Emergency Deployable Interoperable Communications Systems

By Whitehead, Christy | Law & Order, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Emergency Deployable Interoperable Communications Systems


Whitehead, Christy, Law & Order


Three minutes before the second plane hit the World Trade Center towers a Port Authority sergeant called for emergency personnel to evacuate. Many officers did not hear the command and lost their life when the tower came crumbling down. In a disaster situation police and fire agencies have to work together to bring a quick and safe resolution. But when agencies can't communicate and work together, the result is disaster and sometimes death.

In some situations, like after a terrorist attack or hurricane, communication may not be possible at all because of the lack of radio towers, or the inability of different radios to interact with each other. Being able to communicate with other agencies in an emergency situation can make rescue work more efficient and help save lives.

Northeast Florida recently decided to test its ability to coordinate and interact between local, state, regional, and federal agencies with a mock terrorist attack. The mock terrorist attack, held primarily in Jacksonville, brought together 60 response agencies in various areas of participation.

With that many agencies working together communicating with different types of radio systems seemed difficult, if not impossible. However, the state of Florida purchased nine Emergency Déployable Interoperable Communications Systems (EDICS), at a cost of $230,000 a piece. Florida bought the system to ensure that upon arrival on the scene of an incident, any agency will be able to communicate with any other agency regardless of radio type, frequency, or mode.

EDICS was designed in conjunction with the Florida Department of Emergency Management and manufactured for the state by Cell-Tel Government Systems. EDICS is flexible because it can connect a variety of wireless systems such as UHF, VHF, cellular, satellite as well as traditional phone lines within a 5-mile radius of the antenna position.

Equipment of this kind can do many things. Instead of replacing radio equipment that does not communicate with other police agencies equipment, EDICS could be used to make each radio type interact. This could ultimately save the department money. And even if surrounding counties did use the same radios, there is no guarantee that surrounding states would use the same radios as well. And in large disasters like a hurricane or tornado, out of state agencies may respond to help.

"Whatever radios they bring to the event, they can continue to use," Chuck Hagan, chief of logistics for the state's Division of Emergency Management, said. "You don't have to start handing out radios to everybody."

Another interesting feature is the ability to add cell phones as radios to the system. When EDICS is combined with Cell-Tel's MilWave System, it allows for a more advanced communications system; it works by allowing several cellular phones users to patch into the radio network. Cell-Tel said that the system can be expanded to allow for several hundred, and if required several thousand users in its fully configured design. With the MilWave System, cell phones that are dialed into the system would act like radios.

"Communications between different agencies and organizations is critical to saving lives when responding to a disaster," Florida Governor Jeb Bush said. "These units will ensure that the proper responders are sent where they are needed most. Since Sept. 11, we have been focused on ensuring that those on the front lines of disaster response have the tools to do their jobs and save lives."

Representatives from each of the 60 agencies were involved in the planning of the mock terrorist exercise, dubbed the Protect Freedom Exercise.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDEE) said that units who were responding to the mock terrorist attack were not given specific details of the incident; they were only told to show up. "You perform like you practice," Ken Tucker, FDLE Regional Director and co-chair of the Regional Domestic security Task Force said. …

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