Advanced Incident Communications Laboratory
Domestic public safety agencies in the U.S. and abroad are increasingly reliant on wireless networking technologies in the field and are deploying both commercial (e.g., LTE) and consumer (e.g., WiFi) systems. The multi-agency and –jurisdictional nature of major emergencies and disasters often leads to the convergence of an unplanned assortment of wireless devices and systems at unforeseen field locations such as incident command posts and disaster areas.
This poses a new challenge for public safety communication managers: to achieve spectrum sharing and interoperability at levels typically associated with large commercial enterprises and the military, but without extensive pre-planning or centralized control, and in an environment subject to minute-to-minute changes.
Public safety’s existing methods for field communication management evolved in an era of analog land mobile radios, but those are being replaced rapidly with advanced multiplexed digital systems for voice, data and video. The standard “ICS-205” format for incident communication planning has not changed substantially since the 1980s and makes no provision for such systems (see workplan item below). Today’s Communication Unit Leaders are not being trained or equipped to deal with the complexity of 21st century tactical wireless communications.
We have established a laboratory and ongoing program of applied research and end-user education in Advanced Incident Communications. The AIC Laboratory will explore the changing landscape of multi-agency emergency communications and produce white papers, handbooks, test data, concepts and prototypes of practical value to communications managers in law, fire and emergency management. The education ptogram will result in courses, a certificate, and possible a track in our MS program in Modern Emergency Communications Technology and Methods, and the Design, Construction and Operation of a Mobile EOC.
The primary workspace for tests and evaluation in the AIC Lab will be CMU-SV’s existing Next Generation Emergency Operations Center testbed, the DMI Smartspaces Laboratory with hyperwall-based Common Operating Picture, and the new RF test lab.
The NG-EOC consists of:
- A dedicated 560 square foot operations center constructed in a linked pair of NASA instrumentation trailers, operating on solar power and providing team workstations with wired and wireless networking, telephones, and computer displays and a briefing/evaluation space with a large “hyperwall” visual display system; and,
- A surrounding 18000 square foot paved area that hosts a mobile satellite earth station operated by the California Emergency Management Agency and serves as a simulated field incident command post for the annual Mobile Communication Center workshop.
The NG-EOC is already operational in support of NASA missions in the Wildfire Research and Applications Partnership and as a regional alternate EOC for nearby cities as part of the North County Emergency Management Consortium. As part of the AIC Lab development this entire workspace space will be instrumented for realtime monitoring of VHF and UHF spectrum occupancy with special emphasis on the 2.4, 4.9 and 5 GHz subbands.
Additionally the AIC Lab will have access to CMU-SV’s adjacent RF Lab, its mechanics/robotics workshop and the network and computing facilities of the campus including the Internet2 networking testbed and ongoing faculty work on optimized antenna design, network and browser security, anti-jamming, secure identity, data visualization and other topics.
The AIC Lab Work Program
The signature of the AIC Lab will be a pragmatic focus on the needs of responders in the field. Its research activities will include:
- Monitoring of technical trends and advances in mobile wireless technology through literature review, consultation with CMU faculty and direct contact with industry;
- Continual assessment of trends in the adoption and deployment of wireless telecommunications technology in public safety and emergency response agencies and business continuity offices through literature review, personal contacts, attendance at conferences and workshops, and support of the DMI annual workshop;
- Quick-response studies of wireless communications issues identified during actual emergencies and disasters worldwide by monitoring professional networks such as the California Fire Chiefs Association, the International Association of Emergency Managers, and the Department of Homeland Security First Responder Communities of Practice;
- Lab and field evaluations of equipment, software and procedures for the management and coordination of advanced wireless systems; and,
- Conducting workshops and colloquia to share findings and elicit user requirements and insights from public safety and emergency management professionals.
Work products will include:
- Field guides and reference documents for responders suitable for publication by Lab sponsors and/or public safety organizations;
- Online and video materials and “courseware” for inclusion in training programs and workshops for responders and field communication managers;
- Technical reports and academic papers suitable for submission to regulatory bodies and scholarly conferences;
- Support and presentations to workshops and conferences including the annual DMI Workshop / Mobile Communications Center exercise;
- Identification and characterization of functional requirements and gap analyses; and,
- Concepts, designs, prototypes and evaluation reports of new tools and techniques to address gaps and challenges in spectrum utilization, interoperability, security and other aspects of wireless networking for incident and crisis management.
Examples of some potential near-term projects we are considering include:
- Digital T-Card: Design, prototyping and evaluation of a wireless transponder implementation of the NIMS standard asset (including personnel) data profile, with provision for real-time updating of volatile parameters (water on board, fuel, fatigue metrics, etc.) Can be used to automate resources staging area management, staff location in a building or a collection of mobile command vehicles. Can also be monitored in the field using drive-by (or even UAV fly-over) polling.
- Field Wireless Spectrum Management: Development, field evaluation and refinement of a user-friendly suite of hardware, software, procedures and training materials to enable a Comm Unit Leader or other logistics staff in the field to assess, map and optimize the interactions of multiple wireless data systems at an incident command post or other event location.
- Updating the ICS-205: The existing Incident Radio Communications Plan format used in the Incident Command System models the communications within an incident as a collection of voice radio channels with interoperability and routing bound directly to spectrum assignments. Modern communications, on the other hand, strive to maximize spectrum utilization by sharing wireless channels among a variety users and applications that are differentiated by network protocol addresses and/or cryptographic schemes. At the same time, spectrum allocations are ever more granular (“cellular”) and may vary enormously across the area covered by an Incident Action Plan. A comprehensive tool is needed to document the multidimensional design of incident wireless communications, and to enable rapid discovery and directory services within networks that may change considerably in the course of an incident planning cycle.
- Community Disaster Network Testbed: In association with the City of Palo Alto and other DMI partners, prototype and refine a Community Disaster Network based on sustainable wireless networking and “whole community” best practices, and evaluate and refine smart phone and mobile apps for damage assessment, shared situational awareness and resource management for a joint community of professional responders, non-governmental organizations and both trained and emergent volunteers.
When feasible, we will identify, evaluate and possibly adapt existing commercial technology for robust, adoptable solutions. Other projects will be developed in consultation with sponsors and response community stakeholders.