Interoperable applications for a national wireless network: A case study of mobile video applications

Does a requirement for public safety video interoperability exist? According to first responders, the answer is 'yes.'


     Under an experimental license in the 700-MHz band from the FCC (call sign WD2XHO), the District of Columbia deployed and operated WARN for two years as a pilot, the first public safety dedicated wireless broadband network. In its experimental license filing reports titled "Progress Report on the Construction and Operation of the Experimental Wireless Accelerated Responders' Network," sharing video streams for situation awareness is clearly identified as a key requirement by the users. During the Fourth of July events in both 2006 and 2007, real-time video streams from the DC-Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency, the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services, the U.S. Park Police command buses and the U.S. Park Police helicopter were shared among those agencies, and within the multi-agency communications center deployed for the occasion. Sharing this information was instrumental in controlling the temporary evacuation of the mall due to potentially violent weather conditions during the 2007 event.

     In this specific case, interoperability was achieved by deploying a common application across the participating agencies. It is easily conceivable that a Katrina or a 9/11 type of scenario, where first responders are likely to come from the four corners of the country, would require a more flexible and spontaneous solution in order to enable true video interoperability among accredited first responders.

     However, duplicating this exact model at a national level is not reasonable. Requesting all public safety agencies across the country to deploy a unique in-car mobile video technical solution provided by a unique vendor is neither realistic nor desirable.

     The implementation of technology standards in the wireless public safety communications world will eventually facilitate voice interoperability between agencies. It seems the development of public safety mobile application standards would solve the specific video sharing problems.

     The International Association of Chiefs of Police has dedicated a tremendous effort in developing a digital video system minimum performance specifications document, "In-Car Video Camera Systems Performance Specifications: Digital Video Systems Module." Standardizing such a solution, including its ancillary modules interfaces and data formats, would present multiple advantages besides enabling fully functional video interoperability among agencies. Specifically, it will provide law enforcement agencies with the ability to procure the various pieces of their mobile video solutions from different vendors, therefore providing the flexibility to enable that solution to evolve along with the development of specific requirements, or the availability in the marketplace of more effective and less costly components. As it stands true, open standards will spur competition and eventually drive costs down to the benefit of the end-users: the first responders.

     Better and affordable tools for our public safety, isn't this what we all want?

     Guy Jouannelle is a partner with Televate LLC, a Virginia-based consultancy that specializes in comprehensive system engineering and program management, interoperable LMR systems, high-speed wireless data networks, both mobile and fixed data application deployments and 800-MHz rebanding management. Jouannelle has been managing the deployment, operations and integration of applications, including mobile video, for the District of Columbia's private wireless broadband network. He can be reached at gjouannelle@televate.com.

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