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First Responder Networks 5 Years After 9/11 189

stinkymountain writes, "Five years after 9/11, you'd think all of the nation's first responders would be on a state-of-the-art wireless network that would enable police, fire and other emergency personnel to talk to each other in case of a disaster. But they're not -- yet. Network World ran an investigative piece sketching why progress has been so slow, and describing the progress that has been made." The article leads off with a scenario that represents the toughest possible test for a first-responder network. Even the best imaginable networked system might bog down in the midst of "fog of war" situations.
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First Responder Networks 5 Years After 9/11

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  • Hey Congress! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @11:55AM (#16045105)
    Lack of funding is a major impediment. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has helped Washington, D.C., and Denver with grants to upgrade wireless systems, but it hasn't been able to cover the cost for all of the major cities in the United States. Replacing all of the infrastructure used by first responders would cost more than $40 billion, Vaughan estimates. "That's a problem," he says.

    Here's a chance to bring a shit load of money to your districts WITHOUT it being considered pork! Duh!

    • Re:Hey Congress! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:14PM (#16045279)
      The communication problerm, on 9/11 was too simple ..

      A device called a repeater is a radio receiver and transmitter that re-transmit the low power walkie talkies from a high location, with much higher power giving these hand held transceivers much increased range both in terms of receive and transmit distance .

      This so called failure was no failure at all
        Its a political Football for one simple reason

      Many of the the repeater(s) that provided these communications were on the trade center itself !
          Nothing else need be said,
      No matter how well it worked, It cant work if it is gone
      Poleticans can care less about how it works. And why it cant
      • Even in the nearby city of Portland, Maine -- with less than 1/30 the population of NYC, there are fire trucks with repeaters in them which can be dispatched to locations around the city if the system is down for one reason or another.
      • For the most part we're past the age when simple repeaters work in places where Barney Fife isn't deputy. Digital spread-spectrum and encryption make things a lot more interesting nowadays.
      • Another problem in a large disaster is that you have literally every firest-responder in the area all trying to communicate on one or two frequencies (police and fire). This is where proper Incident Command becomes crucial, allocating frequencies to different departments and to different purposes: i.e. Fire Department Search & Rescue, Police Department Evacuation Operations, Emergency (beyond the obvious one at hand).

        A proper command and control structure solves many of the communications in a disaster
    • As a volunteer firefighter and EMT, I can confirm the funding issue. Our department applies for FEMA grants regularly whereby to acquire new equipment; sometimes we get it, sometimes we don't, either way, the red tape takes a long time. We applied for a FEMA grant to upgrade out radio system in 2002. We got the equipment last week.

  • by w33t ( 978574 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @11:56AM (#16045108) Homepage
    Reading about how the radios could not communicate inside of certain buildings I wonder if it might make sense to include an "emergency" channel in wireless networking equipment. After all, many warehouses have wireless access points setup for their mobile inventory devices.

    This 802.11 emergency channel that could be activated and used by emergency personell equipped with special radios - kind of a "skype-911".
    • In an emergency, especially those such as a destroyed building, Internet is probably the last thing you'd want to rely on.
    • by loose electron ( 699583 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:20PM (#16045334) Homepage
      Why does everyone love to point the finger at 802.11 for things it was never designed to do?

      Internet methods for emergency communication in a burning building where the power plug has been pulled? Dependence on computer systems in these types of emergencies?

      I don't thinks so.
      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        802.11 was designed for this. Indeed, it is pretty nearly ideal. It is capable of setting up temporary local networks on an ad-hoc basis. While depending on a building's Wi-Fi to be functional would be suicidal, Wi-Fi as a technology in a hand-held device is -exactly- what is needed. Put two radios on each device and whichever one has a clear shot at a live Wi-Fi hot spot outside can relay the data.

        What is needed, and what is lacking currently, is a protocol built on top of this to provide reliable mu

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ajs ( 35943 )
      It's a nice idea, but can you imagine how fast it would be abused?! "Hello, random router, I'm a ... fire official ... please let me route traffic through you." Heck, you could boostrap an entire fidonet-like service in any major city without spending a dime.

      No, the bottom line is that, when you're inside what is essentially a faraday cage, you're screwed. You might have the radios figure this out and talk directly to eachother, but that's about as good as you're going to get. The only way around it that I
      • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:29PM (#16045987)
        You might have the radios figure this out and talk directly to eachother, but that's about as good as you're going to get. The only way around it that I can think of would be to drop a repeater in a doorway or blow down a wall.

        And both are valid solutions I was thinking of mentioning (ignoring the one about blowing down a wall). Why can't the radios mesh and have one (or more) that can talk to the nearest fixed repeater act as a local repeater? Why can't they have repeaters they can drop in the middle of the building to take care of the problem? I know that some police cars have repeaters built into them, so why not have a briefcase one for emergency use? If it's such a huge warehouse, I'm sure that police cars could have driven in it directly, why not drive the cars in and have the repeaters in them help out?

        The problem is that the people designing the systems are non-technical and the technical people are being involved only after the system is designed and the budget is approved. When someone is given $5 million to build a wireless network to have 98% outdoor coverage and that is the correct amount for that task, he can't make it also cover inside to that same 98%. So, they need to get the tech people in the design process sooner. They need creative people with technical understanding to come up with scenarios like the failure listed so that the people that approve the budget can decide whether they will or will not address such problems.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by identity0 ( 77976 )
      What I've wondered is if they can't set up a system to prioritize calls through the cell phone system during an emergency, to allow first responders to communicate. It seems that during every regional-level disaster, the cell system gets jammed, basically DDoS'ed, by lots of anxious people calling relatives. While that's understandabele, I think it would be more useful to allow people involved in disaster relief or law enforcement "first priority" status for calls.

      It might be feasable to do it with either a
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        What I've wondered is if they can't set up a system to prioritize calls through the cell phone system during an emergency, to allow first responders to communicate

        They already do that, at least for GSM equipment, not sure about the US stuff.

        During the london underground bombings they turned off public access to the cells around aldgate.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by LeRandy ( 937290 )

          To add to that, GSM towers at the moment (at least in the UK) prioritise calls to the emergency number, and *will* throw non-emergency calls off-air if the tower is full. Competitor's towers will also take an emergency call, regardless of any roaming agreements, and you do not need to have a valid phone service - even without a SIM card, the emergency number should still work.

          As an aside, the TETRA [] system is being deployed in a number of european countries for the emergency services, and this system allow

        • Japan has this as well, for earthquakes. In the event of a major earthquake, the mobile system essentially shuts down for normal use in the affected areas.

          The only number a user can dial is an emergency earthquake voicemail number (which is only active in the emergency situation...don't ask me how they test it). When you connect, you type in your own mobile number and you can leave a message saying where you are, that you are OK (or that you need assistance), etc.

          People outside the area can call a differe

          • I can certainly see prioritizing official traffic, but I think it would be better not to cut off everything else. After all, people need to be able to get information and communicate in order to help themselves and their loved ones, even if they're not in uniform. Especially if, like Katrina, the officials stand around at the perimter of the disaster for two or three days scratching their heads.
      • What I've wondered is if they can't set up a system to prioritize calls through the cell phone system during an emergency, to allow first responders to communicate.

        I don't know about any other US carriers, but Nextel does. Both for the directconnect (walkie-talkie type) service and regular phone calls. If I recall, there are 5 levels. 1.) scrub, 2.) 3.) Local emergency managenent/police/fire 4.) Federal Responders 5.) presidential entourage. I don't remember what 2 and 3 are....but you get the idea.
      • Been there, done that. Look up "access overload class" []. That's how CDMA does it. Mere mortals are 0-9, depending on the last digit of your phone number. Phone techs, emergency personnel, and government can get higher ACCOLC settings.

        I'd assume other networks are similar but I don't have direct experience.
  • A local... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BJZQ8 ( 644168 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @11:56AM (#16045109) Homepage Journal
    A local Fire/Police organization was recently trying to upgrade their radios to a newer system. The project failed spectacularly with huge cost overruns and was eventually cancelled. Their solution? Award a virtually identical contract to the same vendor for the same system. The problem is government...wasteful spending brought on by too many years of overfunding. Where a $5 solution would suffice, they ALWAYS spend $500. The solution? I dunno, anarchy maybe.
    • Will Rogers once said: "Thank Goodness we don't get all the government we pay for!"
      • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
        What's interesting is he didn't pay nearly the amount of taxes we do. If you really think about it, you have to ask how and why tax rates ever increase at all.

        I mean, we know the government is subject to inflation, just as we are - but then as inflation goes up, so do wages and taxes collected. It SHOULD be a wash.

        (the reason is simple - expansion of government, and none so quickly as under the current administration).
    • by ModernGeek ( 601932 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:08PM (#16045809)
      ...we have an old VHF system. The city fire department, police department and sheriff office in our area are all on digital 800 Mhz systems. In order to upgrade the county fire departments, there would have to be enough money to upgrade handheld radios of over 250 firefighters at about $800 a piece. Not to mention to repeaters and such that some departments have. Don't forget the personally owned radios that the firefighters have in their vehicles, too. Of the five volunteer departments in the county, with about 50 certified firefighters (they test and train just like the paid firefighters), new radios could break any budget unless federal grant money comes in.
      • by castoridae ( 453809 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:26PM (#16045968)
        Rather than replacing the radios, have you looked into bridging solutions that might allow interoperability between your existing VHF radios and their digital radios? As long as both infrastructures are already in place, why not use them...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        there would have to be enough money to upgrade handheld radios of over 250 firefighters at about $800 a piece.

        Consider yourself lucky. Rather than fixing/adding repeaters for our old low band VHF analog system, we got a new Motorola 500 mHz trunking sytem that cost millions, and each radio costs $3200 (HT) and $3500 for a mobile. And they don't work any better. And all of our old frequencies are now each a talkgroup. So much for that dream of dynamic allocation of departments and equipment per incide
    • Well the problem is, funding comes in the form of use-it-or-lose-it grants for a specific item (like radios). The other problem is that a fire/police officer isn't professionally equipped to select a solution. Why would they know anything about radio systems, other than from a user's point of view?

      What happens is they go call the company(ies) they know - like their original vendor, with whom they have an ongoing relationship via support anyway - and ask what options are available to solve the problem outli
    • The problem is government...wasteful spending brought on by too many years of overfunding. Where a $5 solution would suffice, they ALWAYS spend $500. The solution? I dunno, anarchy maybe.

      The problem here is not that you've got the wrong kind of government. The problem is that you've got the wrong kind of people. Changing the system won't solve the problem that you have idiots doing important jobs.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The department, and the concept. Unfortunately, it was just a tool for the government to pretend to do something about the problem - the illusion of safety, if you will. For all the whining Americans do about having to pay taxes, you'd think they'd demand that the department do its fucking job.
  • by OakDragon ( 885217 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @11:57AM (#16045131) Journal

    Like a lot of things, this is one problem that cries out "Something must be done! This is something; therefore, it must be done."

    It's easy to look at the communication failures on 9/11 and recognize we need a better way of doing things. And it seems like a fairly simple problem that can be solved by a neat, tidy bureaucratic process. But as the example of the warehouse full of refigerators shows, it's really not that simple.

    • by 955301 ( 209856 )
      I do think it's that simple - it's just that the you cannot use the same processes that got you into an unworkable situation to get you out of it again.

      A friend of mine once told me, the way to build an effective emergency system is to cause an emergency and see what people use and what they discard - the parts and processes they still use are the once to build the system out of.

      Walkie Talkies, a truck unrolling a spool of fiber down the street, a bunch of bystanders on exercise bikes generating power, and
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:00PM (#16045156) Homepage Journal
    Why use broadband? I am trying to understand why the SWAT team lost communication in the building? Do they used a centralized system? It is impossible for each SWAT member to talk peer to peer with each other SWAT team member?
    Come on people streaming video is nice but not at the expense of calling for help.
    Maybe they should start carrying a few simple HTs as back up for their super wiz-bang system.
    • Broadband communication using OFDM modulation is very resilient to multpath radio signals and localized fading problems.

      Think lots of reflections and deadband issues.

      That has nothing to do with video...
      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        But why use broadband for simple voice?
        A simple 11-meter "CB" system would have probably worked just fine in that building. It sounded like they are using a hub based system but I am not sure since I really don't know much about digital trunk radio systems. I brought up the streaming video because in the article they talk about rangers streaming video and getting weather data in real-time.
        Even if you are going to use broadband style system it would seem to me that a mesh system would be more resilient. Of
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          CB at 27MHZ with AM modulation?

          Wrong frequency and wrong modulation method.

          You want something that will surive multpath reflections without a lot of degeneration - that says over 100-200 MHz.

          You want somthing that can sort out the signal and work with it after it has reflected off of a bunch of things and is getting received. If it is voice alone, then something like FM would work.

          But then I just described a lot of the police radios already out there.

          If you want it to be digital, then you need a multipath r
          • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
            Yes I am aware of it. I have a friend that runs the local HAM group at our EOC. Not to mention that we live in south Florida so he got A LOT of practice over the last two years.
            I used CB because I blanked on the exact name of the family services radios. I was thinking of cheap and off the shelf. The ARRL members do a great job when all else fails. I may be helping them set up an 802.11b network so they can stream video, and send other data over it to the fire stations from the EOC. I am a novice at radio
  • by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:01PM (#16045172)

    Probably the biggest single reason is the lack of available spectrum needed to support broadband wireless devices for public-safety radios.

    That is finally about to change. The FCC has mandated that TV stations give up the 700MHz channels and that bandwidth be available for broadband public safety applications. Unfortunately, that switch wont occur until February 2009.

    • The bottom line is that the FCC values helping the broadcasters make an inexpensive as possible move to digital over emergency communications.

      If they really cared they make the change stand by it and let the broadcasters piss, moan and fork out the cash to upgrade.

      You can bet if the FCC had backbone the broadcasters would upgrade. They'd complain, try to lobby congress, threaten, use scare tactics telling people their TV will die...wait a sec...don't they already do this?
  • by mendaliv ( 898932 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:02PM (#16045181)
    It strikes me that in this article, they're just using 9/11 to shock people into seeing a problem that was *already there to begin with*.

    The warehouse shootout they mentioned probably would've happened the way it did, 9/11 or not, and the departments would still have complained that they needed more funding for better comms gear than they can afford.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mikachu ( 972457 )
      It's because it's a great example of how the government is pouring tons of money into things like homeland security and yet it's (obviously) not going where it needs to.

      The problem, in my opinion, is not really lack of funding on homeland security, it's just not really being put in the right places.
  • by jay2003 ( 668095 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:03PM (#16045190)
    The federal government not only should have figured out standards for first responder radios, it ought to have provided the radios to all first responders. Any time you hear a politician compare the Al Queda threat to WWII, try to remember that if President Roosevelt had responded in the slow, unfocused manner President Bush has, we would all be speaking german now. In WWII, this country completely transformed its economy in less than 2 years to rapidly produce ships, planes and tanks. In 2006, we can't even get working radios. How the mighty have fallen.
    • by BJZQ8 ( 644168 )
      Okay, then, lets produce some ships, planes and tanks...and fight who? This is a war against an ideology, not a country. I don't think the world is ready for us to fight EVERYONE who has that ideology. What, might I ask, in his stead as President, do? Transform our economy to make a working radio system? You are fighting physics, not a war.
  • I love the picture at the bottom of Dana Hansen, manager of wireless networks for the city. She stares victoriously into the distance, hands on hips, and proudly proclaims "Our radios didn't work in the building ... The SWAT team had to do a workaround."

    Way to go team!
  • Of course not. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JavaLord ( 680960 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:04PM (#16045199) Journal
    Five years after 9/11, you'd think all of the nation's first responders would be on a state-of-the-art wireless network that would enable police, fire and other emergency personnel to talk to each other in case of a disaster.

    Five years after 9/11 you'd think we would have reformed our INS department, so that people who pose no threat could gain citizenship with more ease, and people who might be a threat were deported.

    Five years after 9/11 you'd think we would have the most secure airlines in the world, with sensible screening processes, yet we do not.

    Five years after 9/11 you'd think we would have had an honest review of our interventionist foreign policies since the end of the cold war, by Bush, Clinton, and GW Bush yet this hasn't happened.

    Five years after 9/11 you'd think we would have made more progress in developing our own energy, or finding alternative fuels to use.

    The only conclusion we can draw is that government, especially big government moves slowly, and is not doing the will of the American public. The American public is just too distracted to care. I blame world of warcraft.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by truthsearch ( 249536 )
      The American public is just too distracted to care.

      That's completely unfounded bullshit. I assume you come to this conclusion in one of the common ways: the government doesn't tell you of the millions of phone calls, emails, and letters they get from citizens and organizations who care, so you assume they don't get many; Bill O'Reilly and others broadcast that the public is in uproar over "the war against Christmas" and never mention what the public is actually thinking since they don't know.

      The fact is on
      • "The fact is only 2 things tell us what the general public is thinking: polls and votes."

        Actually, only one thing tells the general public what to think - Rupert Murdoch. Well, maybe all the gay "reality" shows on Bravo a little bit too.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JavaLord ( 680960 )
        That's completely unfounded bullshit.

        Voter turnout tells us that people think the candidates are too similar to make a vote matter,

        You are assuming this, but if people really cared they would pay attention and we wouldn't have candidates that are 'too similar'. I could get into how both parties rigged the presidential debates so no third party candidate could get in after Perot scared the crap out of them in 92 (19% in a 3 way race is a good showing).

        If people really wanted a four way debate badl
    • by rbochan ( 827946 )
      You're forgetting...

      Five years after 9/11 you'd think we would have more than just a hole in the ground where the WTC once stood.

      If they can't even, LITERALLY, fill a fucking hole in the ground, why on earth would anyone expect this government to get anything else done?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gfxguy ( 98788 )
        A Ray Nagin fan, eh? I'll tell you why work on the WTC plaza is so slow:

        1. There was a lot of debris. I don't think anyone who hasn't seen the towers can possibly understand the enormity of these buildings. It simply doesn't register unless you've stood at the base and looked up. People think "yeah, yeah, a couple of big buildings, I get it." while picturing a large building they may have seen and thinking "it's a little bigger than that." Wrong... it's like 10 times bigger than that. My wife's never
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jackbird ( 721605 )
          All true, but off the mark. The last of the debris was hauled out quite a while ago. The reason is the mexican standoff between:
          • Larry Silverman (WTC leaseholder),
          • his insurers (who would love not to pay billions),
          • George Pataki (who would love to be president),
          • Mayor Bloomeberg (who would love to have a viable project under way during his tenure, but who has no authority over the site),
          • the survivors' organizations (who would love a memorial and nothing else on some of the most valuable real estate on E
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Five years after 9/11 you'd think that people would be over it so we wouldn't have to see the victims bodies being waved on political poles over and over and over....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:08PM (#16045237)
    It appears the article failed to look at all 50 states and only take tidbits from different areas that have an issue. It states that DC is #1 in the nation for preparedness; however, if you check it would be the State of Ohio.

    After multiple years (starting well before 9/11) and Millions of Public Dollars, Ohio offically rolled out MARCS (Multi Agency Radio Communication System)in 2004-05. The system has towers in all 88 Ohio counties and bosts coverage of 98% of the state (some of the terrain in Southeastern Ohio prevents total coverage). MARCS has enabled all agencies, whether it be the State Highway Patrol, EMA, County Sherriff's, City Police, and other responders, to communicate with each other without restrictions.

    MARCS has also been studied by other states that are in the process of implementing their own first responders network. The article would have been better if it looked at all 50 states because while those mentioned might not be ready, I am sure there are others Like Ohio that have deployed or in the proccess of deploying multi-agency networks.
  • Another problem.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by McFortner ( 881162 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:14PM (#16045284)
    Another problem is that in many cases, those who make the decisions on what to buy have no experience in using the equipment. They believe whatever the sales reps tell them and the end users get stuck with equipment that works poorly while getting told that there is nothting wrong with it. Public Safety personell are cursed with equipment that does not work as well as the equipment they used to use.

    I know this because I work in public safety and we have this problem. 800 Mhz systems are being pushed heavily right now, yet nobody thinks of the problems. Sales reps gloss over problems, saying that these systems will work so much better than the VHF systems they are replacing. But these new radio systems work in the same general frequency range as the cell phones everybody has. How many times are your calls dropped because you drove into a valley or walked into a building? How would you like to be an officer searching for an armed suspect when that happens? I have had that happen, and trust me, it is not a good feeling when it does.

    The sales reps will say you don't need any extra tower sites for the new system, what you have will be more than enough. But for decent coverage in the UHF band you need your antennas on the high ground so you can cover the low areas of your coverage area and you need a lot of them. Cell phone companies understand this and put their towers on the high ground near areas of heavy usage. Unfortunately, public safety does not get anywhere near as many, and those that they do have are often set up where they already have land, such as the back yard of fire stations. These are frequently not in the best location geographically for radio coverage, and money is not spent on obtaining decent transmitter locations.

    Sales reps don't care about this. All they care about are sales. They know that once the sale is made, they are out of there and it is no longer their problem, but the buyer's. Sounds a lot like the IT field, doesn't it?

    There are 4 types of liars (in order):
    4. Liars
    3. Pathalogical Liars
    2. Car Salesmen
    1. Sales Reps

    So remember the Dispatchers saying, "Beware of Sales Reps bearing gifts."
    • by Detritus ( 11846 )
      That's why you hire an experienced radio engineer to do a study of the proposed system and the costs and construction requirements for the desired level of coverage. There's nothing wrong with 800 MHz as long as you recognize that it takes more base stations to get the same level of coverage as an existing VHF/UHF system. All systems have dead spots.
  • FTA: With IP, SWN can upgrade radio software over the network and provide mobile data support.

    The state of software security being what it is, I wonder if the next major attack would not be accompanied by a day zero exploit of a bug in the radio software that renders all the radios useless because the bad guys uploads some bad software. Vendor diversity in radios may be beneficial just as it is in operating systems.
  • The biggest obstacles appear to be FCC inaction and DHS failure to supply funding. The problems were apparent and being widely discussed days after 9/11.

    One year after 9/11, lack of progress could be fairly attributed to the complexity of the problem.

    Five years after, it begins to look like incompetence... or lack of will... or both.

    The Manhattan Project took four years from start to successful use of the finished product in wartime conditions.
    • by Detritus ( 11846 )
      The problem is that you aren't just dealing with the federal government, you have to deal with a multitude of federal, stste, county, city, town and local agencies. All of which have their own needs, priorities, funding issues and politics. In many cases, they aren't used to cooperating with each other. You usually end up with a bunch of systems that can't communicate with each other. Most of this could be solved with better radio technology and adherence to open standards, but who is going to foot the bill
      • Right on - but you underestimate the amount of money being thrown at the problem. There is enough for new hardware. NY State just spent some atrocious amount for a new radio system (well into the 9 figures I believe). But it still won't be compatible with, say, NJ State, or even many of their own towns who want to use their own radio system every day instead of the new state-owned system. Every little jurisdiction (and big ones) buy something different - DHS just isn't doing any serious detailed coordinati
  • I'll throw out my totally uninformed opinion out there, hopefully to have it quashed by someone "in the know."

    Exit signs and emergency lighting that work on backup power are required by building codes. Why not require a small, adjustable, signal repeater in every large building / on every floor of a major building? Obviously I'm just pulling a solution out of thin air, but why isn't something like this pushed harder? The hardware can't be that hard to lay your hands on, and by putting the onus on the busine
    • by Detritus ( 11846 )
      Lack of standards. Joe Firefighter walks in to your building. Is he using VHF-LO, VHF-HI, UHF, T-Band, 800 MHz? Is it analog or digital? Is it conventional or trunked? If trunked, which proprietary trunking system do they use? To make things worse, the feds usually use frequency bands that are reserved for the federal government, and are incompatible with the frequency bands used by state and local governments.
  • Very strange, I'm not sure either. You'd think that even BEFORE 9/11 happened, NORAD would have known about the planes' diverted flight path (and if not the first plane, the second one at least..??) ...but for some reason they had no idea.

    Talk about strange.

    You'd think that 5 years after this horrible disaster, all of this "homeland security", increased taxpayer spending, would at least help us prepare for another homeland strike..but for some reason, most of us feel more at risk than before 9/11. Even our
    • by Kombat ( 93720 )
      Very strange, I'm not sure either. You'd think that even BEFORE 9/11 happened, NORAD would have known about the planes' diverted flight path (and if not the first plane, the second one at least..??) ...but for some reason they had no idea.

      Of course, the controllers did notice the plane's diverted flight path. While this is unusual, it is by no means a cause for alarm. Put yourself in the controller's shoes. It's another normal day on the job. You notice one of your planes changing heading without cleara
  • A fundamental problem with these solutions, is that they're solutions looking for a problem.
    Yes, traditional radio communications for first responders don't interoperate well and aren't as 'advanced', but let's look at the solutions. They're proposing digital systems, transmitting in the 800 and 700Mhz range. In other words; microwave technology. Easily blocked by walls, not very long range.

    If you wanted short range, but very advanced, digital communications, there are already solutions for that on the mark
    • transmitting in the 800 and 700Mhz range. In other words; microwave technology

      It's nowhere even close to microwave. Microwave is generally understood to mean 3 to 30 GHZ. Not 700 and 800 MHZ.
  • by MikeyTheK ( 873329 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:46PM (#16045585)
    The reason why it hasn't happened is that WE DON'T WANT IT OR SEE THE NEED FOR IT.

    I do NOT want cops polluting my tactical channels with their blather. Do any of you own scanners? Take a listen to EMS, Fire, Law Enforcement, and Air Traffic channels. None of these groups want anybody else to contend with when the shit is hitting the fan. The vocabulary is different. The lingo is different. The culture is different. It's hard enough at an emergency scene to keep traffic to a minimum between the various commands, let alone adding several more channels that someone has to monitor, and shout over.

    This is why NIMS and Unified Command exist. The various agencies can talk to each other IN PERSON since they're face-to-face, and then relay the messages via their radio frequencies to their people.

    We don't want it. We don't need it. If you want to see how we operate in an emergency, ask to be an observer at the Command Post the next time your local jurisdiction does a mass-casualty drill. Airports do them on a grand scale once per year to once every two years. The regional Counterterrorism Task Forces do them once per year. Your regional Emergency Management Agency does it once per year. Watch and learn. We don't need more crap on the radio.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      The regional Counterterrorism Task Forces do them once per year. Your regional Emergency Management Agency does it once per year. Watch and learn. We don't need more crap on the radio.

      I have and I also notice that in REAL emergencies your stuff does not work and the HAM RADIO guys save your asses.

      Yet you ignore their reccomendations on how to fix your poorly designed communications systems because they are "hobbiests" and "amateurs" ignoring that most have more experience and education than the engineers th
      • Um, maybe where you are things are different. We don't use 800 mhz, and we don't intend to. In addition, the reason why at least in our area HAM isn't usually figured into preplans is the same reason why other agencies are not, either. It is because our SOG's are for incidents directly within our jurisdiction. It is up to EMA to handle larger incidents, and to open one or more Emergency Operation Centers if the need arises, and unify command thusly. Amateur radio clubs do have a role to play, and at le
        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          If you have a complaint about how you are treated, take it up with EMA, not us. We're just the ones doing the detail work - you know - putting out fires, rescuing people off rooftops, etc.

          And what about when something like 9/11 happens and the police and fire departments are working side by side? A massive inefficient and ineffective bureaucracy set up just to relay the same messages two two different organizations that are working side by side? Yes, I'm sure that gets the best response. It would be st
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by MikeyTheK ( 873329 )
            Hey, Marc. Let's continue with the 9/11 example for a moment. Actually it is MORE efficient to have the communications separate in this type of situation. Much of law-enforcement traffic uses 10- codes. However, the rest of the communication is generally verbose and free-form by fire standards. Fire communication is generally very structured and tight by police standards. Where police communications tend to be more descriptive, fire communications tend to be more generic. (And if you really want to g
            • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
              In big incidents things are going to break down.

              I'm hearing "everything will break down in chaotic situations, so planning for it is useless." Around here, they have multi-agency training. In most cases, anything that is multi-agency will have the lines ignored, not just blurred. Cops, firefighters, EMTs, military, and other agencies that respond will have overlapping skills. If there isn't any crowd, but there are a lot of wounded, then maybe the firefighters and cops will be working side by side doi
    • Mikey, what's your opinion on data sharing? Either between different agencies in a jurisdiction, or between similar agencies in neighboring jurisdictions (say, electronically coordinating mutual aid with the fire department the next town over)?

      I suspect this sort of thing would be more useful in the back office/dispatch than in the field? Although being able to, say, send a floor plan of the building you're going to into the apparatus might be useful?
      • Howdy castoridae. Agencies do share data. They do it in a face-to-face sort of setup, generally in command posts and Emergency Operations Centers. You would be surprised how well the high-ups work together. Electronic datasharing, though, has numerous hurdles to overcome before it would be an effective tool to responding agencies, starting with the fact that the information we have is unreliable. For your example of building plans, unfortunately layouts are not reliable because they can and do change f
    • None of these groups want anybody else to contend with when the shit is hitting the fan. The vocabulary is different. The lingo is different. The culture is different.

      This is nonsense. With trunked radio, you're all on the same range of frequencies, but your reciever only outputs the messages marked for your group.

      You can essentially have radios with a switch on them, that takes them from transmitting to Fire, Police, EMS, etc. So you have your nice FD radio, but when you can't reach the command, you ca

  • "The article leads off with a scenario that represents the toughest possible test for a first-responder network."
    Um, a lone shooter in a warehouse? Not even close. How about the following as the "toughest possible test":

    A ten kiloton nuclear weapon goes off in the heart of downtown Manhattan tomorrow.

    How's that for a test? Certainly Iran is doing everything in its power to make this a real possibility...

    - Crow T. Trollbot

  • If we have learned ANYTHING in the last 5-10 years of trying to make wireless work it is that wireless is not reliable. It didn't work on 9/11 (ask the policemen and firemen). How are we going to make it work now? Wireless has too many issues with buildings, security, etc to be useful in another similar situation. Plus, if someone really wanted to make things messy all they would have to do is jam the emergeny frequencies being used.

  • by d2ksla ( 89385 ) <krister@k[ ] ['mla' in gap]> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:17PM (#16045883) Homepage
    The article didn't mention TETRA, which is an existing technology for first responder networks: adio [].
    • That is because the US does not use Tetra, it uses APCO-25, a competing standard - a fact the article mentioned MULTIPLE TIMES.

      The problem is not the lack of a standard, but the LACK OF MONEY. A plain-old stupid narrowband FM radio is about US$500. A somewhat less stupid radio using a simple trunking protocol like LTR or Passport would be around US$1500. The lowest end APCO-25 or Tetra radio would be about US$2500, with US$5000 being more commonplace. That's for a handheld radio - a mobile is more.

      Then you
  • Progress is slow (Score:2, Informative)

    by p2ranger ( 606522 )

    Back when I was an EMT for an ambulance company, we had 4 banks of radios we listened to. UHF, VHF, digital, and another portable digital. We talked to our dispatch ceneter on VHF, town A's fire dept on UHF, town A's police dept on digital, Town B's fire dept on VHF, Town B's police on portable digital, and then a few other agencies mixed in there as well. It was confusing at first learning which radio to talk to depending on which town's district and what type of a call you were on.

    The fire dept I'm on n

  • by CFD339 ( 795926 ) <[andrewp] [at] []> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:29PM (#16045990) Homepage Journal
    I'm an officer in a fire department. A much smaller department of course -- but we all study the same issues and see the same FEMA, NFPA, etc. bulletins.

    The problems at the trade center were not so easily blamed on radios. Katrina related issues in New Orleans however, were influenced a great deal by radio communication problems.

    That said, here are some things to consider:

    1. Most departments are NOT like FDNY. 86% of firefighters in the USA are "on-call" not live in full timers. 96% of departments in the USA are staffed in part or in whole by on-call firefighters, and 40% of the population is protected by these "volunteers". Focusing on FDNY and their issues on 9/11 isn't doing a service to the real problem.

    2. With Katrina, every cell tower, every radio repeater, and all the power for thousands of square miles was down. Trucks with portable backup repeaters couldn't operate in the deep water and muck. With no communication, fire crews are acting as islands and cut off from knowing where emergencies are or from getting help. Police had the same problem, but the added issue of a populace which would rather fight them then help them.

    Now, taking that knowledge in hand, let's talk about what has happened since 9/11 in my little department. Since 9/11 here's what's changed:

    1. Every member of my department has their own radio at all times. This is unusual for rural departments - or was. These radios are not cheap. They run about $1500 each. Remember, not just any radio will do -- they must be "intrinsically safe" (meaning no internal sparks) and must stand up to some fairly serious abuse.

    2. Every member of my department (and most in other departments I've spoken to) has complete the now required "NIMS" (National Incident Management System) training and certification process at levels 100 and 700. Most town leaders have also completed this training. Officers such as myself also complete NIMS 300, while chiefs complete several more. This system is set up so that in an escallating emergency all responders are on the same page from a language, radio traffic, procurement, authorization, authority, and responsibility perspective as an incident grows from a single unit response to a multi-state task force. The system is patterned after a very successful program used for years by the forest service.

    3. Although most towns still use their own frequencies on their radios, in our area all the towns which are adjacent and most which are one town removed are pre-programmed on our radios. There is also a statewide non-repeated frequency so that any firefighter on the fireground has a way to communicate.

    4. I am told, though I have not seen, that for very large incidents equipment exists that allows high level incident management teams from the federal level to respond and "slot in" a radio from each local jurisdiction. This device acts as a switch of some kind, bridging the radio systems on the fly. I'm told a decision on how far down the chain that technology will be pushed is still in the works.

    5. Even in our little town of under 10,000; we've gotten together with nearby towns and drilled at mass casualty and hazardous materials incidents.

    Now, if you think there are more things we should do, consider that most "volunteers" (remember, that's 86% of firefighters) put in more than 50 hours a year of unpaid training time as it is. Where were you?

    The people who understand the failings in the 911 response but are not part of the chain of command are other firefighters. All of us, around the country, can point to things the FDNY did wrong. It's easy to do after the fact. We're also the most reluctant to do so. Our brothers may have made mistakes, but they did a lot of things right in the face of terrible danger and stress. We're reluctant to point fingers. That doesn't mean we don't discuss it among ourselves and in our training.

  • Five years after 9/11, you'd think all of the nation's first responders would be on a state-of-the-art wireless network that would enable police, fire and other emergency personnel to talk to each other in case of a disaster.

    I almost choked reading that. I'm a volunteer fireman and know first hand what's out there, at least in rural areas. Communication is exclusively radio out where we are and you have to hope someone knows the freq for the other department or the wing if you're waiting for air lift.

  • by minus_273 ( 174041 ) <> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @02:10PM (#16046320) Journal
    Micahel moore told me 9/11 was caused by the cralyle group in cahoots with Gerorge Bush and the Jews, so this is not going to be a problem after 2008 when there is a democrat in power. The the only thing we have to be concrened with is a missile hitting a pentagon.
  • 26 years as a Firefighter/Fire Engineer/EMT. The article is media politico garbage. Reporters and politicians should put on a SCBA and full turnout gear, or body armor and weapon and spend 1 day training. There is no radio/communications system that will overcome all environments. Get real. Hopefully I will never again have a building collpase on me and my company, but if it does I am going to be more concerned that those I am working with can think quickly enough to find a solution. Communications ar
  • Fog of War == Blind as a Bat

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