GTR roundtable: Emergency services experts weigh in [3/4]

By GovTechReview Staff
Monday, 02 June, 2014

This is part 3 of the GTR roundtable on emergency services that ran in the March-April 2014 issue of Government Technology Review. Click through for part 1, part 2 and part 4.

GTR: How are novel geospatial technologies being rolled into ESOs' everyday operations?

Keys: Integrated GPS is still, surprisingly, not totally common in emergency services, but the time has come for everyone to get those benefits. In the P.25 network we are implementing for Ergon Energy, the GPS functionality is standard for the terminal devices – which have the ability for things like getting the terminal to send the dispatch centre a GPS location if the car is in a crash or rolls over.

Our focus in the past has been on the communication network side and its “built in” functions. But with the back-end geographical systems being so open in terms of interfaces, I really do think that our focus needs to change. There is no technical reason why all State Government Radio Networks and ESO communication networks shouldn’t have GPS location enabled to open opportunities for big operational improvements.

Flexibility is key, although it has taken a while for that approach to gain acceptance as a valid way of doing things. I have seen some very successful “prototyping” projects: for example one developer spent a week developing an interface to the GPS system, and three weeks later the location of all field units was visible on a map at the control centre. The benefits were seen immediately and further funds were allocated to the project to enhance the functions. In cases like this, the old skunk works approach works well.

A lot of people have to come on this journey of change, and the combination of ESOs being more willing to involve themselves in change – and the industry stepping up and providing some better use-case solutions – will enable that. My classic case is GPS location data: when benefits become obvious, stakeholders move quite quickly. Once you've enabled crash detection in the vehicle and have a method of getting the data back into the network, it's only a matter of configuring the dispatch system so you can see the call.

Keys: A lot of people have to come on this journey of change, and the combination of ESOs being more willing to involve themselves in change – and the industry stepping up and providing some better use-case solutions – will enable that. My classic case is GPS location data: when things become obvious they move quite quickly. Once you've enabled crash detection in the vehicle and have a method of getting the data back into the network, it's only a matter of configuring the dispatch system so you can see the call.

Boddam-Whetham: The risks that an ESO has are often physically located, and managing that information has to date been very cumbersome to manage. What we're seeking to do that's very different is to make that information geospatially aware. Integration with Google Maps and Esri ArcGIS, as well as a range of open standards, supports the concept of fixed geospatial locations – an asset plotted on a map.

There's also distributed spatial, where you're getting information back from users in your community and stakeholders, of where things are. That's often through a device like a mobile phone, where you can see geo-coordinates back into a system, iPad, tablet, etc. A lot of the geospatial work around emergency and incident management is very much about situational awareness. We're also trying to give people a very good sense of where the hazards and risks are in relation to those events.

Hockings: We're seeing geographic systems as a very important part of the safety umbrella. Look at it in terms of the firefighting arena, for example: by knowing where the resources are as the fire changes, and which resources could potentially be under threat, and changing that resourcing model – they're moved and reallocated. They can also put in other intelligent information like traffic flow, and it becomes a much more intelligent response regime. We used to see a lot of voice traffic and tracking on the dispatch systems, but now this is background intelligence.

GTR: The government's 700MHz saw less bidding, far lower revenues and more leftover spectrum than expected. What implications does this have for ESOs wanting to access 4G mobile technologies?

Hockings: It has highlighted in a public arena that emergency services want to add another dimension to their operational information. They want to go beyond voice to textual, video and the other things they know from previous experience that would have given them more situational intelligence. If 700MHz has done anything in this debate, it has been to bring up this issue and allow agencies to clearly articulate why this is important and what a difference it's going to make.

Crutchfield: We still see it as important that ESOs get dedicated spectrum; in speaking with agencies around Australia, it’s still very much a high priority for them to achieve that goal.

I think the change in government has provided the opportunity to review the allocation strategy, but certainly the requirement we're hearing from customers is that this is very much a requirement so they can create and maintain their own purpose built networks with integration to that public carrier model. The whole spectrum debate, as a key enabler of all this capability, needs to draw to a conclusion so there is enough bandwidth for ESOs to take advantage of this technology and the applications.

Keys: The ACMA and the Department of Communications have laid the foundation through allocation of spectrum for Public Safety Mobile Broadband (PSMB). State governments have to rise to the challenge of deploying the new PSMB networks. If they could do it on a low-cost trial basis, prototyping as they go, they could get to a sensible outcome very quickly. This would prove out the business case for PSMB for a wide scale network deployment and then, make government could make the decision to further invest. The State governments have excellent infrastructure for radio communications, and they will be able to deploy low-cost LTE networks for PSMB a very sensible cost for ESO users in metro areas. The challenge will be in regional areas, where the cost is probably not justified in the near term – and, therefore, roaming onto commercial networks is likely to be the solution in regional areas.

GTR: There is still considerable debate about whether public 4G networks are able to support the requirements of ESOs during emergency events.

Crutchfield: That debate is still going. There will be a place for public networks simply because of the economies of scale required to cover the areas they need to serve. It's well documented that demand increases during emergency events, so there will also be a requirement for privately held networks in times of peak requirements. You could have a private system, say, in the CBD or high population areas and also have the ability to roam onto the public system where coverage is required in rural or lower-density areas. That's the balance that government departments and ESOs are currently working through.

Keys: This is a passionately debated topic in public safety communications sector: why not just use commercial carriers with priority for ESO users? This was offered in the past – on both 2G and 3G networks – and was arguably a complete failure. The reason is that in times of peak demand, when major incidents were occurring, commercial networks are in high demand by the public. There is a strong argument for having two networks – one public and one private ESO network, particularly in areas of higher population density. ESOs need emergency communication at these times and can’t take the bandwidth from members of the public, that also need to access communications to stay alive and communicate with loved ones. ESO also need full control over their own network to be effective in an emergency response. In areas of lower population density, there is a strong argument for using commercial networks to meet the overflow needs and extra capacity ESO’s need during an incident, but even then ESOs need absolute control over those networks during those periods of peak demand – which conflicts with the mobile carrier's need to service their customers.

Stefan: One of the issues, of course, is congestion on any mobile broadband network, and it is inevitable that a situation will evolve where dedicated Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) spectrum can also become exhausted and congested simply from the number of police and emergency services officers using the spectrum in a potentially catastrophic event.  That's why Telstra has developed and demonstrated what is referred to as LANES (LTE Advanced Network for Emergency Services), which takes a PPDR spectrum and co-locates it on a carrier network to provide a dedicated lane solely and exclusively for the use of police, ambulance and fire services. However, if the PPDR spectrum itself becomes congested due to the high use by police and emergency services personnel, it can then be augmented by carrier spectrum by providing preferential treatment on the carrier LTE spectrum ensuring that front line officers have the mobile broadband services they require in safe guarding the community.

We enabled LANES recently for demonstrations in Brisbane and Perth, where we took the opportunity to demonstrate this world first – the ability to collocate PPDR spectrum on a carrier network and to utilise carrier LTE spectrum to provide the police and emergency services with an unprecedented operational capability and mobile broadband experience.

While 2G and 3G technology evolved from voice communications, 4G has evolved about data. This fundamental shift in technology has made it possible to create LANES. The other capability that LANES affords, in addition to providing dedicated and prioritised services to the emergency services, is its ability to provide seamless coverage across the total foot print of the carrier network.

So if you move in or out of PPDR spectrum coverage such as in a rural area or in the inner city by entering a building or tunnel where there may be no PPDR spectrum coverage, the operational officers continue to have a seamless experience and priority on the carrier network. There is no break in service by having to reconnect across bespoke networks and also reauthenticate into applications. In a industry were seconds count and communications and information are paramount this is a capability of incalculable value for front line officers.

Hockings: ESOs have a lot of experience with radio communications; they started with radio back in the 1930s. I think they will look at each scenario on its own merits in terms of its risk, deliverables, and affordability. They will also look in terms of reality – what can we have today, what can we have tomorrow? And I think they know one size doesn't fit all. [Solutions have] to be almost invisible to the user, and just work irrespective of the platform or technology

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