Interoperability for Tasmania's emergency services

By Jonathan Nally
Monday, 16 March, 2015


Tasmanian police, fire and ambulance services can now communicate directly with each other.

The terrible bushfires that devastated parts of Tasmania in January 2013 resulted in at least $100 million worth of damage and destruction, with more than 400 properties destroyed.

One of the observations from the enquiry into the bushfires was that interoperability between the emergency services needed to be improved. This was the catalyst for putting in place an interim solution, the Interoperability Gateway, which enables the different emergency services networks to interconnect. Fire and ambulance already had the ability to patch themselves, but the Gateway extends this capability out to the users of the state-wide Trunk Mobile Radio Network, or TMRN.

The Tasmanian police service, the SES and the electricity supply industry all use the TMRN, based on Harris Corporation EDACS 800 MHz proprietary technology, which enables analog and digital communications using the same infrastructure. The TMRN was constructed and commissioned by Ericsson in the mid-1990s.

The Tasmanian fire brigade and ambulance services use completely separate 70 MHz mid-band VHF analog systems, which are conventional radio networks, not trunked. TMRN operators use Harris EDACS handsets, but various VHF brands are used by fire and ambulance.

The Gateway, which was commissioned in February 2015, has been implemented by putting patches into place in the different services’ communication centres. It has eight ports: four between the TMRN and the fire services network, and another four between the TMRN and the ambulance service network. And there is flexibility. So, for instance, if there were two separate incidents, one in Hobart and one in Launceston, the Gateway could patch both incidents together or two separate patches could be put in place for the respective entities. The patches can remain active on a long-term basis, or they can be removed and reinitiated for a specific activity as required.

The Gateway uses standard off-the-shelf technology from the Harris range of EDACS equipment, and has been installed as part of the TMRN and physically connected to the fire and ambulance services using microwave links.

As an interim measure, some other steps were taken. For example, Tasmania Police purchased a number of VHF radios that were directly compatible with the fire and ambulance service networks. Just under $250,000 was allocated to purchase 30 Tasmania Fire Service radios for Tasmania Police and 50 Tasmania Police radios for the State Emergency Service. This capability was in place for the 2013-14 bushfire season.

The time taken to implement the Gateway, from project initiation to feasibility studies and through to the various installations processes and completion, was about six months. According to users, the trials and tests were successful and the system is working well.

Ultimately, given the life cycle of radio networks, it is recognised that there will need to be an overall replacement for the current individual networks. There is a process underway looking at an eventual whole-of-government radio network, and the pathway to achieving this is under review at the moment. The likelihood is that P25 will be the frontrunner for this system, given the characteristics that make it suitable for Tasmanian terrain and also interoperability needs with interstate agencies.

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