Houston, Harris County not on same emergency radio wavelength

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blantonl

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As many as 249 agencies, up from 79 in 2003, are now linked to Harris County's regional radio system, which lets police, fire departments and emergency services agencies in 11 of the area's 13 counties communicate with one another. Holes still exist, however, and none is bigger than the one caused by the absence of Houston, which still isn't connected to the regional system that showed some promise during Hurricane Rita in 2005.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5872733.html
 

1268

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I have to applaud the city of Houston for not just joining the crowd... How did Harris county get away without competitive bids??? A law suit in the making for both Harris County and Motorola.
 

af5rn

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Interop is an overrated pipe dream anyhow. Damn rarely is it ever even needed, and when it is, it usually quickly becomes chaos, regardless of the system. This isn't even about interop. Those *****ing about it just want $$$ from the city to help offset their bottomless money pit of a Motorola investment.
 

blantonl

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Yea, I agree.

I always get a kick out of how "If we get everyone on the same system interop will be perfect"

Yea right.

Interop is 95% political boundary teardown and 5% technology.

Even more funny are the systems that are deployed with 25 Interop channels. WTF?
 

richardc63

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As many as 249 agencies, up from 79 in 2003, are now linked to Harris County's regional radio system, which lets police, fire departments and emergency services agencies in 11 of the area's 13 counties communicate with one another. Holes still exist, however, and none is bigger than the one caused by the absence of Houston, which still isn't connected to the regional system that showed some promise during Hurricane Rita in 2005.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5872733.html

Lindsay,

This Aussie just shakes his head at the incredible waste and maladministration that goes on in the US. Your County based system of communications is, to me, a sad joke. So much money is wasted on duplication of back room services it is no wonder that your people are forced to buy their own radios. There would be an uproar if it happened over here.

I recently provided a gateway between our PMR system, already patched to our statewide Smartzone system (with well over 100 sites covering an area larger than most US states), to another state's Smartzone system... those that need to can now roam, virtually seamlessly, over almost 1000 miles and still be in touch with their fire station & dispatch centre the whole time.

And Houston can't talk to an adjoining county... and the US WAS the leader in communications design? I don't think people in the US realise how badly this reflects on the US first responder's reputation, though I'm sure much of the blame lies with your politicians.

Cheers,


Richard
 

af5rn

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What's all this about people forced to buy their own radios? Except for the very poorest and most remote rural areas, the only people buying their own radios here are whackers who can't resist turning their POV into a whackermobile, or think their 110 hour EMT card makes them so indispensable to society that they should have their own HT 24/7.

I'm not one to assert American superiority in cases where it is clearly not warranted. And I would never say we have anything superior going on here. But it appears from everything you just wrote that you really don't have a clear picture of what the article is about. But then again, neither does the author of the article.
 

blantonl

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Well Richard, while I agree with your assessment, you have to understand that the United States government system is based on federalism, not nationalism... the whole reason the United States constitution defines these separation of powers between the Federal and State Governments is because our founding fathers feared a strong central government like the one they lived with under England's rule.

There are pros and cons all over the place - but at the end of the day this is a problem with our locally elected leaders, for which the constituents will, and should, hold them responsible.
 

bpckty1

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One of the reasons Houston (Police) is not on Borgnet, oops, sorry, Starnet, is they upgraded their UHF system when Starnet was being installed as a SmartNet system, and they knew that their traffic load would overwhelm the system with their traffic. And, the city was installing its own 800 MHz TRs at the same time, and it only covers the city stuff, with a few talkgroups for specialized HPD and HFD units. Since HPD had made the expensive upgrades to their 400 MHz system, they were not going to spend more money to abandon the system and join Starnet.

Now that the system is reaching the end of its "life cycle", trunked systems are looking more possible, and since 700 MHz is the new thing (federally and state mandated) it should happen in a few years, and if Starnet goes 700 MHz, there is the possiblilty for mutually sharing the costs of the system.

As for interoperablilty,
1) there is a dedicated talkgroup between Starnet and HPD,
2) the police and fire departments have portable (suitcase size) devices that will retransmit the comms of the different systems and they are assigned to various field supervisiors. When employed, unless one is paying close attentiion, the users do not know that they are communicating with each other via the interop device.

(Just make sure the supervisors have notified the dispatchers as to what is happening.)
;^>
 

richardc63

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Well Richard, while I agree with your assessment, you have to understand that the United States government system is based on federalism, not nationalism... the whole reason the United States constitution defines these separation of powers between the Federal and State Governments is because our founding fathers feared a strong central government like the one they lived with under England's rule.

There are pros and cons all over the place - but at the end of the day this is a problem with our locally elected leaders, for which the constituents will, and should, hold them responsible.
Hi Lindsay,

Thanks for the response! Though I understand & respect the philosophy behind this, I don't fully understand why it should preclude far greater rationalisation of services that don't present a threat to the fundamental politics of American society! After all, having one NOCC and a single zone controller running the maximum number of sites, combined with a single 911 centre serving an entire state, is surely more efficient than a whole lot of small systems and facilities duplicated solely to replicate political boundaries?

I'm not trying to be a smart alec- we have a very long way to go over here too. Having dealt with trying to communicate cross state boundaries here gave me an appreciation for how tough breaking down barriers can be. But we still need to give it a go because far too much of the blame for operational inefficiencies is dumped on technology when it is the fault of politics fair & square.

Cheers,


Richard
 

af5rn

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After all, having one NOCC and a single zone controller running the maximum number of sites, combined with a single 911 centre serving an entire state, is surely more efficient than a whole lot of small systems and facilities duplicated solely to replicate political boundaries?
I refuse to accept your premise that mathematical efficiency is a concern that overrides the concerns of quality and accuracy of service. The services of a community should be administrated by those who know the community. Otherwise you get the same useless crap you get when you call Microsoft customer service and get some idiot in Pakistan.
 

richardc63

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I refuse to accept your premise that mathematical efficiency is a concern that overrides the concerns of quality and accuracy of service. The services of a community should be administrated by those who know the community. Otherwise you get the same useless crap you get when you call Microsoft customer service and get some idiot in Pakistan.
That is entirely your right... but it is hard to deny the maths that a single state based NOCC with centralised 911 despatch based around a single trunking system is going to cost less than duplicating these with each based around their own trunking system. No-one is taking police or fire fighters off the street... in fact the reverse is the case because freeing up unproductive overheads allows more $ to be spent on "front line" services. And I don't know how you translate rationalising down to a state wide level is the same as dealing with a Paki call centre! You must have enormous faith in those around you!

While I don't agree with you and have seen the benefits sensible use of centralised services brings, I understand that is a concept many Americans seem unwilling to embrace. Your right, your loss.

Cheers,


Richard
 

af5rn

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T... but it is hard to deny the maths that a single state based NOCC with centralised 911 despatch based around a single trunking system is going to cost less than duplicating these with each based around their own trunking system.
If you're saving so much money, why are your taxes almost twice mine?
 

richardc63

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If you're saving so much money, why are your taxes almost twice mine?
Huh? As if that has anything to do with the capital & recurrent cost of a communications system... Very little (too little) of our tax money goes towards this. But a great little attempt at diversion on your part!

Cheers,


Richard
 

af5rn

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Diversion? You're the one who attempted to make cost efficiency the entire focus of the conversation.

The point remains that centralisation only theoretically results in cost efficiency, because that centralisation brings increased bureaucracy with it that negates any other savings. Another reason why we avoid centralisation in the states, and people remain quite happy with it.
 

richardc63

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Diversion? You're the one who attempted to make cost efficiency the entire focus of the conversation.

The point remains that centralisation only theoretically results in cost efficiency, because that centralisation brings increased bureaucracy with it that negates any other savings. Another reason why we avoid centralisation in the states, and people remain quite happy with it.
Again, while I respect your view that hasn't been the experience here. Indeed if that was the outcome why do you think many governments outside the US are implementing large trunking systems? Could I suggest that one of the tangible financial benefits, and I don't think we should over-emphasise the commercial benefits over the other benefits, is the reduction in network & infrasture costs incurred by individual agencies? Airwave in the UK, the large TETRA & TERAPOL systems in Europe, the state based GRNs here in Australia... So sorry, the savings aren't theoretical, they are real IF managed properly. The problem is that they aren't always managed properly, and that I am happy to concede, however that doesn't void the benefits that are achievable.

If people are happy, so be it. People usually get the government they deserve.

Regards,


Richard
 

zz0468

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<rant>

One of the biggest problems facing public safety communications in the U.S. is the fact that it is now being driven by cost and politics, rather than a properly done needs assessment and engineering considerations. I've been in this business long enough to see consolidation of dispatch centers, centralization of systems to reduce redundancies, and then see the pendulum swing the other way. Agencies that consolidated are splitting off to do their own thing. 20 year old agreements to share systems are falling apart.

What concerns me about centralized systems is loss of local control and autonomy and, because money becomes the driving force, a system architecture that presents too many single points of failure is created. Lose a critical switch, or a critical link someplace, and you don't lose communications in just one jurisdiction, you lose it in 50. Proper system design can mitigate a lot of this, but quite frankly, I have yet to see any agency be free flowing with enough cash to design and built a system that's robust enough to take whatever can be thrown at it. The survivability and redundancy is lost, replaced by features that aren't really NEEDED. And building a non-redundant, non-survivable common system for many user agencies is simply not acceptable, in my book.

While having a centralized 911 PSAP and dispatch center could be an over all cost savings, it comes at a very high price. Local dispatch centers are staffed with local residents, who know the streets and neighborhoods. The cops on the beat are well familiar with their areas, their dispatchers need to be, also. Public safety is not a service that can, or should, be farmed out to a centralized facility like a help line call center.

Addressing interoperability, what's missing is the discussions of who NEEDS to talk to who, and what do they need to talk about. A great deal of the interoperability that takes place isn't done on the radio. The cops don't need to talk to the trash truck drivers, who don't need to talk to the dog catcher... and so on. Police and fire speak different languages, almost. They have different needs, a different command structure. In a major incident, it's their command staff that need to be talking.

Having a conventional common air interface would suffice for most interoperability situations. It can cross manufacturer platforms, and if plain language is used, can cross political boundaries as well. But political agreements and operating procedures need to be in place before systems are built.

The bottom line is, while the financial part of the equation is essential, it should not be the main driving force behind a particular systems architecture. If the needs assessment determines that a central consolidated dispatch center is the way to go, then so be it. But it shouldn't be done just to save money.

</rant>
 

richardc63

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<rant>

One of the biggest problems facing public safety communications in the U.S. is the fact that it is now being driven by cost and politics, rather than a properly done needs assessment and engineering considerations. I've been in this business long enough to see consolidation of dispatch centers, centralization of systems to reduce redundancies, and then see the pendulum swing the other way. Agencies that consolidated are splitting off to do their own thing. 20 year old agreements to share systems are falling apart.

What concerns me about centralized systems is loss of local control and autonomy and, because money becomes the driving force, a system architecture that presents too many single points of failure is created. Lose a critical switch, or a critical link someplace, and you don't lose communications in just one jurisdiction, you lose it in 50. Proper system design can mitigate a lot of this, but quite frankly, I have yet to see any agency be free flowing with enough cash to design and built a system that's robust enough to take whatever can be thrown at it. The survivability and redundancy is lost, replaced by features that aren't really NEEDED. And building a non-redundant, non-survivable common system for many user agencies is simply not acceptable, in my book.

While having a centralized 911 PSAP and dispatch center could be an over all cost savings, it comes at a very high price. Local dispatch centers are staffed with local residents, who know the streets and neighborhoods. The cops on the beat are well familiar with their areas, their dispatchers need to be, also. Public safety is not a service that can, or should, be farmed out to a centralized facility like a help line call center.

Addressing interoperability, what's missing is the discussions of who NEEDS to talk to who, and what do they need to talk about. A great deal of the interoperability that takes place isn't done on the radio. The cops don't need to talk to the trash truck drivers, who don't need to talk to the dog catcher... and so on. Police and fire speak different languages, almost. They have different needs, a different command structure. In a major incident, it's their command staff that need to be talking.

Having a conventional common air interface would suffice for most interoperability situations. It can cross manufacturer platforms, and if plain language is used, can cross political boundaries as well. But political agreements and operating procedures need to be in place before systems are built.

The bottom line is, while the financial part of the equation is essential, it should not be the main driving force behind a particular systems architecture. If the needs assessment determines that a central consolidated dispatch center is the way to go, then so be it. But it shouldn't be done just to save money.

</rant>
Well if that is a rant, then rant away! You have posed some very pertinent challenges- many thanks for the thought you put in to your post.

Could I throw some problems back at you? We cover an area the size of Texas and when I joined them about 15 years ago they had 7 despatch centres. All relied on RF control with no back-up, recording facilities were very basic, none had CNI or CAD, none could cover for another (overflow), extremely limited inter-agency RF links, and a number of them resembled "sleepy hollow"... a popular place to work as very little of that went on! They rationalised down to 4, all now have Centracoms, all have CNI and CAD, all can cover for another centre through not much more than a mouse click, all lines/channels are recorded digitally, full inter-op capability through inter-op talkgroups & RF controls, and they have back up systems for Centracom failure, link failure, and even have back-up for Zone Controller failure. You simply can't do this if you don't get your scale right. This costs a lot of money but we all would hope that this is what modern emergency services should expect. So how many small counties can hope to achieve that given the amount of funding support given to them? Why should they have to accept less than the larger cities? If they are happy to accept less-fine, but I wonder if they know what they are missing?

As for local knowledge we still use operational staff as operators & call takers. I don't believe in outsourcing that either but I would dispute that with modern CAD that detailed local knowledge is essential. Desirable yes, essential no. But they have to talk the same language...

I totally agree with you about sacrificing capability when centralising- we should play hard ball when it comes to what we expect from network managers or owners. There should be no compromise.

A great post- thanks.

Cheers,


Richard
 

1268

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<rant>

One of the biggest problems facing public safety communications in the U.S. is the fact that it is now being driven by cost and politics, rather than a properly done needs assessment and engineering considerations. I've been in this business long enough to see consolidation of dispatch centers, centralization of systems to reduce redundancies, and then see the pendulum swing the other way. Agencies that consolidated are splitting off to do their own thing. 20 year old agreements to share systems are falling apart.

What concerns me about centralized systems is loss of local control and autonomy and, because money becomes the driving force, a system architecture that presents too many single points of failure is created. Lose a critical switch, or a critical link someplace, and you don't lose communications in just one jurisdiction, you lose it in 50. Proper system design can mitigate a lot of this, but quite frankly, I have yet to see any agency be free flowing with enough cash to design and built a system that's robust enough to take whatever can be thrown at it. The survivability and redundancy is lost, replaced by features that aren't really NEEDED. And building a non-redundant, non-survivable common system for many user agencies is simply not acceptable, in my book.

While having a centralized 911 PSAP and dispatch center could be an over all cost savings, it comes at a very high price. Local dispatch centers are staffed with local residents, who know the streets and neighborhoods. The cops on the beat are well familiar with their areas, their dispatchers need to be, also. Public safety is not a service that can, or should, be farmed out to a centralized facility like a help line call center.

Addressing interoperability, what's missing is the discussions of who NEEDS to talk to who, and what do they need to talk about. A great deal of the interoperability that takes place isn't done on the radio. The cops don't need to talk to the trash truck drivers, who don't need to talk to the dog catcher... and so on. Police and fire speak different languages, almost. They have different needs, a different command structure. In a major incident, it's their command staff that need to be talking.

Having a conventional common air interface would suffice for most interoperability situations. It can cross manufacturer platforms, and if plain language is used, can cross political boundaries as well. But political agreements and operating procedures need to be in place before systems are built.

The bottom line is, while the financial part of the equation is essential, it should not be the main driving force behind a particular systems architecture. If the needs assessment determines that a central consolidated dispatch center is the way to go, then so be it. But it shouldn't be done just to save money.

</rant>
Bravo ! Fantastic post. I want to add in just a couple points about command structure, FEMA and DHS are pushing hard there ICS/NIMS system for all responders be it the dog catcher or your local police department or even the water department. The idea is to not have several layers of command and control but one single integrated command structure.
I have also seen many issues with CAD systems and dispatch, these systems are only as good as the folks who load the data into them not to mention having good people collecting the data in the first place...bad data useless CAD dispatch.
 

Cowthief

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STAR-Net.

Hello.

STAR-Net is a neat system, that has totally failed its test.
Houston has put HFD on UHF, to work with the HPD system.
At some point, Houston will migrate to P-25 trunking, there is already some of that going on.
But, STAR-Net, a system based on Motorola trunking, is not an option.
First off, with the Nextel rebanding, there are going to be a lot of changes, and a lot of radios will need to be replaced anyway.
Second, Smartnet is not an open standard, only Motorola is the vendor.
And finally, although UHF is not secure, nor is smartnet, but a current generation encrypted UHF radio is half the cost of a basic smartnet radio that is not secure.
Once 700 MHz hits, Houston will again review trunking.
 
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