VoIP may solve problems of interoperability - Part 2

Cisco
Wednesday, 02 December, 2009


A technology that solves the challenges of communications interoperability already exists, in internet protocol. Radio traffic from existing radio systems can travel over existing IP networks just like any other kind of voice, video or data traffic.

An IP-based interoperability solution enables public safety agencies to continue using their existing radio and communications systems while gaining the inherent benefits of IP networks, which include resiliency, scalability and management using widely available skills and tools.

Through the use of accepted standards, IP-based interoperability systems protect an agency’s existing and future investments in equipment. Agencies can continue using their existing PTT radio systems and add new radios and IP phones that coexist with existing radios from any vendor.

The standards-based approach also reduces the costs of acquiring technology, an advantage that has largely eluded public safety agencies because of their reliance on proprietary radio systems.

Agencies that use the IP network for radio communications are free to buy whatever radio and voice system best meets their needs because any system can communicate with any other over an IP network.

These are some of the major advantages of IP:

  • It supports new communications devices. People can communicate with other people regardless of the type of device or communications technology they are using. IP enables PTT everywhere, using radios, mobile phones, IP phones or analog phones. The location of the user becomes far less important, facilitating centralised or distributed command and control. Decision-makers can monitor talk groups from home or even another country because of the global reach of IP. Users can switch from one device to another - from mobile phone to radio, for example - as events dictate or as people travel;
  • IP enables flexible command and control and multiagency collaboration. A dispatcher or incident commander can dynamically control all assets from a web browser, enabling agencies to better support collaborative emergency services and communications. A communications interoperability system based on IP standards enables agencies to preserve their existing command and control and standard operating procedures. They gain more flexibility regarding how, when and where they will engage in incident response and how they will communicate with other organisations - irrespective of their location or radio technology;
  • IP enables resilience. Radio infrastructures are subject to physical failures from fire, earthquake and power outage as is the public switched telephone network. For example, months after Katrina, multiple primary public safety answering points, which relied on PSTN connectivity, were still not operational. “From Katrina, we learned that we cannot rely on any specific infrastructure: PSTN, radio tower, or other,” says Kevin Ross of the New York State Emergency Management Office. “We need the option of reconstituting communications from a disaster recovery site that is on a different power grid, with different phone providers.”
  • IP scales for any size emergency. Tactical radio-to-radio interoperability bridges can falter under the high traffic volume of large-scale emergencies. They can also tie up multiple frequencies, potentially preventing first responders and commanders from joining a channel. With an IP-based system, agencies can use a central web-based interface to scale and dynamically extend their span of control.

The Cisco IPICS system, already in use in US organisations in the public and private sector, provides communications interoperability.

Phase 1, available now, combines radio and voice interoperability, enabling people to join the same talk group using any type of radio as well as mobile phones, IP phones and standard phones.

IPICS is designed to take full advantage of the inherent attributes of IP, including open standards, availability, redundancy, resiliency and scalability.

Agencies that deploy the system for radio interoperability can use the same IP network infrastructure for other types of voice, video and data traffic, including IM and sensor information.

Integrated IP makes a platform that is faster and has a longer life than interoperability systems that use IP for transport alone.

Claimed advantages include:

  • Unifies the chain of command by delivering voice when needed, anywhere in the world with a network connection. If a riot breaks out, for example, a police chief who is away from the city and outside the coverage area can log in using a mobile phone and participate in the event in real time. The system can actually increase the effectiveness of mutual-aid channels by bringing them back from the scene to the IP network and distributing those channels to command and control at the dispatch centre. It unifies the entire chain of command;
  • Provides global reach. The physical location of commanders, field resources and dispatchers becomes less of a concern. For example, an expert on a particular disease can provide real-time guidance to field personnel anywhere in the world from any internet-connected PC, IP phone, telephone or mobile phone. Public safety agencies with the system can also collaborate with enterprises, which become valuable resources for public safety when they give government agencies permission to use their IP-based resources such as streaming video of a hostage situation or fire, intelligent building management systems and hazardous materials databases;
  • Speeds decision making by enabling people to communicate directly instead of through a dispatcher. Members of the chain of command can participate from any location, using any radio system, IP phone, telephone, mobile phone or PC with the appropriate software;
  • Improves flexibility of command and control as agencies can apply established memoranda of understanding defining policy and governance, such as controlling how many people can join a channel during normal operations and emergencies. Incident commanders can give permission for participants to talk or require participants to engage in listen-only mode. At emergency scenes, commanders can connect disparate radio and phone systems at any location with IP connectivity. The dispatch centre does not have to be in the same location as the equipment. The system can reside in any hardened facility such as a network operations centre, PSAP, emergency operations centre, or mobile command vehicle;
  • Increases personnel effectiveness by reducing information overload. Commanders can selectively deliver information only to the people who need it. The incident command can push information to any individual on the system and can quickly integrate individuals into an incident talk group;
  • Offers ease of use by providing a web-based interface for network administrators. The system features an incident management console that supports distribution of command and control as well as converged incident management communications systems, modalities, devices and services;
  • Reduces costs to take advantage of the same IP network that the agency already uses for data. By converging its previously separate radio, voice, video and data networks, the New York State Emergency Management Office reduced recurring costs enough to fully fund a disaster recovery site.

These three scenarios illustrate the Cisco system in action:

During a highway chase that spans multiple jurisdictions, an officer calls the dispatcher for help because of shots fired.

  • Before: The dispatcher in one jurisdiction calls the dispatcher in the other and relays the information, creating delays that can affect the outcome.
  • After: The dispatcher in the second jurisdiction listens in, speeding the decision-making loop. Or, if the jurisdictions have a memorandum of understanding, the officer can communicate directly with the local dispatcher with a radio or mobile phone. When multiple agencies converge in one area, they can use multiple communications technologies to reach their own networks and operational teams and stay in touch by a variety of channels.

The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children arrives at a disaster site to help connect missing people to those looking for them.

  • Before: The number of volunteer groups searching the area is limited by the number of available radios.
  • After: More search groups can be dispatched because they can use mobile phones to patch into channels.

In September 2005, the New York State Emergency Management Office was deployed to Camp Smith to help process hurricane evacuees from New Orleans.

  • Before: Communications would have been severely limited for the three or four days the phone company needed to bring in phone lines and T1 lines for internet connectivity.
  • After: Using IPICS, the agency established communications available over an 800 MHz trunking system in 2.5 hours, using a satellite dish for network connectivity.

< Back to Part 1

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