Wouldn’t it be great to have a radio that supports all bands used by first responders in a given area?
The DHS is currently working toward that goal — lending a hand in developing what would become the first multi-band radio designed specifically for first responders. In order to complete its research, responders from various agencies across the U.S. are being involved in the process.
Last month, the department’s Science and Technology Directorate announced the selection of 14 agencies for the final phase of its multi-band radio project.
Each agency will take part in the pilot program for a minimum of 30 days beginning this fall.
"We have been going out to people who are on the front line and ask them what they need to make their jobs better and interoperable communications always comes up," DHS S&T spokesman John Verrico said.
"The problem is there are only so many frequency bands available. As the bands get full, we open new ones. We’ve got a bunch of different frequencies; some analog, some digital. The various agencies responding can’t necessarily speak each other."
In February at the International Wireless Communications Expo in Las Vegas, the project was announced, along with the unveiling of the radio that would be tested — the Liberty radio by the Clarksburg, Md.-based Thales Group.
DHS also awarded the company a grant to further develop the radio, which Thales spokeswoman Sheila Gindes said was previously entirely privately funded.
"We wanted this thing to be the same size and weight as the current radio," Verrico said. "We didn’t want it to cost more than what is out there currently on the high end. It also had to be able to communicate in multiple frequencies."
He said other companies that were developing multi band radios were considered, but that the Liberty was the closest to what it needed. The radio covers analog and digital signals and supports all bands used by public safety including 135-174 MHz, 380-520 MHz, 700 MHz and 800 MHz.
According to Gindes, the Liberty is the first multi-band radio covering the entire public safety sector to receive FCC approval.
The company is currently taking orders for the device, but production is being limited to only the pilot program. Commercial production is set to begin early next year.
Since the partnership was announced, the radio has been tested at several events including the Presidential Inauguration, Kentucky Derby and the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
Verrico said that while at the Super Bowl, he observed the need firsthand for a multi-band radio at large-scale events where various agencies are involved. He said he saw some responders carrying as many as eight radios at one time.
"Now we’re getting into focusing on less event-specific usage and more on everyday usage," he said. "There are various organizations at different altitudes and different climates so we will get a really good idea about how these things work when they are really put to use."
Verrico said that while a multi-band radios will improve emergency communications as a whole, the goal isn’t to completely overall the current system.
"I don’t see any way to replace the infrastructure already out there," he said.
He also noted that the radios wouldn’t be given to every first responder, but to only those in command.
"We’re very excited to get to this point. This is a game changer and will really make a difference for responders in the field."
The 14 lead organizations in the pilot are:
- 2010 Olympic Security Committee (Blaine, Wash., and Vancouver, B.C. Canada)
- Amtrak (Northeast Corridor)
- Boise Fire Department (Boise, Idaho)
- Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group (Ottawa, ON Canada)
- Customs and Border Patrol (Detroit)
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (Multiple Locations)
- Hawaii State Civil Defense (Honolulu)
- Interagency Communication Interoperability System (Los Angeles County, Calif.)
- Michigan Emergency Medical Services (Lower Peninsula Areas)
- Murray State University (Southwest Kentucky)
- Phoenix Police Department and Arizona Department of Emergency Management (Greater Phoenix and Yuma County)
- Texas National Guard (Austin, Texas)
- U.S. Marshals Service (Northeast Region)
- Washington Metro Area Transit Authority Transit Police (District of Columbia)