Linking up first responders

An industry group is trying to drive interoperability between civilian first responder agencies and the military services, suggesting they use vehicle tracking and credit card technology as models.

At a briefing April 22, the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC) presented those technologies as part of the organization’s promotion of the concept of “Everything over Internet Protocol,” or EOIP — a communications architecture that’s finding a home in Defense Department systems, as well.

NCOIC is a nonprofit corporation that represents the military, defense industries, civilian and nongovernmental organizations. The organization’s spokespersons see its EOIP initiative as crucial, because few of the nation’s 100,000 first responder organizations are real-time linked and technical and network upgrades and training are costly.

Terry Morgan, director of network-centric operations for Cisco Systems’ Global Government Solutions Group and NCOIC’s vice chairman, said he was not seeking to make the entire country netcentric.

“EOIP can transmit voice, video, data and text to devices and software applications they own and operate now,” he said. “In [our] network-centric approach, responder systems can find out who has the vital information and who is allowed to send or receive it. We’re not talking about building a new network or asking responders to abandon their radios.” Analog-to-digital signal converters can enable many changes, he added.

Morgan also called for creation of a nationwide, map-defined electronic registry that would comprise all emergency response organizations and a system to confirm response organizations’ identities and authorization to “send and receive various kinds of information.”

Another NCOIC vice chairman, David Aylward — also director of the COMCARE Emergency Response Alliance, a nonprofit first responders’ advocacy group — said IP-based templates exist in corporate America and should be replicated by emergency responders. He pointed to bank ATM cards. With them, “there’s ... instantaneous data interoperability across systems that are owned by banks that hate each other, that compete every day. And yet data moves.” Cardholders, he added, can withdraw funds anywhere. Aylward explained, “That’s because we transformed our commercial economy into a strong information-based, supplychain based, standards-based, Internet Protocol-based system.”

He said the U.S. military successfully employed such models (for example, the IP router-enabled SIPRNET and NIPRNET),“and emergency response needs to copy it as well.” But a “huge problem,” he added, is that although the military “has a need to interact with [civilian] agencies…the agencies can’t talk to themselves.”

Aylward also cited OnStar, an automobile tracking system, and electronic data-retrieval systems that swiftly advise which medications people need after an accident. Remarkably, however, Aylward said, “Not one 911 center in the United States that can receive that data today.” Optimally, “all those entities would be connected through IP so…we could share that data,” Aylward said.

Instead, “sharing emergency information takes a series of phone calls, a lot of duplication and precious time that responders can’t afford to lose,” he said.

“Without an organizational registry and [the management of users’] rights, what we call ‘core services,’ emergency communications in the future would be like using a telephone system without a phone book and having all responders on one big conference call,” Aylward said.

He stressed that first responders include military service members, fire and rescue services, and police, along with employees of hospitals, schools, transportation departments, public health centers, shelters and the Red Cross.

“Every single one of them needs to be connected to the emergency response inter-network.”

Morgan and Aylward called for a joint military/civil approach, because although crisis mitigation has long been led by the civilian sector, the military increasingly shared overlapping missions — especially in the logistics area.

However, the first step was to get agencies to “think net-centric,” Aylward said.

Morgan was asked about other impediments to interoperability such as institutional inertia, turf wars and professional jealousy. He acknowledged the problems, but said, “If we can solve the technical issue then we’ve eliminated the first excuse” for not being interoperable. “It can be done.”

EOIP, the organization said, is “a near-term solution to problems that challenge all categories of emergency responders — including the U.S. military when its support is required — in disasters or in day-to-day response.”

About the Author

David Walsh is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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