The lack of communications capability among First Responders has hampered many incidents over the years. Designed by the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre (CFAWC) Air Force Experiment Centre (AFEC), the Disaster Interoperability Response Experiment (DIRE) project was aimed at “advancing the integration of communication systems, open source tools, and the adoption of technical standards to achieve better coordinated response between emergency response organizations and the Canadian Military during disasters.” Coordinated by AFEC, DRDC (Defence Research & Development Canada), and DLCSPM (Director Land Command Systems Program Management), the technology for the command post was operated by both DLCSPM and co-op university engineering students seconded to DRDC.
The DIRE exercise simulated a major earthquake in the Ottawa area (a reasonable scenario given recent seismic activity in the area) that cut off all radio and cellular communications. A unified command post, using a small and large aerostat and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and whiteboards, provided wide area video coverage, rudimentary map overlays, asset positioning via GPS, and communications with field incident commanders.
The DIRE system was impressive from a technological point of view. Using a mobile deployable aerial platform, Senior officers from Ottawa’s Fire, Police and Paramedic Services communicated to field officers, relating situational information through real time voice, data, and video.
Over the past decade, much has been done to improve the technology of first responders in Canada. However, the DIRE program and other efforts to overcome interoperability problems among these groups could not have come about without important efforts in breaking down the culture of exclusivity that existed.
The technical impediments to interoperability pale in comparison to the longstanding desire to “protect” information rather than sharing with other groups. With the breakdown of such cultural barriers, the notion of fully interoperable communications systems for police, fire and EMS has truly caught on. CFAWC’s DIRE project initiative and through organizations like Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group (CITIG) has played a key role in that endeavour.
The eventual realization of real interoperability among first responders is apparent with DIRE and other technological successes. For example, CITIG held its third annual Vendor Outreach Forum in September, where technology suppliers brought forward solutions to first responders, and recommendations for interoperability was a key priority.
A key concern identified at this Forum was the need for a set of standards to guide the players in the field. Worldwide interoperable open communications standard was a key topic of discussion as a potential solution.
As the cultural barriers fall among emergency response groups, so too do the constitutional barriers of federal versus provincial versus municipal leadership (control).
Federal programs are emerging from both Public Safety Canada and DND (DRDC) that will benefit the responder when it counts: in battling a disaster.
As the DIRE program proceeds into the future, it is important that they continue to cooperate with the end users and cross the cultural divide time and again. This will accord with their well founded mission to ensure that shortfalls in capability are properly identified and that potential solutions address responders’ overall strategic needs.
Edward R. Myers, Editor.
© FrontLine Security 2010