messages between the different computers. This allows
for text messages to be sent without tying up a radio channel or the telephone.

The Virginia system is called COMLINC and is online 24/7 for the use as needed. A number of
agencies in the state also have a similar gateway system installed in mobile command vehicles.
You can even use a satellite link for a unit out in the field to connect back to any of the gateways
in the COMLINC system.

Several years back the interop (gateway) system was put out for bids and the Sytech Corp. from
Alexandria, VA won the bid. The gateway goes by the name of RIOS and has a number of version
to pick from. Sort of depends on your application. You can link just about any device that has
audio into another radio device. Doesn't matter what format the radio may be. I have heard good
audio being patched between a Motorola digital trunked system with an EDACS trunked radio and
well as having a conventional analog repeater as a third leg to the patch.

Right after hurricane Katrina, the National Guard came to the same company and ordered 27 systems
that fit into a 16 foot trailer. The intent was these units could be taken any place they were needed.
The size was made to match being able to load them into a C130 for long distance transport. Those
units contained a self support 15x18 foot tent, a 4 ton air conditioner, 2 diesel generators, a UHF repeater
with 25 UHF portables, 2 radio masts and antennas, 2 VHF, 2 UHF and 2 800 MHz radios in a comm
box, the interop gateway with radio interface cables, a fax machine, video telecomm package, tables, chairs and a
few other trinkets like a 1.2 meter satellite link for providing backhaul and internet connections. There was
even a number of IP telephones. The National Guard could take this trailer to a location and be up and
operational in between 30 to 60 minutes after putting the brakes on.

Jim




Gateway devices are a really cool concept. I'm not familiar with the details though. How many of them are ready to go on a moments notice? Or are they usually brought into play when an incident scales up over time?

We had some dispatcher enabled patches between our UHF system and the local PD's VHF system when I worked for a sheriff's dept in So Cal. Obviously that was setup in advance, and didn't include flexibility for other players on short notice.
 
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n0nhp

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Having been in on operations where the "interoperability" devices have been deployed, I have a few observations.
If the radio techs set up the unit from freq A to B and get all the levels adjusted and timing set, everything is great. The problem is command says get off of A and go to C for tactical. There had better be a tech on hand with his gear to get everything re-balanced.
Next mutual aid comes in with their frequencies and linking system. The problem grows exponentially.
I know I am biased, the federal Interagency Incident Management Teams that have grown out of the Forest Fire fighting community really have the right idea. If you come on our incident you must have compatible radios or check out radios from the cache. Forget trying to get everybody on the same page with incompatible hardware.
I know that most incidents in the real world are of a duration that will not allow time for a cache to arrive and a common communication plan to be put into effect but that is something that needs to be worked out among agencies that are likely to work together beforehand and PRACTICED. Even seasoned firefighters need a Comms 101 class at morning briefing every so often.

Off my soap box now, Next?

Bruce
 

jim202

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I have to agree with your comments on the average gateway device. However, I believe
that the Sytech gateway has been designed with this problem in mind. The default settings
for the most part seem to work well. Sure you can go in and adjust and fine tune, but
in most cases, this is not needed.

They even have the ability to remotely control the radio to change channels and zones
if that option is installed. The RIOS also has a built in recording package. You might
want to ask some questions about the RIOS gateway and not take the word of people
that have used it. Some of the hard stuck supporters of the ACU-1000 gateways that have
played with the RIOS have switched. It's funny to hear them talk about the 2 different
gateways. Most people that have stacked the gateways beside each other, will always
go after the RIOS. It is one device that was built with the KISS principle from start to
finish.

I know of one county who put a RIOS gateway up on a mountain top and controls several
radios with it. One of those radios is a Motorola consolette and it does have the ability
to remotely change the channels and zones. You can even remotely turn the scan off
and on. The IP connection is through a router and then into one of the T1 channels on
the microwave. At the distant end, some 3 hops down, it comes off the microwave, goes
through another router and back into a normal IP format. This then gets put onto the
network and allows remote computers to act as control stations. These can be used
to monitor the multi radios or used as dispatch operating positions. Kind of neat to
see it work. Uses a simple program that can be put on just about any computer.

Jim




Having been in on operations where the "interoperability" devices have been deployed, I have a few observations.
If the radio techs set up the unit from freq A to B and get all the levels adjusted and timing set, everything is great. The problem is command says get off of A and go to C for tactical. There had better be a tech on hand with his gear to get everything re-balanced.
Next mutual aid comes in with their frequencies and linking system. The problem grows exponentially.
I know I am biased, the federal Interagency Incident Management Teams that have grown out of the Forest Fire fighting community really have the right idea. If you come on our incident you must have compatible radios or check out radios from the cache. Forget trying to get everybody on the same page with incompatible hardware.
I know that most incidents in the real world are of a duration that will not allow time for a cache to arrive and a common communication plan to be put into effect but that is something that needs to be worked out among agencies that are likely to work together beforehand and PRACTICED. Even seasoned firefighters need a Comms 101 class at morning briefing every so often.

Off my soap box now, Next?

Bruce
 

KAA951

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Kansas has instituted a statewide Motobridge system on it's 77 radio towers. Every site has VHF-Low, VTAC, UTAC and 800 analog mutual aid repeaters installed. They are controlled by state dospatchers and connected statewide by microwave. As long as responders have mutual aid channels for their band programmed, they can communicate anywhere through the state.

It isn't perfect, but it is a big step in the right direction. The hurdles seem to be getting agencies to program mutual aid channels in their radios and training responders on how to use the system.
 

ChiefBob

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In today’s high-tech world, it is almost unthinkable that firefighters cannot effectively communicate with police officers or paramedics seamlessly during emergencies. There are situations where first responders must carry with them up to seven communications devices if they truly want to reach colleagues of varying disciplines and uniforms in emergencies.

Communicating in a disaster - TheHill.com
Hey brey1234, send me an e-mail to contact you
 

ab3a

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I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the other big problem: Once you have a shared incident channel, will users be able to understand each other despite all the silly jargon they use on the air? This is particularly the case when incidents occur across state borders.

If this wasn't such a serious business, someone could make one hell of a comedy out of two people attempting to communicate using all the useless two-way jargon talk.
 
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DaveNF2G

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The plain language movement does not have the force of law. DHS has backed off, realizing that nobody tells local police what to do.
 
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N_Jay

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The plain language movement does not have the force of law. DHS has backed off, realizing that nobody tells local police what to do.
Of course it does not. We are still a Nation of States.

The feds almost always need to "Suggest", "Recommend", or at worst "Bribe" the states to do what they have decided is best.
 

winglessBat

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Interoperability is NEVER the question of technology but rather it's the question of people and their committment to planning, coordinating and the willinglyness (beyond the ego) to working together. Technology is a small piece in a big puzzle.

Oh did I mention practice, practice and practice.
 
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