Interoperable Communications Game Plan Set for Super Bowl XLIX
Monday, January 26, 2015 | Comments

The Seahawks and Patriots meet Feb. 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium for Super Bowl XLIX, and Arizona public-safety officials have been working hard to ensure interoperable communications for the events during the week leading up to and including the big game.

Interoperability is one of 24 resource working groups created under the football event’s core planning group. “Our resource working group is established, and our mission is to ensure interoperable communications among the teams out there,” said Jesse Cooper, chair of the group and acting administrator of the Phoenix Police Department’s Communications Bureau. “We are working with the other 23 work groups to support their communications.”

The geographic area of the events is large and includes the stadium in Glendale; Verizon Super Bowl Central, comprised of 12 city blocks in downtown Phoenix; the hotels and practice fields for each team; and the nearby airports. More than 45 different agencies must be able to coordinate communications on game day and the week leading up to it.

Further complicating communications is the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament, Jan. 26 – Feb. 1 in Scottsdale, and the National Football League (NFL) 2015 Pro Bowl, which occurred Jan. 25 at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

“We’re fortunate that we hosted Super Bowl XLII seven years ago, and we took the lessons we learned and we had an extensive planning process,” Cooper said. “For this Super Bowl, we had about eight months of planning. We took a lot of lessons and applied them forward.”

The backbone of the region’s communications plan is the Regional Wireless Cooperative (RWC) network. RWC is an independent, multijurisdictional organization that manages and operates a regional Project 25 (P25) radio communications network that serves 20 cities, towns and fire districts along with many other area entities that serve public-safety needs.

The network has an overlay of simulcast sites that can be used to disperse traffic to spread the capacity when necessary. The network has built-in redundancies with no single point of failure, Cooper said. “A majority of our participants in the region have access to the network even if they are not part of the cooperative,” he said.

No gateways or patches will be used. Agencies that aren’t part of the RWC will have the RWC interoperability channels programmed into their radios with designated talk groups. Some agencies are coming from other parts of the United States. The local officials have programmed about 500 to 600 radios for cache deployments to those agencies, Cooper said.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the FBI will connect to the RWC network with multiband P25 radios. “We are more fortunate compared with the last Super Bowl here in 2008,” said Jeremy Knoll, Arizona statewide interoperability coordinator and co-chair of the event’s interoperability working group. “DPS operates a conventional UHF system. Since 2008 and with grants, we have been able to deploy multiband radios so we have the UHF system but play with all our partners. Not everybody has multiband radios, but command staff within each work group have the capability to talk with the bigger group.”

“The FBI is using multiband radios, so we partnered with them four months ago so they have their VHF system but also our system in the radio so they can switch back and forth carrying a single radio,” Cooper said.

RWC is transitioning its 700 MHz network to P25 Phase 2. The cooperative is in the hardware phase of the upgrade, which started last year and will continue through the end of 2016. The cooperative recently accepted the simulcast hardware equipment, said David Felix, RWC executive director.

One challenge has been the number of requests for talk groups and capacity, Cooper said. “Because it is a trunked system, we are mindful of capacity,” he said. “RWC staff has partnered with us to configure the usage of talk groups. We were strategic in how we assigned the talk groups. My chief concern is monitoring that traffic. We’ve developed contingency plans to affect traffic.”

The agencies have access to mobile communications units, gateways, deployable repeaters and interoperability channels if needed, said Cooper. “We have a lot of options we can employ if we have any problems,” he said.

“It is amazing to me how good these guys are in working together,” Felix said. “We have a relationship across Arizona that’s unique. We simply get along.”

RWC won’t carry any data traffic around the Super Bowl, but a separate private city of Phoenix network and commercial cellular and satellite networks will handle data needs.

Regardless of which team is victorious or how much air is in the game balls, Arizona officials are confident their communications system will be on the air to ensure the public’s safety.

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