Communications and Communicators
with Michelle Perin
New tech aims to solve interoperability issues
As FirstNet continues to be a futuristic idea, Covia allows public safety to have solutions today
A headline in the New York Times last week served as a stark warning for public safety professionals around the country: "National Network for First Responders is Years Away.”
As we await the Federal Communications Commission’s report on how the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) fared in its first year and its prognosis for the future, this headline — and the article itself — indicates grimmer circumstances than we’d hoped.
FCC representatives fear the system as projected will only work to commercial standards, which just won’t cut it for public safety application. During a natural disaster such as Superstorm Sandy, it’s not a big loss if people cannot get through to each other on their cell phones. It is, however, a huge safety issue if officers, firefighters, and paramedics cannot talk to each other or to dispatch. The other concern brought forth by the FCC is cost. It appears the system is about $7 billion short.
From a Fire, a Company was Forged
So, what now?
While we wait to see when or even if FirstNet and the money it will require ever becomes reality, what about right now?
Let me introduce Covia Labs.
About three years ago, David Kahn was watching television. On his screen, he watched as a building burned. First responders arrived, lights flashing, sirens blaring. Firefighters from many jurisdictions jumped from their apparatus, geared up and ready to head in.
But first, they had to stop and trade radios.
“I was amazed to find out that that was the level of inoperability that exists between agencies,” Kahn stated.
“They share because all the radios weren’t able to talk to each other. You hear about stories like 9/11 and how fire and police departments weren’t able to talk to each other and the consequences.”
Realizing he was in the heart of Silicon Valley, Kahn knew there was a solution to the problem of interoperability. In this cloud of ingenuity, Covia Labs was born.
Covia Labs then created its Covia Connector and Alert & Respond.
Practical Hardware and Apps
Covia Connector is the backbone of Covia’s systems, allowing interoperability right now. It is a unification program that runs as a standard seven-layer application, turning devices, such as cell phones, into a super-device embodying all of their combined resources.
No matter what type of hardware a department utilizes or what kind of device officers, firefighters, or medics are using, if they have this program, they can communicate with each other. On top of this, Covia created Alert & Respond, a secure application which allows all users to share voice and data.
“Our software runs on cellular phones and drones and P25 radios,” Kahn explained. “We could take a commercial, off-the-shelf cell phone and connect it. You have commercial cellular for both voice and data.
"Then, when you are in a situation where the cellular doesn’t work, there is a USB connection on the LMR so you would be able to use the LMR for both voice and data.”
So through software and a cable, public safety professionals can transmit voice, GPS and text messaging either through LTE or 3G or P25 LMR. The best thing about this technology is that it is available right now.
“Everyone is looking at how public safety can have some infrastructure as part of FirstNet and use commercial LTE and maybe even 3G in rural areas,” Kahn explained.
One concern among many in public safety is potential problems caused by commercial interests setting up in rural areas adversely affecting FirstNet availability. Another, as has been mentioned, is the possible lack of funding. Kahn explained this isn’t an issue because Covia can solve the interoperability issue now.
“There seems to be convergence within the agencies and the suppliers, this little company in California has the technology.”
Homeland Security Award
It’s not just the agencies and suppliers that are recognizing the importance of Alert & Respond as a current solution to interoperability. Government Security News (GSN) awarded its 2012 annual Homeland Security Award to this Covia product.
“This is an award specifically about interoperability with public safety,” Kahn said. “Past winners have been some pretty important companies. Essentially, we are providing the cellular phone connecting directly through LMR and the ability to integrate existing LMR systems, including analog and digital and cellular.”
In a presentation at APCO in August, Covia Labs gave a real-life example of how Alert & Respond provided interoperability in the field.
In March 2011, Tony Blair visited the Foothill College Celebrity Forum at De Anza College in Cupertino (Calif.). Several years prior, Colin Powell had been invited and the visit ended in frustration over lack of interoperability and several people injured.
“It turned into a fiasco,” Kahn said. “Students and people from public safety got hurt.”
Due to Alert & Respond, the 2011 visit was a success, allowing Interpol, the FBI, campus and county police departments, and fire departments to talk to each other.
“A police department can log in and download Alert & Respond to any of their officers without having to install any software on their server and maintain it,” Kahn said. “It’s going to be a very attractive model in terms of initial cost and ongoing cost.”
Covia’s products are an attractive model indeed. As FirstNet continues to be a futuristic idea, Covia allows public safety to have solutions today.