Take a look back, say fifteen or twenty years, and compare capabilities then to now. Interoperability, terrestrial and wireless network infrastructure, satellite communications, advanced cellular broadband connectivity, information sharing and situational awareness – all have advanced so much that they have become common place and readily available at all times – or are they?
Today’s first and secondary responders must take many atypical situations into account – conditions that could hamper the fulfillment of their primary mission to safeguard life and property. Time and again their efforts have been disrupted by natural disasters, inclement weather, loss of communications infrastructure, and the simple limitations in local infrastructure that exist in some areas.
Many federal, state and local agencies, along with the National Guard, have combated these conditions through the use of deployable mobile command and tactical solutions. These Mobile Command Vehicles (MCVs) provide redundancy and replacement technology to ensure that vital voice and information capabilities are available in times of need.
ACU gateways are well known for flawless voice interoperability, but can also function as a key component in providing basic communications infrastructure where it is (or has suddenly become) lacking.
We will share examples of how users of our ACU technologies have integrated them into mobile packages to enhance their communications infrastructure and provide them the ability to support critical operations outside of their everyday operations.
On March 25, 2015, Alabama experienced a historic event honoring the 50th Anniversary of the Alabama Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery. This brought in a huge number of dignitaries, press and other visitors.
State and Local first responders were responsible for participant safety as well as the coordination of public services that an event of this size and importance demands. Not only would members of these agencies need to talk to their colleagues; just as important was the capability of on-the-fly interoperability links between the agencies.
The public safety agencies were challenged with the need for seamless communications throughout the route of the march that included both highly populated and rural areas from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The use of mobile command and communications resources, along with their interoperability capabilities to knit all of these agencies together, aided in the vital command, control, and communications that supported this event.
The following is the introduction to a report from Cathy Dawson, Project Manager, Education and Outreach of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Office of the Secretary, covering the use of the Mobile Emergency Operation Center (MEOC) and the Alabama Interoperability Network. The report is titled “Multi-Agency Communications Team a Success in Selma.”
How do you plan for an event that will increase the size of a town’s population almost 900 percent overnight?
Selma, a town of only 19,912 people, had to develop an answer to this when it hosted a group of more than 170,000 in a two-day period to commemorate one of this nation’s most iconic civil rights events: the 50th Anniversary Bridge Crossing Jubilee. Attending the jubilee were President Barack Obama, along with the first family, former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush, four Cabinet members, a Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights Leader John Lewis, more than 100 Congressional members, dozens of Civil Rights leaders, VIPs and other leaders.
In addition, those involved in planning had to consider such supporting agencies as the U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Capitol Police, state law enforcement, mutual aid law enforcement, and local law, fire and EMS responders who would be on-site — all occupying a space equivalent to less than five city blocks. The main focus for the event was at Broad Street, which is the street that crosses the Alabama River over the Edmund Pettus Bridge…
Back in 2005, the State of Alabama had immediate needs for interoperability and operability during both daily and emergency operations. They also desired a scalable, IP-based capability that could expand as necessary and incorporate both new and legacy systems. Following an extensive evaluation, the state invested in the ACU-1000 Intelligence Interconnect Switch technology with a long-term vision to develop a Wide Area Interoperability System (WAIS).
A Scalable, Phased Approach
Adopting a phased implementation, JPS first met their immediate local and regional interoperability needs by installing fixed-site ACU-1000 gateways throughout the state. Focus then turned to the deployment of Regional Mobile Command Vehicles. These MCVs would take advantage of the ACU technology’s IP capabilities, which allow the creation of a wide area interoperability system (WAIS). Alabama’s WAIS first linked the MCVs together via SATCOM, and later pulled them and the fixed site ACUs into an integrated statewide system.
The Phase I Wide Area Interoperability System (WAIS) implementation consisted of eight MCVs linked over an IP Network via SATCOM. WAIS Dispatch operators, using the WAIS Controller Software, are able to monitor and control the system from anywhere on the network.
Each MCV’s ACU-1000 has twelve (12) local communications assets, which can be radios, phones, cell phones or Network Extension Modules (NXM). The NXMs form the backbone of the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) / Radio over Internet Protocol (RoIP) connection between the Regional Mobile Command Vehicles. Each NXM talkpath is an available link into the WAIS system, controlled by a WAIS Dispatch Position Operator using the WAIS Controller Software.
The distributed design of WAIS ensures that local interoperability can continue unaffected in the event of network disruption or failure; the bridging technology is neither computer nor network reliant for local on-site operation.
Depending on their assigned authorizations, dispatchers within the MCVs and throughout the state can cross-connect assets at their local level (local interoperability) as well as cross-connect assets from remote fixed sites or MCVs (wide area interoperability). Dispatchers may also use the system to converse with each other over IP.
To allow all of the MCVs to connect through their satellite uplinks at the same time, a centralized network hub provides VoIP/RoIP connectivity. Each MCV is also equipped with a repeater to provide on-site repeated infrastructure, to allow incorporation into the wide area system. These repeaters are able to set up a radio communications channel at an incident site, and the ACU gateways can patch this channel into other appropriate response channels.
Following completion of the Phase I MCV Wide Area Interoperability System, following phases incorporated the state’s fixed ACU Local Interoperability Sites into the WAIS, linking them to each other and to the MCVs, eventually creating a true state-wide system.
Phase II focused on the major population areas in the state, and provided their local agencies the ability to access their radio infrastructure both locally or wide area. The fixed ACU infrastructure is located at different communication centers, the Alabama Department of Homeland Security and the Alabama Emergency Management office.
The state’s WAIS application is a migration capability that complements other ongoing efforts to upgrade and establish new radio systems throughout the state. The system provides a seamless method to access both their legacy systems and future radio infrastructure. It provides redundancy through IP connectivity that supports LMR and VoIP voice communications, as well as backhaul and access to radio and telephone resources anywhere on the network.
The final phases continued the fixed site build out, ultimately linking each county and/or region through the WAIS system. Remote counties are linked into the system using remote audio consoles linked into the Regional ACU Host Sites throughout the state.
Beyond the MCVs, Alabama also added new tower trailers and P-Com trailers to provide onsite support. The towers can not only set up a repeated radio system, but can also use ACU gateways to link this temporary radio system to any other Alabama Interoperability Network voice communications asset.
These trailers can be towed to an incident site that lacks sufficient communications resources. This lack can be due to an unusual high demand (for example, the 50th anniversary of the Freedom March), a remote setting, or where some type of disaster has devastated the local infrastructure.
The assets are self-sustaining and do not require that they be manned during operation. This is made possible by IP connectivity that allows them to be remotely operated from any point on the ALIN. This includes various broadband and network connectivity including terrestrial, Mobile 3G – 4G cellular modems and KU Band Satellite uplink.
This IP connectivity is not only used for control purposes – combined with the VoIP/RoIP capabilities of
the ACU WAIS technologies they can also provide on-demand voice communications to other locations in the ALIN, allowing access between local Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) and the ALIN system’s operators at the fixed sites or in the mobile assets.
The STR Communication and Tower Trailers include ACU-M gateways that feature 4 radio interface channels and two VoIP channels. The ACU-Ms are primarily used to link mutual aid frequencies in the VHF, UHF and 800/700 MHz bands. Because they are also part of the ALIN (WAIS) system, the ACU-Ms can also link voice communications into the statewide system.
The use of these trailers – strategic assets that can be towed and deployed wherever needed – greatly enhances Alabama’s overall voice communications capabilities, especially during major planned and unplanned events.
Technology alone can’t completely solve voice interoperability requirements. Just as we wouldn’t dream of sending a police officer into the field without firearms training, or firefighters without fire suppression training, communications technologies gain vital value with proper training. Experience teaches us that success is gained through Standard Operating Procedures, executed Memoranda of Understanding, and adherence to established Incident Command System communications protocols. Included are communications exercises to drill, test and train with the technologies they will use in response to special events, disasters and even day-to-day activities. This helps ensure preparedness, review procedures and agreements, and ensure all technologies are functioning properly “before the emergency.”
Considerable advance planning went into the preparation for the support of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom March in Selma, but planning and training regimens are even more vital for an unplanned event, such as the swarm of tornados that struck Alabama in late April of 2011, including a violent EF-4 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham Alabama. The devastation in its 80.7-mile wake included $2.8 billion in property damage, the deaths of 64 people and injuries to another 1,500. It was just one of 355 tornados in the April 25 – 28, 2011 tornado outbreak, the largest in US history.
The tornados incapacitated critical communications infrastructure. Alabama’s MCVs helped set up essential replacement LMR repeater infrastructure and the ability to provide local and wide area voice communications via their deployable ACU technologies. Similarly, last April they deployed one of their STR tower trailers responded to tornado activity in Jefferson County, using its ACU-M to link the local fire department VHF system in Kimberley to the Jefferson County 800 MHz system.
An ACU-2000 IP gateway is installed in the Alabama Air National Guard 117th Air Refueling Wing’s Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC). During joint training exercises with various state and local agencies the 117th MEOC personnel realized that it would be advantageous to integrate this gateway with Alabama’s wide area system.
A joint agreement between the ANG and the State of Alabama added the MEOC to ALIN and greatly increased communications capabilities of both parties.
From Charles Murph, former State Wireless Interoperability Coordinator for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency:
The state of Alabama’s investment over the last 10 years in JPS’s ACU products has allowed the creation of the Alabama Interoperability Network (ALIN). ALIN consists of numerous sites, including our Strategic Technology Reserve (STR) assets. The network is a partnership of various state agencies and local response agencies. We also have a public/private partnership with Southern Linc to crosspatch multiple state agency groups on their platform. We are very pleased with the JPS technologies and the interoperability solutions they provide.
For more information regarding the JPS Interoperability Solution’s WAIS Controller software, or how we can assist with Wide Area Interoperability, please email firstname.lastname@example.org