Mission-Critical Communications Organizations Adjust During COVID-19 Pandemic
Tuesday, March 24, 2020 | Comments

As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in the United States and other countries globally, mission-critical communications organizations are changing how they work to address the resulting COVID-19 disease.

For those on the front lines, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC) released updated guidance for EMS workers, public-safety answering points (PSAPs) and medical first responders.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is tracking personnel exposed to the coronavirus and those in quarantine. As of March 24, 1,551 fire personnel were in quarantine and 5,143 had been exposed. The data is filtered by date.

In addition, documents outlining what law enforcement needs to know and precautions to take are posted on the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) website.

Companies in the mission-critical communications industry are considered essential, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defined functioning critical infrastructure as imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety as well as community well-being. DHS released guidance on the essential critical infrastructure workforce and outlined 16 critical infrastructure sectors, including communications, emergency services, energy, healthcare, transportation and water, among others.

For Mike Miller, president and CEO of RACOM, a two-way radio service and products provider in Iowa, the challenge has been keeping his business — classified as an essential business — open while managing worker safety and anxiety. Miller shared the numerous emails and correspondence between management and employees outlining new RACOM policies during the pandemic and how employees should communicate their needs and when to stay home.

“The vast majority of my time has been spent in how to respond to this crisis,” Miller said. “Our employees, like everyone, are scared and anxious. Trying to balance their safety, the needs of the business and giving unbiased, accurate advice has been hard.”

He said that many RACOM customers, such as 9-1-1 centers and public-safety agencies, aren’t allowing outsiders into their facilities. He is also limiting access to RACOM’s critical areas, such as its network monitoring center.

From an economic standpoint, Miller said sales and orders of mission-critical communications equipment hasn’t been impacted in the short term, but it’s likely too early to say for sure. “We’ve been lucky enough to have a large backlog of orders we’re turning into revenue now, so we remain quite busy,” he said. “We’ve answered and prepared for several disaster scenarios with customers: everything from handing out emergency caches of radios all the way up to what we’d do to relocate a dispatch center.”

Because communications are always essential during a crisis, he has a positive long-term outlook. “Mission-critical users need mission-critical systems and system providers like us,” Miller said. “While actual long-term impacts are unknown, one could argue that the health of our industry will remain quite strong.”

JVCKENWOOD USA is also mainly upbeat about the changing market. “Initially there were adjustments in how our dealer partners and their customers ran their operations, and after a brief period, things are settling into place,” said Mark Jasin, executive vice president, communications sector, JVCKENWOOD USA. “We understand some jurisdictions are considering adding more personnel, which will necessitate need for even more communications equipment. Mission-critical grade equipment will be a likely purchase for many non-critical-infrastructure businesses as they reassess their own emergency planning and decide to upgrade their communications systems.”

JVCKENWOOD USA’s headquarters are in California, which is under a statewide shelter-in-place order, but the company is an essential business and remaining functional. “Because we want to assure there is no interruption in the supply chain to mission and operation critical activities, only warehouse and related department staff will remain working at our Long Beach facility. Those key personnel are following state and federal guidelines for minimum staffing levels, social distancing and workplace protections.

“We have also issued guidelines to our customers on how to keep their two-way radios and accessories clean. We feel confident that we have put measures in place to remain responsive and functional. Our public-safety and critical infrastructure customers rely on us and we are determined to support their mission.”

L3 Harris Director of Global Public Relations Jim Burke said the company’s facilities remain open because L3Harris is part of the Defense Industrial Base, an extension of the U.S. armed forces. “Our obligations to our country and its allies are critical to maintaining military industrial readiness and are essential government functions,” Burke said.

To protect the health and safety of employees, L3Harris is taking preventative measures above and beyond those prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC. The measures include providing sanitizing and other health-related products, enabling teleworking where possible, suspending nonessential business travel and participation in external events, and temporarily restricting visitor access to company sites.

“We are regularly monitoring and re-evaluating this evolving situation and communicating with employees, customers and supplier partners to address any concerns or suggestions they may have,” Burke said.

Motorola Solutions is helping customers with emergency requests for communication solutions and command center software. “For example, we are providing radios for emergency response, for use in additional ambulances and first responder work shifts, and deploying software for our customers' emergency operation centers,” a Motorola spokesperson said. “We have taken measures to manage the virus’ impact by following guidance from the U.S. CDC, WHO and local governments.”

“We are committed more than ever to supporting the critical communications, safety and security needs of our public-safety and enterprise customers,” Motorola said. “Business continuity plans are being expanded, so we can adjust to changing circumstances and restrictions while striving to meet the varied needs of our customers.”

L3Harris and Motorola also released cleaning guidelines for their radios and accessories.

“As always in emergencies, we support our dealers as they receive requests from their customers,” said JVCKENWOOD USA’s Jasin. “We all know that reliable communications has always been essential to successfully navigating any crisis. That is certainly the case in these extremely uncertain and unusual times.”

BidNet Direct, a website with government procurement and bid opportunities, said in an email that local and state governments are looking for diverse supplies to combat the coronavirus. “It isn’t just medical supplies, IT and communication supplies and services, and cleaning supplies our local governments will need,” the email said. “We have seen requests for diverse goods and services such as the design and printing of signs to warn people to social distance, music supplies for now homeschooled students and much more.”

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