BroadNet — Europe's public safety plan

By Ian Miller, Executive Officer, ARCIA
Wednesday, 24 October, 2018

BroadNet — Europe's public safety plan

Europe is halfway into an ambitious project to deploy a cross-border public safety mobile broadband communications system.

Public Safety Communications–Europe (PSCE) is an organisation that comes under the umbrella of the European Union and is the coordinating body for a pan-European public safety mobile broadband communications project.

The project has three stages:

  • BroadMap — now finalised, which covered the investigation, design and outline of the project requirements (based on user surveys).
  • BroadWay — now underway, being the pre-procurement stage where industry reviews the project’s needs and the final system configurations are prepared.
  • BroadNet — the final stage, which will involve commissioning and operating the common systems.

The present scenario across Europe is that there is minimal inter-country interoperability (a limiting factor for pan-European response collaboration), old technology (voice and short data only, 2G equivalent) and systems are vendor-locked.

The way ahead is for a pan-European system that provides:

  • secure, mission-critical broadband communication that is operable everywhere
  • applications and the Internet of Public Safety Things (IoPST) ecosystem
  • future evolution as technology advances, standardised with no vendor lock.

The ultimate aim is to improve collaboration between responders from different agencies in different countries, and to enable mobility of responders between different countries.

Project status

The BroadMap stage of the project has been completed. The BroadWay stage is underway and will run to 2021–22. Following that will be the rollout of the system under BroadNet.

At present, the BroadWay project encompasses 11 procurers in 11 European member states. There are 49 responder agencies involved, with the lead agency being the Bavarian Red Cross.

In addition to the main BroadMap/Way/Net project, PSCE has several working groups. These cover, broadly, users, suppliers and research, and have been user-orientated to develop a realistic outline of actual needs. The supplier groups will now translate the outlined needs into actual system definitions, while the research groups are already developing data options.

PSCE BroadWay logo

Another project is E2mC, which aims to provide improved mapping capabilities. The E2mC system will integrate social media information as well as crowdsourcing to improve the reliability and accuracy of data. The eventual aim is to provide real-time input to improve incident management and responses for better control and safer outcomes for the public.

While this sort of data will be of real benefit to emergency services, data on its own can be more trouble than it is worth. The challenge will be to ensure that the extra data really gets to the users who need it most, while being mindful of the added impost on control rooms and the operators involved.

Control rooms — key to using data

Public expectations from control room services is much higher than it ever was, driven by widespread citizen adoption of online and social media, mobile devices and the demand for multichannel access to emergency services. There is also less capacity for failure at any level. Added to this are the influence of technologies such as the cloud, IoT and machine learning, and the increasing demand to do more with less.

Already, control rooms are dealing with multicontact needs: both solicited (voice calls, texts, posts to monitored social media accounts) and unsolicited (social media chatter and other online posts). Commercial CRM-style tools are being adopted, along with the provision of knowledge bases as FAQs. These technologies enable, for instance, the scheduling of non-urgent responses at times that are more convenient to the public.

The data and data patterns produced by these processes are ideally suited for the application of automation and machine learning. It is forecast that within five years, artificial intelligence and machine learning will automatically:

  • provide crime scene/SAR prioritisation and resource allocation
  • coordinate communications with all entities involved in an incident
  • augment overwhelmed dispatch centres for major disasters by providing ‘call triage’
  • scan social media for illicit activity
  • provide intelligence via drones, robots and cameras.

In reality, all these changes won’t come at once. There will be a time of dual economy (old and new technologies), and the old ways won’t be replaced completely.

Only constant is change

The one common thread from the PSCE conference is that technology is driving change. All of these changes are going to improve the ability of first (and second) responders to effect better outcomes for the public while making their jobs safer and easier.

Big data, social media, crowdsourcing and safe city technologies are all going to produce issues for responders, but more importantly, they will give them better tools and management to respond.

PSCE logo

Your author has attended the first two FirstNet International fora, the most recent of which attracted representatives from 17 countries. At the first forum in 2017, the major lesson learned was the value of the open method used by FirstNet to implement its system.

The 2018 forum covered several areas, but to me there was one primary message to take away — the recognition that 3GPP standards are purely terminal and network operators’ standards, and that governments have little or no input (although see the article in this issue on 3GPP’s recent Australian briefings).

Although there is planning for mission-critical PTT and other mission-critical features in Release 13/14 and so on, these are necessarily the market’s view of these needs. In broad terms, only 1% of the population are actually public safety practitioners, so the tail cannot wag the dog.

From the 2018 FirstNet International forum, the suggestion was made that nations initiating public safety broadband communications systems need to develop their network/terminal needs and pool their thoughts. Then, out of two or three coordinating groups, they should take the worldwide mission-critical needs to the 3GPP working groups (and have MNOs support these needs).

In this way, real mission-critical needs might be incorporated into standards. Such a step might allow for improved features and accommodate other technology advances suited to public safety agencies.

The author acknowledges the following for their assistance and material used in this article: BroadWay, David Lund (PSCE Brussels); E2mC project, Barbara Pernici (Politecnico di Milano); and control rooms, Nick Chorley (Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure). Don’t miss David Lund’s presentation on BroadWay at Comms Connect Melbourne in November.

Images courtesy PSCE.

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