A Boost for First Responder Communications

E-mail Melanie Martella

What covers almost 95% of the U.S. population, most of the U.S., and is always available, regardless of environment or catastrophe? Ideally, the answer should be an interoperable wireless communication network for first responders. Does such a beast exist? No. But if the National Wireless Initiative comes to fruition, it might.

In the wake of September 11, 2001, one of the hard-learned lessons was that the various organizations who respond to accidents and disasters need to be able to talk to each other and to coordinate their activity. In the ten years since, although things have improved, there's no broadband interoperable wireless network for public safety organizations. All kinds of amazing things have been done using low-power sensor networks, but getting some data just whets the appetite for more, and for people dealing with chaotic environments, more data isn't a luxury, it's a necessity; and that's where the need for broadband comes in.

That's also what the Wireless Innovation Fund seeks to address. One of the provisions in the American Jobs Act is the President's National Wireless Initiative, which would set up the Wireless Innovation Fund (WIN) to help develop cutting-edge technologies for public safety users. Under the program, NIST proposes to use $300 million on R&D for new standards, technologies, and applications to support public safety communications. To learn the barebones of the proposed program, take a look at the NIST press release on the project.

If you want to know the current state of the 700 MHz broadband public safety communication network currently under development at the U.S. Commerce Department's Public Safety Communications Research program, make sure to check out the PSCR Web site. There is, in fact, now a 700 MHz demonstration network so that interested participants can try out their technologies in a realistic way.

I tend to be optimistic anyway, but considering how much has improved in the field of wireless communications of all types—better radios, better and more resilient protocols, greatly increased reliability, improved signal processing, more bandwidth, and smarter software to name a few—I do feel that we've finally got at least the preliminary tools to start making this communication network happen.

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