Nortech Radio Comms » March 2016

Monthly Archives: March 2016

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How 2 Way Radios Helped A Group Of Festival Volunteers Against Natures Fury

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Entrusting security of a large bluegrass music festival to volunteers is an act of faith; handing us 2 way radio equipment gave us the power and connection to do the job right. For the price of a few day shifts and at least one overnight watch until sunrise, we security volunteers got to enjoy some of the finest concerts and classes in a beautiful mountain setting. When disaster struck — twice — we didn’t need extensive training to be effective, just a fully charged battery.

First Challenge: Nice Guys Slide Off Dirt Roads

The first disaster was minor but challenging. A courteous pickup truck driver had moved over for oncoming traffic on a hillside dirt access road and slid off the edge just enough to get stuck. Calling for a tow was a perfect use of our radios that otherwise would have required sending a runner back down to the main tent. As the tow truck positioned itself to lift the truck back onto the road, we found a second radio use: solving problems by committee remotely!

Since no one outranked another, we wound up addressing the problem from several angles: “the road is blocked,” said one, “halt the cars coming up.” “I don’t have authority to control traffic,” said another. “There’s no turning around, so they’ll all be stuck if you don’t,” said the first. In the end, with quick radio communication instead of breathless runners doing a relay, a dead-end country traffic jam was avoided and the truck was rescued.

Second Challenge: Set Them Up and Blow Them Down

As if that wasn’t excitement enough, on another festival day a mountain thunderstorm descended with hurricane-force winds. By the time the blow was over, camping and performance tents were scattered and destroyed, the entire area was drenched, and nearly every portable restroom was knocked over. The practical people running the event organized crews, called the restroom vendor, and went about setting everything right.

The festival proceeded with minimal interruption from the storm: the radios not only made recovery possible, but made getting back on track effective and timely. It’s a good thing we had plenty of radios and volunteers to coordinate the activities. We got updated information to performers and attendees, and responded to issues requiring executive decisions or medical assistance as quickly as possible.

In addition to keeping the festival going, ensuring everyone’s health and safety, and streamlining decision processes, using radio gave the festival a professional appearance with a large contingent of lightly trained volunteers. Event attendees could enjoy their week of mountain music and head home feeling that the organizers had great acts on stage and a team they could trust behind the scenes. Our teamwork contributed to a solid event reputation and growing attendance numbers year to year.

In a remote area where cell phone users had to find a good spot to get a connection, 2 way radios were the perfect solution for making festival volunteers efficient and effective. Bad luck and bad weather was no match for a dedicated crew that could work together over the airwaves. For the lonely overnight watchman role, the radio was a reassurance that he wasn’t alone watching over the festival fans under the starry mountain sky.

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Faulty communications along U.S.-Mexico border are America’s blind spot

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We all know that mission critical communications are vital 24 hours a day and as this article shows that even a tiny lapse in communications can lead to chaos. Even the U.S government can’t keep their radio communications up-to-date on one of the most watched borders in the world, as we can see from the article below.

Put yourself in the shoes of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. You are patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, driving through desolate terrain, and in the distance, you spot movement. You head toward a deep ravine and step out of your vehicle when a shot rings out and you hear the zip of a bullet speeding past your head. With training and instinct, you dive for cover and draw your weapon, reaching for your handheld radio.

And the radio doesn’t work.

There’s no one to call, because you are in one of the many areas of the southern U.S. border that has no radio coverage. Out there in the ravine is a drug cartel “rip crew,” heavily armed and firing on your position, bullets punching into your vehicle until smoke is rising from the hood. If they come closer, you are outnumbered. If they flee, your vehicle is disabled, and they will disappear into the vast emptiness along the southern border, where they will likely fire on one of your fellow agents, should they encounter them.

That is the state of communications along many of the areas on the U.S.-Mexico border. When the U.S. Border Patrol needs it the most, they cannot communicate with anyone. With rising threats and political propositions, U.S. border security has again risen to the top of the public consciousness. There are calls for more border patrol officers and stronger fencing, for aerial and ground based vehicles and other technology. But the lifeblood of the border security apparatus is communication, and in some areas, communication is not possible.

“If there is one thing in securing America’s borders that hasn’t changed since September 11, 2001, it’s the inability to resolve the communications lapses and gaps along the border,” said Ron Colburn, the former National Deputy Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol. “Here we are almost 15 years into this, and we still have not addressed this problem.”

One reason 343 New York City firefighters died when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed was that their radios could not communicate with the emergency responders outside the buildings, who were warning the structures were about to come down. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission cited the need to create interoperable tools that allow first responders and law enforcement to communicate in the most unforgiving of environments.

And there are few environments less forgiving than the nearly 2000-miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Recognizing this, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a massive project to improve the communications capacity of officers along the U.S. border. It failed. In March last year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that $945 million in taxpayer funding used to build radio towers and upgrade radio equipment has yielded little benefit and in some cases does not work as well as what Border Patrol agents were using before. The effort cost too much and was taking too long.

Colburn said that the state of communications today means U.S. Border Patrol cannot call for support in some areas. They cannot feed information from the field into the intelligence food chain, and they cannot receive images from manned or unmanned vehicles to know whether they are walking into an ambush or encountering a group of friendly forces.

Likewise, Border Patrol agents cannot communicate easily with other law enforcement agencies (like a local Sheriff’s office), nor can those law enforcement agencies run on-site biometric checks (e.g., fingerprints) of individuals they suspect may have recently crossed into the United States illegally.

“I see it in the eyes and hear it in the voices of the men and women of the Border Patrol,” said Colburn. “They understand the mission and they want to accomplish it, but they feel like they have been abandoned.”

Answering the Unanswered Question

Most Americans own a smartphone, which is a powerful piece of technology. Experts say it’s hard to understand how, in this age of technological innovation and advancement, the United States is not arming its frontline officers with the very basic capacity to talk to one another.

Part of the challenge is that we have not brought new solutions to this long-standing problem.

To advance the effort, the Border Commerce and Security Council (of which I am Chairman and CEO) helped bring multiple stakeholders to the table in December last year in Cochise County, Arizona, to see if an innovative application of several integrated technologies could solve these communications challenges. It was a Proof of Concept test that included the U.S. Border Patrol, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and a group of businesses with tools that can address a range of communications and intelligence challenges. What was tested is called the Field Information Support Tool (FIST).

FIST started in 2006 as basic research at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). NPS Information Sciences Research Associate James Ehlert said in 2010 that the goal was to create “an easy-to-use, inexpensive hand-held solution to achieving communications interoperability and a common physical and human terrain operating picture for both on-the-ground field collectors and tactical decision makers.”

The research question was, how can we use modern technology to allow officers in the field to talk to one another and to their superiors while also collecting and then acting on real-time intelligence?

“The intelligence aspect is that the local and federal law enforcement officers need to look at things from a risk-management perspective,” said Brian Conroy, Business Strategy and Strategic Development Manager at NOVA Corporation, which works with Kestrel Technology Group, the company that has produced the FIST system. “They need to find the high-risk areas [along the border], and if you have a tool that collects data and runs algorithms against it, you can conduct risk assessment and trend analyses. Human intelligence contributes to a holistic common operating picture.”

This is what the FIST system achieves, and it’s what was seen during the proof of concept test. In general terms, FIST uses off-the-shelf communications tools (like an Android device) to gather intelligence from officers on the front lines. With these tools, officers feed information into a larger database compiled from a variety of sources (including other officers) that informs strategic and tactical decision making. This is then passed back to the people working along the border.

The need for this kind of tool is obvious, but it has only been recently that the right technologies and software were put together in a way that makes it possible.

Moving to the Market

Over the last year, there has been a push to transition FIST into the marketplace. Research transition is tough, as DHS has found in many cases over the years. Unlike other agencies and components, such as the military branches, the homeland security and law enforcement marketplace is heavily fragmented and with limited resources. It makes it difficult to take good, workable ideas from prototype to production. As big of a challenge as creating an innovative piece of technology is finding a way to produce it in line with operational and funding realities. A local Sheriff’s office, for example, does not have an endless amount of funding and time to bring in expensive technologies and then train deputies to use them. For that matter, neither does the U.S. Border Patrol.

What’s needed is a simpler, cheaper solution, and based on the proof of concept testing, FIST appears to be that solution.

“It’s ideal for smaller law enforcement agencies because it can unify operations and reporting and scale capability, creating a force multiplier,” said Ivan Cardenas, technical director of the Kestrel Technology Group, which is helping to bring FIST to market. “It is a sophisticated system, but it is easier to use than the complexity suggests.”

There are a few moving parts here. There are applications that allow off-the-shelf technologies to record and report intelligence, such as the location of a breach in the border fence or evidence of people moving through the rugged terrain. There are existing law enforcement and Border Patrol network capabilities (or cloud-based tools) that store that information. The secret sauce, however, is the complex digital architecture that allows real-time control and fusion of multiple information sources in a way that supports the mission. This is the one thing that has been missing from the border communications and intelligence efforts, and it’s why DHS has struggled to address the challenges to this point. The innovation is in the complexity, and FIST makes it simple.

Of course, that complex innovation is for naught if the agents in the field cannot transmit and receive intelligence. Enter SiRRAN Communications, another stakeholder at the proof of concept test in Arizona.

“We often forget that without network access, we’re blind,” said SiRRAN’s Director of Sales Mark Briggs. “Our technology brings that cell network to anywhere that it is needed.”

Briggs describes this technology as a portable, battery powered cell network—a network in a box. It creates a local, closed network that any agent within range can access to communicate and record intelligence. The unit provides local communication in areas where there is no coverage, and if there is no way to access the communications grid, it captures intelligence and transmits it to the larger repository as soon as it finds a signal.

The lesson here is not just that FIST is a workable system to satisfy the mission needs of America’s border security and law enforcement professionals. It’s also that the answer to the communications challenges along the border will not come in the form of $1 billion worth of cell towers built under DHS management. If it were, we would have solved this problem by now. The fact that we have not reveals that the ultimate solution is necessarily complex and multifaceted while also being easy to use and in-line with realistic operating budgets.

Perhaps the most important lesson, however, is that there are real tools that our Border Patrol and law enforcement officers could be using. Right now there are thousands of men and women on the border, and until we give them the tools they need to do their job, it will make border security and the safety of our frontline heroes difficult to sustain.

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Who Made the 1st Two Way Radio: 1907- the 2000s: The Journey of the 2 Way Way Radio

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The first two way radio made its way into the Western market in 1923. Despite its late appearance, the device was primarily conceptualized in 1907 as part of a military communication program. There has been some controversy regarding who first made the two way radio. However, most people seem to attribute this invention to Frederick William Downie, Senior Constable of the Victorian Police in Australia. In this article, we take a look at the path that this radio has traversed through the ages- from 1907 to the 21st century.

Origin of the 2 Way Radio

In the 1900s of Australia, the 2 way radio was installed in police cars and used as means of communication for the purposes of surveillance, checking locations and keeping team mates posted on updates. This was a breakthrough invention for the police as it caused an instant increase in the overall efficiency of working. From instant reports to integrated surveillance systems, the two way radio was pivotal in improving the effectiveness of the Australian police force. Suddenly, people discovered the ease with which the law of the land could be enforced and security could be maintained. This was the one method by means whereof many lives were saved and the state became one of the safest places in the world. Needless to say, the overwhelming response that the two way radio received propelled it to fame and it then became one of the most popular methods of law enforcement in the world.

The popularity of the 2 way radio rose steadily over the years. From police cars, the device’s many uses branched out and it became a part of navy ships and even military operations. Since many mariners and platoon commanders faced problems of communication, the convenience of the two-way radio was highly appealing to all. Transmissions of messages became convenient and there was a certain smoothness that the radio communication afforded to the operations.

The Creation of the Modern Day 2- Way Radio

The global status that the 2 way radio enjoyed is also one of the biggest reasons for its adaptation into various communicative derivatives including the modern day walkie talkie and even the modern cellular phone. Before it achieved this global, improved status; however; the two way radio was one of the most rudimentary objects that could be used in police surveillance. The first radio was so heavy and cumbersome that it used to take up the entire backseat of the police car. While it might have had many benefits, the sheer size and volume of the object made it difficult to catch and apprehend criminals at the earliest. With technological improvements and the right incentive, the two way radio has improved leaps and bounds. What once used to occupy almost half the car space can now be fitted into a pocket with ease, while fulfilling the same purpose as its predecessor.

Uses and Benefits of the Modern Radio

From the 1900s to the 21st century, the two way radio has made immense progress. What earlier was used exclusively by the police had now become an instrument in the civilian space. From law enforcers to children, almost everyone could purchase walkie talkies and use it. This was the first time that the world saw the walkie talkie as an instrument of recreation. These days, walkie talkies are used as much by kids for their games as they are used by professionals in emergency situations. From medical EMTs to firefighters, walkie talkies have become a regular in the city’s working scenario.

One of the biggest uses of walkie talkies these days are in firefighting operations. Coordinating external help and amassing the required support for the rescue operation are common functions that are carried out over the two way radio system that was once pioneered by Downie. Over and above its use in emergency situation, the two way radio is also used for the basic purposes of communication and organization in construction sites, among municipal workers and in many facets of working companies.

Concluding Thoughts

When one considers the many benefits that the 2 way radio has brought to the world population, one cannot help but pay homage to the genius of Frederick Downie. While the remarkable transformation through the ages is something that we must all bear in mind, it is undeniable that the blueprint was an instance of pure creative and imaginative genius. There are multiple uses of the walkie talkie in the modern world today. From communication in emergency situations to its importance for recreation, the modern two way radio is arguably one of the most important facets of communicative technology. All in all, the genesis and development of the two way radio is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding creations of the previous century.