|Asia-Pacific I 2002
|Government Radio Networks: A Robust Solution for Emergency Response and Disaster Relief
|Director, Asia-PacificCommercial, Government & Industrial Solutions Sector (CGISS)
|Motorola Electronics Pte Ltd, Singapore
Large-scale emergencies demand quick, coordinated, response. Wireless communications systems are the most effective way to coordinate the many types of workers from different agencies that toil to help victims. Communications, though can fail, overload or not reach affected areas. Currently, most police, fire, medical and other workers use separate systems that do not intercommunicate. Inter-operable, mission-critical, Government Radio Networks (GRNs), interconnecting emergency workers from all agencies, have already been implemented in a few cities in the Asia Pacific region.
Urbanization is Increasing Across the world, people are moving to cities and urban centers, creating “megacities”. A recent Economist article showed that there are 20 cities today with a population of more than 10 million each. Research predicts that Asia will have an additional 340 million new urban dwellers by 2010. Most of these will be in India and China. Because of this huge increase in urban populations, city and regional governments are under increasing pressure to provide better services, and quicker response to needs. Infrastructure needs to increase significantly, and to be of much better quality, to meet citizens ever-increasing expectations. Emergencies will Happen Case Study 1: a Force 5.0 earthquake hits a major Asian city with 5 million people. Thousands are left without shelter, and roads and buildings are significantly damaged Case Study 2: A cyclone hits a coastal region. People must be evacuated due to extensive flooding that damages roads, homes, and telecommunications Case Study 3: A major power cable supplying a large city is damaged, cutting off electricity to much of the city, disrupting transportation and causing accidents and fires. Each of these situations occurred in Asia in the past 2 years, others will happen in future. If anything, the severity of these situations is understated above. Civic emergencies cannot be avoided. Most emergencies have some common features: · They happen without warning: Whether it is a natural disaster, or a power outage, or an act of terrorism, there is no time to prepare. · Citizens are affected, and need help immediately, be it medical help, shelter, food or transport · Telecommunications are affected: In most emergencies, telecommunications is among the first areas affected – landline communications can fail because of cable or exchange disruptions, and cellular communications can fail because of damaged cell sites or switches · Multiple government agencies will be involved in the response – not only the “first responders” such as police, fire and emergency medical, but others such as hazardous materials teams or rail network support personnel will be enlisted · Quick, coordinated response saves lives: It has been shown that the biggest factor in saving lives, and minimizing damage to people and infrastructure is quick, coordinated response among agencies, and effective information flow to the people who have the greatest ability to manage the situation – the front-line field people Governments are searching for a communications solution that can help them better respond to emergencies and disasters. Splintered Communications and Scarce Spectrum In most cities in Asia, as well as other regions of the world, each public safety agency tends to have their own private, mission-critical communication system based on “two-way radio” or “walkie-talkie” technology. These systems, in most cases are based upon analog technology, and primarily support voice communication, and some data communication. Typically, emergency response systems have characteristics that differentiate them from cellular or other communications: · One to One and One to Many: The systems permit calls both to individuals and to selected groups of people with the press of a button (push to talk) · Quick call set-up: In most cases, a call even to a large group of people, can be set up in half a second (500 ms) or less Individual agencies operate their own radio system that, more often than not, use different technologies, are on different frequency bands and do not communicate with the systems of other agencies. The cost of this duplication is very high, the continuous improvement of the networks is difficult, inter-operability is a problem, and because of constant budget pressure, system reliability is very often suspect. Limited channel availability also hampers the growth, expansion and integration of existing systems. Larger agencies (police, fire and emergency medical) normally have budgets that allow them to install their own systems, but the smaller agencies often have trouble justifying separate systems. Since radio spectrum is limited, and must be allotted carefully, smaller departments have difficulty obtaining spectrum to operate their own systems. A Government Radio Network (GRN) is the Answer Even with the rapid growth of public cellular systems, and the emergence of 2.5G and 3G systems, there will still be need for private systems in future. Government agencies need wireless systems to provide features outlined above as well as the following: Network Availability · For First Responders, the network must be available under all circumstances. Even in the most dire emergency, the network should be able to meet all the demands placed on it, and allow personnel to communicate. · Most public networks are not designed for the high volume traffic generated during emergencies. At such times, cellular network call volume could double, making it difficult to place calls. Network Coverage · Commercial and public network coverage is designed for commercial customers, not public safety organizations, and may not provide coverage in areas where they are needed in an emergency. A Government Radio Network (GRN) is an inter-operable mission-critical communications network that provides effective service and coverage in an emergency; it provides a robust solution for public safety agencies’ needs. A GRN’s specifications, typically, provide for: – private two-way radio communications – both voice and data services – usage by members of a variety of designated government agencies – Intercommunication between various government agencies Government Radio Networks offer significant cost savings, as well as a host of other benefits. At the Government level, a GRN delivers greater functionality at a lower lifetime cost. At an individual agency level, a GRN allows access to information without a high capital cost up front. Also, local suppliers can focus their energies on developing tailored solutions for one platform rather than spending resources developing multiple technology interfaces. Government Radio Networks are in use in countries worldwide including USA, Australia and a number of Western European countries. GRNs tend to extend over more than one city, to a county or even an entire state. Some agencies that typically use GRNs are: · Traffic Police · Fire · Emergency Medical · Highway Patrol · Road works · Ambulance Services · City Police · Forestry Administration · Area Hospitals · Federal Police · Port Administration · Helicopter Rescue · Drug Enforcement · Airport Administration · Coast Guard · Military · Highway Administration · Hazardous Materials In South Australia, there is a GRN used by a large number of government departments. Often, the Police department is a major customer or “anchor user”. Police departments might not want to share networks for reasons of security, but practice has shown that the benefits of inter-operability far outweigh the security risks. In any case, modern digital networks can easily isolate high security portions of the network. Political will and clear policy is required to quickly implement a Government Radio Network. Policy-makers need to understand that, historically, public safety agencies have always owned their own systems. A GRN is a fundamental change in the way these agencies run their communications, probably the first major change in 20 years. GRNs can readily be integrated with E911 emergency response call centers. In many Asian cities, today, there is no single number that can be called for emergencies. There are different numbers for Police, Fire and Ambulance services. Solid Planning is the First Step Effective emergency response, requires a clear, well understood, practiced response plan. The US federal emergency response organization FEMA is probably the best example of the good advance planning necessary for effective emergency response. Questions that an emergency response plan need consider include: – What are the major types of emergencies likely to be faced? – For each type of emergency, which agencies will be needed? – What would each agency do? – What are the needs to coordinate, inter-operate or share information? – What might prevent effective emergency response? The need for these plans was demonstrated, dramatically, on September 11, 2001. Lessons from September 11 The September 11, the World Trade Center terrorist attacks were the most extreme example in recent history of an emergency. Much has been said about the role the first responders – of the police, fire, emergency medical and other government agencies- that handled the disaster. What was not publicized is the critical role that private communications and a government radio network (GRN) played, by allowing mission-critical, interoperable communications to continue without interruption. The Public Safety Wireless Network Program (PSWN) undertook a detailed analysis of the public safety response to September 11 in Washington. Among their findings and recommendations were: * Commercial services networks are not designed to handle the immense volume of calls generated at or near an incident scene. Often, the only reliable communications were private “land mobile” or “Two-way radio” systems. There are plans to provide a Priority Access System (PAS) for public communications networks, to be used by first responders in emergencies. * During the initial response, most public safety responders were able to establish inter-operable communications. However, as the number of agencies increased, inter-operability was lost. Compatible radio systems are the optimal method of interoperability in an emergency. Large regional and statewide systems are the only way to ensure that in an emergency, primary first responders as well as support or secondary responders can all use the network. * There was no list of all the inter-operable radio system components in the Washington area (vehicles, switches, extra radios); therefore it was difficult to plan deployment. An accurate inventory of these assets is a must to ensure quick and optimal deployment in an emergency. * First responders require seamless communications. However, the level of interoperability for support or secondary responders, and interoperability requirements after the first few critical hours, are currently undefined. * Common standards and technologies should be integral to the design, procurement and implementation of future public safety communication systems. The public safety community in the US has actively participated in the development of the P25 standards for digital radio, along with other standards. Public safety officials must recognize the critical importance of participating in the standards development process and then leverage these common standards to maximize opportunities for interoperability. Some examples of GRNs Across the world, a number of government radio networks (GRNs) have been put into operation over the past decade. In Asia, Australia is the leader in GRNs and there are advanced government radio networks in New South Wales and South Australia. The South Australian network replaces 28 separate incompatible networks used by 17 agencies. The common government radio network has saved the state exchequer US$20M compared to the cost of implementing all 28 separate networks to the same standard. There are currently over 12,000 users connected to the network. In Europe, almost all the countries in Western Europe are planning or implementing countrywide, GRN, networks. UK, Sweden, Germany, France, Vatican City and Spain are among the countries taking steps to implement these systems. In USA, over 15 states have put inter-operable communications systems in place. Some of the latest systems are in South Carolina, New Hampshire, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and New York. Whither Asia? In the Asia Pacific region, apart from Australia, there are minimal or no efforts to create government radio networks. Yet, a number of the region’s countries are struggling, with limited budgets and resources, to accommodate the increasing pressures on governments to provide services to take care of their citizens needs. The experience from other regions shows that government networks can be set up and provide significant benefits in a very short time. Planning – defining clear objectives – is the most difficult step. Once this is done, though, the benefits can be quickly realized. References: 1. Urbanisation: The Brown Revolution, 11 May 2002, The Economist, Pg 75 2. “Answering the Call: Communications Lessons Learnt from the Pentagon Attack” January 2002, Public Safety Wireless Network (PSWN). PSWN is a joint initiative of the Departments of Justice and Treasury of the federal government of the USA 3. Wireless Works for First Responders 01 Apr 2002, Security Management, Pg33 4. Motorola keeps Public Safety Connected 24 Sep 2001, Wireless Insider 5. Public Safety Officials to meet to discuss Critical Communications Issues 29 Jan 2002, PR Newswire 6. L.A on alert: Preparing for the Worst 01 Jan 2002, Mobile Radio Technology 7. Networks at Risk: Assessing Vulnerabilities 26 Sep 2001, Interactive Week ZD Newswire 8. Motorola’s crisis unit delivers equipment 24 Sep 2001, Chicago Tribune 9. Rapidly deployed communications networks drove emergency relief efforts 21 Sep 2001, Infoworld News 10. Wireless works as nation stops 17 Sep 2001, RCR Wireless News 11. Attacks recast top wireless issues 17 Sep 2001, RCR Wireless News