February/March 2015 Inbox
Monday, February 09, 2015 | Comments
Following are comments we’ve received from readers about recent online and print news and articles. If you’d like to comment on an article, email edit@RRMediaGroup.com.

In response to "Public-Safety LTE Pilot Exposes Necessity of Private Network" from Feb. 17

Editor: During the recent International Ski Federation (FIS) Alpine World Ski Championships (AWSC) the Town of Vail and Eagle County embarked on a mission to understand what the future of public safety communications might look like. This was the largest ski event ever hosted in the US with over 200,000 spectators and competitors from 70 countries. Working together with multiple public and private partners we created a Band Class 14 Public Safety LTE demonstration network to augment the existing Land Mobile Radio (LMR) and commercial data networks utilized by public safety agencies. We didn’t know what to expect, faced many hurdles, learned a tremendous amount and in the end came to the realization - the future of public safety communications is here.

Immediately, it was clear this technology would not only be embraced, but demanded, by public-safety personnel. The ruggedized smartphones felt like a natural extension of what we have all come to rely on in our personal lives. The quality of the network was tremendous and the applications (push-to-talk (PTT) and situational awareness) were quickly integrated into our operational plans. Our only regret was not having more time to fully integrate this technology in support of our overall tactical and operational objectives taking full advantage of the benefits it brings - dedicated bandwidth, secured communications, and efficient information-sharing. In addition to individual devices, the technology allowed us to implement cutting-edge video surveillance technology that has historically been unreliable on commercial networks and difficult to implement with proprietary networks. Video, along with other public-safety applications, can’t be prioritized on commercial carrier networks, even when in support of community safety. In summary, the network performed beyond our expectations.

From the beginning, there has been much debate as to the scope and reach of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. It has been argued this technology is needed less in the rural areas of the country than in the urbanized areas and therefore a national deployment strategy should reflect this belief. Our demonstration proved the contrary. In the most difficult mountainous areas where the existing LMR network struggles to meet our basic voice needs, the LTE network was quickly adopted as the best way to communicate non-mission critical PTT voice and data. Ensuring the safety of 10,000 people in a two-block radius poses the same challenges in the mountains as in the city. Depending on one’s perspective, limited commercial bandwidth can be a greater public-safety issue while handling emergencies in these challenging topographies.

Another unexpected benefit of this technology was the ability to integrate personal devices on the public-safety LTE network. In any large-scale event (planned or unplanned), “ad hoc” responders and volunteers are critical partners to public safety. Through the use of strategically placed Wi-Fi hotspots and easily downloaded apps during this testing period we were able to integrate commercial devices onto the network, providing for more efficient communications among all responders tasked with keeping the public safe during the event.

What was the key to our success? The answer is relatively simple and provides some key lessons for the nationwide effort: a clear objective, hard work, dedication, creative thinking and partnerships. By utilizing the existing infrastructure within the Town of Vail we were able to implement the network in a matter of weeks. By having the public sector work hand-in-hand with private partners we were able to be focused, efficient and effective. By being innovative with current technology we were able to provide communications in areas within Beaver Creek Ski Resort that have been described as “the most hostile area for RF signals ever.”

As with any tool given to public safety, the ultimate determination of its value should rest with those who use it daily to do their jobs. Within an hour of receiving the devices, first responders had not only figured out how to use the technology, but emphatically asked, “When can we get more?”

By definition, the purpose of a demonstration network is to demonstrate. While we didn’t know exactly what we would learn through the demonstration, the end results were clear. First, for individuals and organizations committed to public safety, this technology is no longer a luxury, it is now seen as a necessity. Second, the need for this technology spans all topographies. It is needed by all responders - rural and urban; their need to communicate doesn’t respect geography. Lastly, we should not be overwhelmed at the thought of building this network locally or nationwide. A little hard work can go a long way.

In the end, Eagle County and the Town of Vail are ready to embrace the future and we need the future to be now.

James Van Beek
Eagle County Sheriff
Eagle County, Colorado

Dwight Henninger
Chief of Police, Vail, CO

 


In response to “UHF T-Band Fact Sheet Available” from March 2

Editor:

It does not take a rocket scientist — or anyone in the two-way field — to know that moving away from T-band UHF is a huge mistake, no matter what kind of plan there is. There is no way the number of current technical people and companies could handle the workload, and auctions will never recoup the amount of money it would take. The experts figure $5.9 billion now, but by the time things start, my opinion is that the project would turn into another Boston Big Dig. The amount of overrun costs and inflation will be immense. It just does not make sense to upset the 11 public-safety marketplaces and the amount of personnel that will be affected by this change.

Congress needs to realize the impending disaster, eliminate this mandate and let public-safety frequencies stay where they are. I have been in this industry for 40 years and have seen many changes, but this one would “take the cake” and be totally irresponsible. Long Term Evolution (LTE) systems will always have the possibility to crash, and having all your communications in one antenna would simply be foolish. Standalone systems must stay available and undisturbed.

Ken Zeller
Lowell, Massachusetts

 


In response to “P25: Not a One-Size-Fits-All Technology” from Feb. 24

Editor:

Mr. Schwartz begins his article by taking an offended posture. An offense he assigns to “all public-safety communications managers.” As a firefighter who has been in operations since 1977, I think I’ve earned the right to have an opinion on this.

Mr. Schwartz starts by pointing out the problem of multiple radio bands being in use. I live that problem daily in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) and NXDN will not solve that without multiband subscriber units or patching. This may surprise Mr. Schwartz, but responders cannot rely on infrastructure. Patching is not always a solution in my area. Patching does not help responders who are split between in coverage and out of coverage.

Using the Safecom continuum, he correctly identifies interoperability as being more than a “technical standard.” The fact is, interoperability includes technology (physics) factors, governance issues and human factors. He admits that the best solution is for all responders to be on a “shared system,” presumably one of a common technical standard. Then he states that anyone not able to join a shared system should consider a DMR system. His ace in the hole is patching or the national (federal) interoperability channels (FIO). He assumes that analog DMR will solve it but ignores that some FIO channels require Project 25 (P25).

He then lambastes the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) for including critical infrastructure in emergency communications as he has “yet to experience critical infrastructure crews having a need, or the proper training, to communicate directly with public-safety….” So his solution of putting them on DMR and patching them or using FIO channels to interoperate somehow solves that.

Mr. Schwartz appears to not understand unified command and continues to view incidents in "silo" operations. His comment that his agency is not permitted to talk directly with transit tells me they have never had to move a large population under dynamic conditions. Nor has he ever supervised a division where a public works wheeled loader is part of his mud and debris flow resources. As a division supervisor on the January 2005 La Conchita mudslide in Ventura County, California, direct communications with heavy equipment operators was essential. Messaging through an emergency operations center (EOC) is unrealistic to achieve real-time compliance.

Multiple digital formats operating on the same emergency scene makes as much sense to me as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) allowing multiple languages to be spoken on the aviation frequencies. Public-safety communications managers need to remember their role is to facilitate successful communications for the responders.

Like Curly said in “City Slickers,” the secret to life is “one thing.” Just figure it out and stick to it. P25 is the adopted technology for emergency response agencies in the United States. Let’s stick to it.

John Lenihan
Battalion Chief
Los Angeles County Fire Department
 

Editor’s Note: Lenihan’s opinions are not to be taken as that of his employer or any other entity.

Editor:

Kudos to Mr. Schwartz for bringing this perspective to the table. I would add one thing — even if you do select a Project 25 (P25) system as your interoperability solution, the regional planning for interoperability that Mr. Schwartz mentioned is still important. Especially in the case of a statewide or regionwide system, there will be many responders who will have access to the system but will not be familiar with the way the various jurisdictions operate and communicate. Planning and training will be an ongoing concern for the success of these systems in providing communications in mutual-aid situations in addition to routine local response.

Steve Riddle
Communications Engineer
North Carolina Department of Transportation
Division of Highways

Editor:

I have some comments on this article.

In response to “how does having P25 allow two agencies to speak with one another when one agency is operating in the 150 MHz band and the other in the 800 MHz band?” My response is that the Inter Subsystem Interface (ISSI) is a P25 spec interoperability device that will do this.

In response to “What if one or both are outside their home coverage area while responding in a mutual aid scenario? In that scenario, if they had only P25 radios, they may do better if they each had a CB radio on-scene.” My response is this ignores the availability of Harris Unity radios that support VHF, UHF and 700/800 MHz. Also Motorola Solutions APX will do two out of three, and the company is scheduled to have a radio that will also do all three.

Patshal Landis
Application Engineer
ESIT, Application SEs and Demos
Harris, RF Communications

Editor:

Finally, someone has exhibited some common sense. P25 does not have the same traction in Canada, but it is being deployed more and more and touted as the “ultimate” solution. The only problem is that that “ultimate” solution has a price tag that most basic emergency services and first responders can’t afford. “Do I buy radios, or do I buy turnout gear?” When we need to ask that question, something is very wrong.

Thank you, Andrew E. Schwartz.

Cameron Milne
Manager, Solutions Development and Sales Support
Prairie Mobile Communications
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Editor:

We had interoperability on most Motorola and many other radio consoles in 2001. Dispatchers did not cross connect channels in many daily incidents, because it was easier for them to just pass a message. When the big one hits or a joint agency event happens in an emergency, operators do not think to link fire and police commanders on a tactical channel or link the state office with the city officers during a pursuit even today.

New 9-1-1 training will I hope reduce that, and as Andrew states, training and planning are the key. No matter what the band or how many interop boxes you have, the training to use them and knowing when to use them is the key. Always has been.

P25 had its day and still may, but it is getting rolled over as newer and less expensive systems come in to play. Cost will always be a key factor.

Great perspective, sir.

Bruce Barton
Deployed Communications and Technologies
Rescue International


Editor:

While I tend to agree with Mr. Schwartz concerning his overall thoughts on P25, there are a number of other options other than Digital Mobile Radio (DMR), as I feel that DMR (TDMA) is an outmoded platform and has significant drawbacks.

While I am admittedly personally invested in NXDN; I feel it is a much more robust mode, represents newer technology, and is a more open platform than DMR for most trunking applications. There are also more vendors to choose from that will do all modes of NXDN trunking. In addition, subscriber units are available that will do not only NXDN but also P25 in the same radio. They do not include a lot of proprietary functions that preclude interoperability with other systems, and meet government grant requirements that require P25 functionality or the ability to be upgradeable to P25 to be eligible for funding.

Stan Reubenstein
Manufacturers’ Representative
Aurora Marketing Co.
Denver

Editor:

Finally, an article is published in which the author addresses the reality of what Project 25 (P25) is and the reasons it doesn’t work for everyone. I couldn’t agree with this author more, and I would even argue that Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) Tier 2 and 3 actually do a much better job from a performance standpoint. Cost is also a notable component of this article. It’s simple, for the price of one high-end P25 radio, one could buy three or four DMR or analog radios. How is that not a more cost-effective solution for a small or medium-sized city? The latest buzzword for budgets is sustainability, and newsflash, $3,000 – $5,000 for a P25 portable or mobile radio is not sustainable. Add to that the fact that P25s are often broken with charges ranging between $500 and $600 to repair, and you have a budget breaker, not a sustainable budget model.

Norm Alexander

Editor:

Andrew E Schwartz is the first person I have heard in a long time that talks sense. Andrew is well thought out. There are many technologies that are more affordable today than Project 25 (P25). NXDN and Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) have exactly the same robustness as P25, and within my knowledge, sometimes even have more functional capabilities. The radios are even just as rugged and sometimes I think even more rugged than the P25 equipment.

Many counties do not have the budgets that big cities and metropolitans have. Some of these counties have big areas to cover, and P25 is miles too expensive to afford and cover these areas. There are so many interoperability units on the market at good prices that you can connect anything to anything with the snap of a finger. I agree, P25 is not a one size fit all.

Leon van der Linde
Global Communications
Pretoria, South Africa

 


In response to “Experts Acknowledge Usefulness of Body-Worn Cameras but Urge Caution” from Feb. 3

Editor:

I can certainly see privacy problems with the police use of body-worn cameras. If a police officer enters a dwelling based on probable cause or other invitation, and the resulting video were public record, everyone from divorce attorneys to burglars would have access to the information about the contents of the dwelling. From my perspective, there is currently no basis for saying that body camera video would not be public record.

I’ve always thought there was a similar privacy issue with police allowing news reporters or “reality” TV cameras to follow them into someone’s house. Equally egregious is the CNBC reporter who lures sexual predators into a televised sting operation and then invites the police to arrest the individual.

Tom Mahon


In response to “TIA Issues Call to Update P25 CAP Documents” from Feb. 3

Editor:

Project 25 (P25) Compliance Assessment Program (CAP) is just now issuing this document? Twenty-five years down the road, this incomplete suite of standards is still trying to determine how a conventional mode transceiver is supposed to behave? Really? When are we just going to call P25 what it really is, namely a failure of epic proportions and mechanism by which large corporations relieve taxpayers of billions for junk equipment.

What a bunch of nonsense.

Norm Alexander


Click here for the January 2015 Inbox.
Click here for the December 2014 Inbox.
Click here for the November 2014 Inbox.

 

 

 

 



 
 
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