Wireless Works for First Responders. (Tech Talk)

Article excerpt

Within hours after American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon on September 11, no less than 50 public safety agencies, from the City of Alexandria Fire Department to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, responded. All told, approximately 900 radio users on the scene needed to communicate. Despite a few glitches, there were relatively few problems in wireless interoperability, thanks to good planning and training, and the assistance of several commercial wireless services, according to a recent analysis from the Public Safety Wireless Network (PSWN).

In "Answering the Call: Communications Lessons Learned from the Pentagon Attack," the PSWN, a joint initiative of the Departments of Justice and Treasury, concludes that "[f]or the first time in the region, true interoperability was a reality for a great number of public safety agencies," despite the fact that many of the responders communicate on different frequency bands. Arlington County, where the Pentagon is located, operates a Motorola 800 MHz trunked radio system that allowed out-of-jurisdiction agencies to communicate on a shared frequency. Commercial wireless companies Nextel, Cingular, and Verizon deployed several COWs (cellular-on-wheels, or cellular base stations), personnel, and more than 1,000 cell phones.

The report credits the Washington, D.C., Council of Governments (COG) with addressing the communications shortcomings among first responders that were discovered in 1982, after an Air Florida plane crashed into a Washington, D. …