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Working Wirelessly and Wisely

A man suffers chest pains after a game of tennis, and his relatives call 9-1-1. The dispatch center notifies an ambulance and digitally sends to it the patient's name and address, which are displayed on a monitor in the ambulance along with a map to the house and an on-board signaling system that adjusts the traffic-light sequence to enable the ambulance to arrive faster. That system also automatically interrogates local transportation systems to make sure there are no road closures or slow traffic conditions on the way.

At the scene an attendant scans the patient's medic alert bracelet that indicates a penicillin allergy. As the ambulance heads to the hospital, a wireless electrocardiogram unit transfers digital information to the hospital while doctors use the ambulance database to download the patient's information and vital statistics.

This scenario is presented in a new Statement of Requirements (SoR) issued by the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate that focuses on the communication needs--in particular, wireless interoperability--of first responders. The SoR, developed under the SAFECOM program that oversees public safety communications and interoperability projects, doesn't look at specific technical details such as spectrum allocation, but rather focuses "on public safety requirements from a broader perspective."

The document defines public safety requirements and roles and then defines the various types of communications services, from voice to data. It then lays out a number of communications scenarios, such as the one mentioned, to give an idea of the challenges faced in improving the ability of public safety personnel to communicate among themselves and with other agencies and organizations with whom they work, as well as with the public. The paper then identifies wireless communications operational needs and gives definitions of wireless communications functional requirements. A glossary and a list of system capabilities can be found in appendices.

Meanwhile, a collaborative effort by the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Homeland Security is moving forward with a plan to replace their legacy communication components with an Integrated Wireless Network (IWN), an infrastructure that would allow the agencies' combined 80,000 law enforcement agents to communicate effectively in day-to-day work, in task forces, and for securing special events.

The IWN system is being designed to overcome a host of problems that have affected legacy systems, such as antiquated technology and channel crowding. The new design, based on a very high frequency trunked system that uses a packet-switched Internet protocol backbone, will ensure the security of communications by using the Advanced Encryption Standard to encrypt conversations.

This spring the Department of Justice awarded a contract to Oakton, Virginia-based Acquisition Solutions, Inc., to create an acquisition strategy for IWN. Requirements for the system are expected to be released this month.

@ Read the SAFECOM program's full SoR, and download a presentation on IWN.