Demonstrating Interoperability: Developing a Mobile Communications Rally
By James Grant, Fairfax County (VA) Radio Center
Communications interoperability as defined in the National Capital Regional (NCR) Tactical Interoperable Communications Plan (TICP) document is the ability of public safety agencies to talk across disciplines and jurisdictions via radio communications systems, exchanging voice and/or data with one another on demand, in real time, when needed, and as authorized. SAFECOM has designated four basic types of equipment that can be utilized to achieve communications interoperability. These are:
Within the NCR region, all of these methods are currently available and utilized by agencies within this region.
A form of creating interoperability is by utilizing mobile command and communications vehicles to provide interoperability at a localized event. This is what we accomplished at the 4th Annual Command, Control, and Communications Rally which was held May 27-29, 2008 at the National Air & Space Museum in Fairfax County, Virginia. We had over 70 vehicles at this year’s event, using just about every part of the radio spectrum from low band VHF, to satellite communications. We had Site on Wheels (SOW) and Cellular on Wheels (COW) that were setup as static demonstrations. We had large command vehicles that had basic communication technology, but could be tied into other communication vehicles. We also had small vehicles that provided basic interoperability capabilities without command office space.
The rally is the brainchild of James Wadsworth, the radio services manager for Fairfax County, Virginia. Jim’s vision for this event encompasses the following:
For public safety first responders, the rally goals were to:
For the incident commanders, patrol supervisors, emergency managers:
For the support personnel in addition to the above items, their goals were to learn what technologies and equipment are being deployed and increase their knowledge of this equipment.
After you have put together a list of resources in your area, invite everyone to come together so that you can come up with a plan of action. Number one rule should be that you are only going to test/work with equipment that you already have. This is not a time for vendors to come in to sell you more products. You want to learn what you have before you go out and purchase more equipment. A critical point to consider is what objectives do you want to accomplish? Start with getting a listing of resources in the area, what radios and other equipment is in each of the resources. Is there a listing of what each radio is programmed with? Are all of the channels named the same for the frequencies or talk groups? Are you following the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (npstc.org) channel naming and programming guidelines for the interoperability channels? A new guideline was recently published with shorter names for radios that cannot accommodate long names.
Put a timeline together for your day:
Who else should attend? You may want to invite the equipment representative from the vendors that you already have equipment with. Many vendors are willing to teach you how to utilize the equipment on the days prior to the event. They may then want to stay around for your event and help troubleshoot problems that may arise.
After you have held your event bring your group back together and review what you have and have not accomplished. Start planning for your next event.
And have fun!
James Grant is the Interoperability Radio Manager for Fairfax County, VA.
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