• United States



by Dave Gradijan

Dallas Area Launches Interoperable Emergency Network

Sep 18, 20063 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Emergency-response agencies in the Dallas area have launched a communications service designed to allow police and fire departments, U.S. law enforcement agencies and airport officials to talk to each other over their existing networks and equipment.

CoCo Communications, the vendor of the networking service, billed it as the nation’s first “fully interoperable” communications service for emergency-response agencies. Using software based on CoCo’s Cryptographic Overlay Mesh Protocol, the service allows emergency-response officials using a variety of communications devices, including police radios, PDAs and mobile phones, to share voice, video or data with each other, depending on the capabilities of each device.

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Republican from the Dallas area, hailed the service as a solution for one of the biggest problems facing U.S. emergency-response agencies. “For the first time emergency first responders, the men and women responsible for protecting our families, our community, and our critical infrastructure, have the ability to seamlessly communicate with each other, using the existing equipment and devices they have used for years,” Sessions said in a statement released Thursday.

Among the organizations participating in the new network, launched Thursday, are the Dallas police and fire departments, the U.S. Transportation and Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Southwest Airlines.

During the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, several emergency-response agencies found that they could not talk to other regional agencies. The independent 9/11 Commission recommended in August 2004 that the U.S. Congress allocate more radio spectrum for emergency-response agencies to share. There was a protracted fight in Congress over television stations vacating analog spectrum, and more spectrum won’t be available until after February 2009.

While more spectrum and new communication devices can help the interoperability problem in the long term, CoCo sees its software-based approach as a way to help emergency response agencies now, said Pete Erickson, its vice president of business development.

“Those [other options] are long-term and capital-intensive opportunities,” he said. “There’s been billions of dollars spent in trying to solve the problem.”

The Dallas group set up the CoCo service with a US$979,100 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The CoCo system is designed to use existing communication devices because government agencies often have limited funding, Erickson said. “One of the tough things in the public/government space is insertion of new technology,” he said.

During a demonstration earlier this week, CoCo officials used a Web-based interface to set up virtual conferences where multiple devices could connect and communicate with each other. They talked to each other on police radios using two different radio protocols, and they monitored a remote camera with a PDA. An emergency-response agency can use the CoCo system to set up new conferences on the fly, or it can dedicate one channel on its handheld radios to a permanent conference, Erickson said.

The Dallas group is the first to fully deploy the CoCo service, but the company is pitching it to other emergency-response groups, Erickson said. The cost of the service is $18,000 per year for 25 computer devices using the software. An unlimited number of radio devices can then connect to the service, Erickson said.

By Grant Gross, IDG News Service (Washington Bureau)

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