New Safecom requirements play up wireless

Wireless networks will take on a much more prominent role in the Homeland Security Department's updated requirements for interoperable communications for first responders.

The Safecom program, which is the departmental unit promoting improved radio communications for emergency response agencies, has released a 208-page "Statement of Requirements for Public Safety Wireless Communications & Interoperability" (Version 1.1) on its Web site.

The new requirements address all manner of wireless networks, from personal and temporary to huge, extended systems.

The previous version of the requirements, issued in March 2004, offered detailed scenarios for voice and data communications among fire, police, emergency medical and other crisis response agencies. The new report provides additional chapters on wireless public safety networks and their requirements, including personal, incident, jurisdiction and extended area networks.

The new sections describe a network design incorporating numerous wired and wireless components and the links among them. For example, a first responder's personal area network may include devices such as a heart-rate monitor and location sensors that can transmit information automatically to other network areas.

The primary public-safety communications network is called the jurisdiction area network, which connects to temporary incident-area networks and also to broader county, regional, state and national networks.

Each wireless network is defined further by classes of service to be offered. At the highest level, with preferential servicing, it must guarantee real-time, peer-to-peer, jitter-sensitive service to support mission-critical communications.

Lower levels of network services are classified by whether they include components such as instant messaging, database transfer, video teleconferencing and Web browser applications, but they may be low priority in a separate queue from the mission-critical communications.

Improving communications for first responders, especially by enabling different fire and police agencies to communicate by radio while responding jointly to an incident, has been a top priority for the agency since its inception. The inability of to communicate with police by radio during the evacuation of the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001, is believed to have contributed to many firefighter casualties.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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