Emergency Responders Back RoIP For Interoperability - InformationWeek

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7/3/2007
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Emergency Responders Back RoIP For Interoperability

A nonprofit group that promotes emergency systems is hoping to tap into radio over Internet Protocol systems in the same way that the U.S. military does.

A national alliance of emergency responders wants to use radio over Internet Protocol (RoIP) to solve interoperability problems.

Comcare, a nonprofit group that promotes emergency systems, procedures, tools, and training, on Monday announced that its members want RoIP to link disparate radio and telephone communications systems. The group, with more than 100 organizational members, said that the U.S. military uses RoIP for seamless communications and it is a cost-effective solution to communications problems that have hindered emergency response.

"RoIP means that we no longer have to buy an expensive new radio system for every organization to get interoperability," RoxAnn Brown, director of Nashville, Tenn., Emergency Communications Center and Comcare director, said in a prepared statement. "We have a fast, flexible interoperability solution for all organizations involved in emergency response, separate from the critical, but more complicated and expensive, issues of delivering new radio systems to first responders."

Brown hosted a series of Webinars with about 400 U.S. emergency responders and private technology companies in the last two months. Comcare said that RoIP solutions convert a wide variety of over-the-air and wired communications protocols into voice over IP, and then manage connections and call groups dynamically, depending on the emergency.

"Our RoIP network joins 42 federal, state, local, tribal, transit, and utility agencies that we need to rely on to be able to communicate together in the event of an emergency, and we've connected them without changing out their existing radio equipment," said Patti Morris, grant administrator for the Olympic Public Safety Communications Alliance Network, or Opscan. "We are the first project in the United States to deploy this magnitude of a RoIP network, and we've been named by Homeland Security as the best example of a rural interoperability solution capable of connecting local agencies in an affordable manner."

Opscan is located in a remote part of Washington state. The Department of Homeland Security issued a Safecom grant so Opscan could connect radio and telephone systems for public safety and other groups.

"Our local transit agency, which covers the entire peninsula, has been connected to our RoIP network since February, and they've gone from 5% coverage to 90% coverage," Morris said in a prepared statement. "This project started when one of our deputies lost his life when he was unable to call for backup because of limited communications capabilities. With our RoIP network we firmly believe that no other emergency responder will lose his or her life because we have not provided them with a reliable means of communication." Brown said that RoIP harnesses the power of the Internet, which transmits data to remote corners of the world.

"With Radio over IP, the advantage is that we can expand the types of devices we use -- not just connecting public safety radios, but any device that a responder might want to use at any given location," she said. "Plus, RoIP allows responders to extend the reach of public safety radios and other devices outside their usual geographic boundaries to include any authorized party." Comcare director David Aylward said that all RoIP solutions are based on international VoIP standards, making them easy to use.

He urged the federal government to recognize the technology in its grant programs, including a plan in the departments of Commerce and Homeland Security to spend $1 billion on interoperability.

"Today we're talking primarily about voice interoperability, but we can use the same transport, technology, and core services to enhance situational awareness using data sources as well as enabling voice conversations, and we can get this done in the near future," he said.

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