EMS World: What capabilities do first responders’ current communication systems typically have and what capabilities are they lacking?
James Martin, Vice President of Operations: Current fire codes focus on legacy first responder radio technology called Land Mobile Radio (LMR). Public Safety systems typically use the 700MHz to 800MHz frequency band, as well as lower-band VHF (150MHz) and other UHF frequencies (450MHz). These systems support voice and some limited data, but first responders have a need for a more robust data transfer solution. The first responder community is relying on cellular type technologies more and more, which has led to a need to improve not just legacy LMR frequency bands indoors, but to improve in-building cellular coverage as well.
Topology is a big issue for first responders’ current communication systems. Public safety coverage doesn’t penetrate buildings well in dense areas like cities. These areas have limited base stations, meaning coverage can’t reach all corners of the urban environment. Basements are the worst for coverage, with lower levels being a close second.
Another big issue is the fact that police, EMS and firefighters don’t share the same system, creating interoperability issues, which results in responders being unable to effectively communicate with each other.
First responders’ current communication systems also lack the ability to transfer data at high speeds.
With police, fire, and EMS personnel communicating on different systems during incidents, how does this impact the quality of interagency coordination?
Communicating on different systems creates a disconnect and causes miscommunication or lack of communication between first responders. This issue becomes critical when a massive response from various agencies is required.
FirstNet is a new and emerging technology that can allow for effective interagency communication. Zinwave’s Distributed Antenna System (DAS) supports voice LMR as well as FirstNet, allowing buildings to stay ahead of the curve as standards for in-building coverage continue to change with this need to better public safety communication.
What are the most common hurdles first responders face while trying to standardize or streamline communication systems?
The lifecycle of these systems—and the time it takes to build them—is one of the most common hurdles first responders face while trying to standardize or streamline communication systems. Voice systems are expensive and take years to design, fund and deploy. FirstNet allows for a lower cost point and a more rapid and cost-effective deployment of a standardized national broadband network, allowing public safety agencies to inter-coordinate systems faster and with fewer complications.
How does the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network operate?
The Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network is a government-sponsored initiative to provide a standardized network across the U.S. It will allow for devices that are capable of high-speed data to have better access to video and voice. AT&T has an early deployment, but it is in the early stages and the date of a full launch is not clear. Agencies that are trialing this system are seeing data speeds that are in excess of what was previously possible.
How can first responders effectively express the dire needs to building owners to install reliable communication systems for first responders?
Industry coalitions help give first responders more of a voice to express their needs to business owners. The Safer Building Coalition, of which Zinwave is a charter member, is one such example. These coalitions are supporting a definition for building standards when it comes to public safety needs.
The Safer Building Coalition gives first responders more influence by putting them in front of the community. This gives them the chance to educate and advocate directly to building developers, managers, and owners.
The process of installing reliable communication systems is just like getting a consultation on anything else for a building. A company like Zinwave can come in and educate building owners and operators why public safety coverage is necessary, and how improving that infrastructure can be beneficial.
Prior to joining Zinwave, James was Sr. Manager at TE Connectivity (formerly ADC/LGC Wireless) for more than 16 years. His leadership helped TE Connectivity emerge as a top-tier DAS manufacturer in the wireless space. Early in his career, he was employed at Hughes Network Systems (HNS) and was responsible for the design, deployment, and optimization of over 500 macro cell sites across the southeastern United States. During this time, he was also instrumental in defining the first small cell systems designed and deployed by HNS