Public-Safety Officials Tout Benefits of Datacasting for Video Distribution
Friday, January 18, 2019 | Comments
Two public-safety officials discussed how effective datacasting has been to their video and data distribution efforts, complementing other broadband data services. Datacasting is technology that sends IP data over broadcast TV spectrum, and public-safety agencies are working with the America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) to access the service.

Public-safety agencies around the country have used datacasting during fires, floods and earthquakes, as well as for search and rescue and school safety initiatives. In Adams County, Indiana, Sheriff Shane Rekeweg said his agency uses datacasting to connect multiple cameras — video from a drone, a body camera and in-school cameras — into one system and broadcast the video to numerous people at broadband speeds.

“We started a little over a year ago, and it’s a system that fits a lot of needs,” Rekeweg said during a Jan. 17 National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) online town hall session on the topic. “This allows everyone to view the video without sacrificing other networks. … If our LMR fails, being able to send messages over this system gives us a sense of comfort.”

District Chief Jeff Cook with the Houston Fire Department uses datacasting as another tool in its technology toolbox. The department uses the technology to stream video from divisions to the command post and from an incident scene to the emergency operation center or to a command post. The system can send maps, floor plans and other files to commanders, as well as alerts and emergency messages — such as active shooter or shelter in place — to field responders.

Houston Fire Department used datacasting to stream flood video after Hurricane Harvey to give commanders a real-time view of the damage. He said the coverage area is larger than cellular or LMR networks, making it a great tool for planned or unplanned events. Cook said during the Houston Marathon, his team used datacasting for numerous video streams and tried to “break” the network but was unsuccessful.

In September, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security made a $2 million grant to Tennessee’s public TV stations to fund a pilot project that will deliver private, secure communications between first responders and their management teams in case of an emergency or natural disaster.

Arnold Hooper, Tennessee’s wireless communications director for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said the grant will be used to install datacasting equipment and software.

The nation’s 350 public broadcast stations offer hardened sites in all 50 states and six territories and cover 97 percent of the U.S. population including most rural areas. Public-safety agencies need a different receiver or antenna to receive the data, and there is an effort to incorporate the technology into First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and other public-safety devices.

New equipment for datacasting is reasonably priced and off the shelf, said Lonna Thompson, APTS chief operating officer (COO). She said agencies can upload video from the field via the FirstNet or other broadband network and then distribute it widely with datacasting.

“We see it as completely compatible with FirstNet,” said Mark O’Brien, SpectraRep president and chief technology officer (CTO). SpectraRep is a manufacturer of datacasting equipment.

“Datacasting can enhance FirstNet with rural coverage,” said John Contestabile, program manager, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. He said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as performed datacasting pilots in Boston and Chicago, along with the work in Indiana and Houston.

The technology is encrypted and allows secure one-to-many communications, but it does not offer two-way communications. A next-generation broadcast TV standard will allow even more capabilities for public safety, O’Brien said.

He said the technology is not messages over television but rather a data delivery system that uses licensed spectrum from broadcasters in partnership with broadcasters to send live videos, files and other data.

The slide deck from the town hall is here.

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