N How to Manage Data to enHance Safety & IMprove work flow

CDE #30078
How to Manage Data to Enhance Safety &
Improve Work Flow
By Steven J. Makky Sr.
o doubt you’ve been hearing a lot about 700
MHz and the D Block, broadband and maybe
even something called LTE. It seems anyone who wants to portray themselves as “in
the know” says these frequently. These terms
seem to be tossed about by a handful of people with aweinspiring, almost magical, mysticism. But what does this mean
to you? Will it make your life better? Will it keep your officers,
firefighters or EMTs safer? Will it make your job better or
easier? What would this do, and—maybe more importantly—
what won’t it do?
Where we were
Many agencies have extended their computer-aided dispatch systems to their mobile fleet. Initially, our vehicles used
in-band signaling to indicate unit ID, status and message.
In the early 1980s, New York City’s EMS ambulances had
MODAT status and messaging equipment hanging off their
basic radios. When a unit went on scene, became en route to
a hospital, arrived or went in service, a crew member would
press the button and the signal would get sent back to the EMS
CAD system over the same channel that was used for voice
traffic. An added feature back in the day was an emergency
photo kevin link
light stayed on more often than not was
because of bandwidth. Both voice and
data shared the same path and consumed air time over five borough channels and a sixth, Citywide, channel. The
EMTs or paramedics could not talk
over the MODAT tones, nor could the
MODAT tones override the voice traffic.
One had to wait for the other and during busy times, the stream of tones vs.
voice messages seemed endless. Eventually, word on the street was that your
status could go through by momentarily switching to Citywide, pressing
the required button and then quickly
switching back to your borough channel.
It worked nicely until there was an incident that required use of Citywide, and
then Citywide became as congested as
any of the borough channels.
Fast forward 10 years to digital signaling. ID, status and message transmissions were converted from a series of
individual tones into a digital sequence
of tones that could be decoded through
a modem. Microprocessor controls in
transceivers allowed the radio to switch
rapidly to another channel to send the
databurst and then switch back to the
voice channel. Throughput increased
both for voice and data traffic, but still,
only very elementary information was
being shared and in nearly every case,
this data was shared only from mobile
to base.
The earliest mobile data terminals
were user interfaces that allowed the
remote user to interact with the CAD
and database systems directly. They were
simple, often clunky, single-purpose
devices that put compressed alphanumeric information into the right places
for the user to see, but there was so
much more data to share.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get
mug shots? How about accessing floor
plans and building drawings that there
simply isn’t any space to store on the
first-due engine? An officer needs to verify someone’s identification. We’re not really sure who the guy is. He says he’s
Thomas Edison. What about using biometrics to access the
FBI’s IAFIS fingerprint database to find out for sure? These
applications require not just sending information from the
field, but also getting it back from the system.
button which, if pressed, alerted the dispatcher that the crew
needed immediate attention.
NYC*EMS ran about 4,000 calls a day and, for each call,
there were a number of unique statuses and messages interspersed between dispatch voice traffic. The order of the day
was to make sure that you gave your status and to make sure
your status went through. When the CAD system received
your status it sent it back to the vehicle radio as an acknowledgement and the light that lit up when you pressed the button went off. If the light didn’t go off, the dispatcher never
saw your status change. One of the reasons why that MODAT
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Moving forward
Sending a picture back from dispatch required more bandwidth
than sending a simple acknowledgement. Likewise, vehicles
were no longer just sending ID, status and message anymore.
In the Know
the need to access information from the
field followed. The agency records management system may have been fine, but
other information could provide a tactical advantage or potentially be lifesaving.
Accessing that information through a
Web browser running on a mobile computer could be more flexible than using
a dumb terminal that only presented
frequent information, like automatic
vehicle location (AVL), status and messaging over the agency data network, but
would send and receive larger amounts of
data through the cellular system. Sometimes ambulances or hazmat response
trucks installed aircard-to-wireless network devices so computerized equipment on board could use the cellular
photo kevin link
Now they were sending database queries, fingerprint data or taking dead reckoning location information from sensors,
or from LORAN-C, or from that new
thing the military sent up—GPS. All of
this was being sent not just from one
vehicle, but every vehicle in the fleet that
was operational. The systems that once
could share bandwidth with voice traf-
Technology and money can solve many problems—to a point. Beyond that point, human factors come into consideration.
fic (and that may have been a cramped
relationship even then) would now completely monopolize the channel—or may
no longer be capable of handling the
bandwidth necessary for all of the data
traffic—especially if the data transmission rate remains relatively slow.
Increasing that data transmission rate
effectively increases throughput and
increases bandwidth. There are some
tricks, like compressing messages before
they’re sent, to improve efficiency.
Maybe these could be thought of as “10
codes” for data. If you’re sending repetitive information, sending a compressed
message that represents the same thing
could work—if everything used the same
set of data. But is my 10 code the same
as yours? Is what I’m sending some kind
of proprietary format that has to be
manipulated to be understood by other
applications, or is it universally understood and interoperable?
More bandwidth
As Internet use became more popular,
green letters and numbers on a small
screen. A common addition to many
mobile data fleets was a radio modem
that worked not on the agency system, but on a cellular carrier’s network
by sending data packets through the
cellular carrier’s network. These early
devices were cellular digital packet data
(CDPD) transceivers that again shared
space with what was primarily voice traffic on the carrier’s network.
The technology world changes rapidly, and CDPD led a full life but was
supplanted by a faster generation of
wireless technologies. A bunch of them.
Cellular operators have interoperability
issues, too, and some adopted divergent
technologies, each doing the same thing
different ways and at different speeds.
Each came with different and mystifying sets of initials, too, such as GPRS,
UMTS, 1xRTT, EV-DO. The commonality between them was that cellular aircards found their way into the fleet.
In some cases, arbitration devices
would screen data and send shorter,
network as its backbone to access and
transmit data just by configuring the
device’s Wi-Fi connection. Some agencies just constructed their data network
entirely on the cellular system. But that
had its unique set of problems.
Imagine a vivid dream: You’re in lobby
of a building waiting for an elevator
and an ambulance crew comes in with a
stretcher. Your fellow passengers get into
an argument with the EMTs because
they were there first. You and your fellow elevator passengers elbow your way
onto the elevator ahead of the ambulance crew, and they wait for the next
elevator. Cellular data kind of works like
that. Most of the time, the cellular system doesn’t care if the call or data message comes from Medic 91 or from Matt,
the high school freshman. Although
there are National Communications System (NCS) programs for responders
and continuity of government priority
in the cellular networks, the response
can vary greatly when the cellular system is stressed by an emergency situation. After all, if the network is working,
people are calling their spouses, friends
and co-workers to tune into the news or
advise that they are OK. These situations are repeated at virtually every highimpact incident, most recently drawing
attention during the Virginia earthquake
that was felt along part of the East Coast.
Everyone had to make the call and ask
someone else, “D’ja feel that?!” Each of
these calls consumes resources that may
be needed on scene at an emergency.
The next issue is a matter of economy.
If you ran a business, would you put
something in a cow pasture so farmers
could use their cow phones every once in
a while, or would you concentrate your
investment along the Interstate where
there was a constant flow of users making the cash register go ka-ching at predictable intervals? The cellular industry
is a business, and placement of resources
is largely determined by how much revenue may be realized by the selection of a
given location. These also factor into the
placement of other resources, like generators or storage batteries. The hightraffic location may get more attention
than a location with less use.
Perhaps it’s time for a question:
When was the last time your cellular carrier notified you that a site was
down? Would you even know, were it
not for bars on the phone or delays
in access? Sharing the road with traffic from regular vehicles is fine, but
when there’s an emergency, the traffic
is made to yield to emergency vehicles
and dispatch is (or should be) notified
of road closures affecting a unit’s ability to get to a certain location.
Finally, there needs to be some type
of access to the many locations in which
emergencies occur. As we can see, this
isn’t necessarily the case in the cellular
world. Networks are shared, deployed
and monitored in a manner that’s not
necessarily bad, but favors the bottomline needs of the cellular provider, not
necessarily the public safety user. Some
things are needed to make sure public
safety users’ needs are met.
spectrum where public safety would
have exclusivity. In most cases, today’s
public safety land mobile radio systems
function on frequencies that are exclusively allotted to public safety users. The
call for a unique block of frequencies to
support current and future public safety
bandwidth needs isn’t a new paradigm.
The target for this allotment is what
the FCC has termed the “700 MHz
upper D block.” We’ve been calling it
simply the D Dlock. This frequency
band was carved from the upper UHF
television channels and became available
once television stations were cleared out
due to their migration to new digital
television channels. The original plan for
the D Block was for the Federal Communications Commission to auction the
spectrum to a public-private partnership
in 2008. The private partner would build
the network and allow private traffic on
a portion of spectrum immediately adjacent to public safety, but allow public
safety to access all the spectrum when
it was needed. The lone bid response
failed to meet expectations, and the deal
fell through.
Today, a number of communities have
asked the Commission through waiver to
proceed with building their own D Block
data networks without the private partner. To this end, APCO International
and other organizations have been working with Congress to dedicate the entire
D Block to public safety so public safety
broadband networks could be built. But
some in Congress continue to believe
this spectrum should be auctioned, with
funds going to help satisfy the national
debt. From time to time, APCO reaches
out and asks you to remain engaged in
what has become a political issue. Radio
frequency spectrum is akin to prime real
estate, and there’s only so much of it to
go around, so the battle for spectrum
often becomes a fierce game of chess
between strategists, lawyers, lobbyists
and legislators.
What’s this stuff look like,
Moving on from the socio-political
aspects of the D Block, you might be
wondering what’s so different about a
public safety broadband network. First,
How to meet the needs of
public safety
One such change is setting aside
a unique block of radio frequency
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In the Know
they all roughly resemble the land
mobile systems you might be familiar
with. We’ve gone through these in some
back-issues. There is a base station, coaxial cable and antenna. There are sites
placed in the areas that need coverage,
not necessarily where they make a lot of
money for a carrier. A public safety system might very well put that cow pasture site in because the next call might
be in the area.
Now, some differences. There will be
a lot of acronyms and initialisms. Lots of
them. It seems like the information technology world has reinvented base stations and replaced them with eNodeBs
(that’s not cosmic physics, but to you
and me, that’s merely a base station that
transmits and receives broadband data).
Don’t be alarmed. It’s not rocket science.
It’s just confusing.
A broadband system will require
unique equipment that can use it. The
decided-upon format for what will be
deployed on the D Block is LTE (long
term evolution). LTE was designed by
the 3GPP (oh no!), the “3rd Generation
Project Partnership,” as its standard for
moving toward globally deployed universal IP (Internet Protocol) wireless
transport. LTE is promoted as a 4G (4th
generation wireless) technology, but to
some technical purists, it’s a 3.9G technology that approaches, but is not yet
4G. You can get into a lengthy argument in some circles over the subtle
differences that would push LTE over
the summit to 4G, but there’s much
available from a host of sources that
will dissect the differences over many
chapters in other publications.
Another difference is that a broadband network will look like a cellular
system. Where a land mobile system
has fewer antennas on a centrally
located and generally higher tower, a
cellular system has lots of antennas at
lots of sites, all pretty much low to the
Antennas are the key, because LTE
will use MIMO technology. MIMO
means multi-input, multi-output. A
number of antennas transmit different
data streams on the same frequency.
You might think this causes interference—and it would—except that the
receiver has a number of antennas and
signal processing that figures out which
stream is which, effectively multiplying
the bandwidth. You already do this if
your computer and wireless router are
running IEEE’s 802.11(n) standard.
A recent white paper by the Rearden
Companies (www.rearden.com/DIDO/
details how DIDO, not the singer but
distributed-input, distributed-output
systems, can use 100% of bandwidth
everywhere by means of inserting a
data center that serves as sort of a
high-speed traffic cop, controlling who
does what and when. Perhaps it works.
There has been much discussion in
industry forums, but essentially all
await a proof of concept.
What won’t it do?
By now, we know that if we can convert
it into bits, we can send it by Internet
protocol. The public safety broadband
system won’t care if we’re sending
IAFIS files, streaming video or voice
over a radio emulation application.
What it won’t do (yet, at least) is work
in a peer-to-multiple peer group outside of infrastructure. In other words,
the user is not able to switch to an offnetwork fireground or tactical “channel”
that’s not reliant on working through
the network, going from the device to
an eNodeB somewhere, going through
the cloud and coming out through possibly the same or different eNodeB.
That might be fine if you knew you
had solid coverage, but the radio of the
disoriented firefighter who is running
out of air in a dark, smoke-filled building won’t communicate directly to the
Rapid Intervention Team on the other
side of the wall as it probably should.
The firefighter hopes they’re in range
of the eNodeB—and that RIT is, too.
Now, you might think this could be
as simple as using the network for network-dependent communication and
programming some of the narrowband
700 MHz channels with either analog or P25 waveforms for direct simplex communication, but the proposed
chipsets won’t do it. A thought in the
broadband world is to use “Band Class
14” devices that exploit already made
microchips in the industry to keep unit
costs down and allow for roaming off
the public safety network onto commercial cellular systems if the public
safety network is somehow impaired.
We’ll see where that goes.
A public safety broadband system
would be infrastructure dependent.
We need sites, we need equipment,
and we need multiple power sources
that are resilient, resistant to failure
and redundant (“redundant” is a nasty
word to some in this age of fiscal austerity, but is non-negotiable for lifesafety applications). The system is also
heavily dependent on connectivity and
IP networking at higher levels. A backbone capable of carrying the broadband traffic must exist to efficiently
route messages from here to there.
IP backbones can be web-like meshes
and be self-healing, but a single point
of connectivity without diverse routing can put the closest eNodeB (or
an entire subsection of network) out
of service with just one farmer’s backhoe digging in the wrong place at the
wrong time. Redundant, diverse means
would be a non-negotiable necessity
if, someday, land mobile radio were to
go away and things depended solely on
broadband networks.
A system that is entirely infrastructure
dependent assumes all of the vulnerabilities of the aggregated system. In other
words, the system is only as good as its
weakest link, and if someone’s life is on
the line, one hopes all the planets line up
perfectly every single time.
The final situation for consideration
is not a technical matter, but a human
limitation and attention matter. Noted
psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman reasoned that the human
brain has finite resources for processing
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information. At the University of Utah,
David Strayer put much of this reasoning to the test in evaluating drivers who
talk on cellular phones or who text while
driving. You might think, “I can multitask,” but eventually, the demand for the
mind’s resources is so great that it places
other tasks behind the one it’s concentrating on. Broadband is being touted as
facilitating the opening of floodgates of
data and information for public safety.
Streaming video from not just one but
every police officer’s hat cam. Biometrics showing a firefighter’s respiratory
rate, oxygen saturation, cardiac rhythm
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and air tank levels. Real-time video from
EMS crews in the field, accompanied by
portable CAT scans and other prehospital data.
It was well over 10 years ago in a
Usenet forum discussing such technology where Maine trauma nurse Larry
Torrey grounded me in reality: Although
mechanism of injury can factor into such
criteria as transporting to a trauma center, a physician and other medical practitioners are trained to treat the patient
they have in front of them. Could all this
information create a situation where the
human mind—if we are to believe the
works of Kahneman and others—finite
in its processing abilities, zones in on the
most spectacular injury and takes attention away from the not immediately
obvious, but more life-threatening internal bleeding? Would massive amounts
of information from the field create an
environment my old-school firefighter
colleagues used to call “fighting the
fire from the switchboard,” impugning
on-scene decision-making? Would technology supplant training, allowing practitioners to be replaced by technicians?
As we’ve seen with the “inter­
operability” issue, amounts of technology
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and money can solve many problems—
to a point. Beyond that point, human
factors come into consideration. Perhaps the true question to be solved is not
how to implement a technical network—
with the right resources, anyone can do
that—but how to discipline ourselves
so that it may enhance the safety of our
responders and community and enhance
our ability to do our jobs. ,PSC,
Steven J. Makky Sr. is staff engineer for
APCO International’s spectrum management
services division, AFC. Contact him via e-mail at
[email protected]
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Save More Lives
d CDE Exam #30078: In the Know
LTE is an initialism for:
a. Let’s Talk in Ebbreviations.
b. Large Terrestrial Eviscerator.
c. Liquid Transported Externally.
d. Long-Term Evolution.
c. A fundamental right for public safety entities.
d. Plentiful and abundant.
2.Interoperability issues are simple problems that can
be solved by technology.
3.As time progresses, the need for bandwidth appears
c. Remain the same.
d. Vary with compression schemes.
6.A public safety communications system should have
a.Five or so miles on either side of the interstate where all
of the important calls happen.
b. Only in populated areas.
Across North America, so command can run the
incident while travelling.
d. Wherever the call is.
An LTE system would look a lot like:
a. A refrigerator.
b. Your agency’s land mobile radio system.
c. The top of NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain complex.
d. A cellular telephone system.
According to Kahneman and others, the human
brain’s attention capabilities are:
Limited, but capable of being varied or divided
depending on task complexity.
b.Limitless, with its full potential for situational awareness
c.Inconsequential, because decisions are made through
ministerial action.
d.Multiplied through hive mind processes achieved by
8. Voice traffic cannot be sent over a data network.
5. Radio spectrum is:
a.A natural resource, like a national park, and is made
available to all.
b.A commodity, like real estate, that has potential value.
10.LTE is ready to replace land mobile radio systems
right now.
9. MIMO is a:
Scheme to improve data throughput within a given
range of frequencies.
b. A cartoon fish.
c.An endearing term applied to overly strict supervisors.
d. Format used in analog trunked radio systems.
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