FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
The establishment of the Project 25 (P25) standard began a subtle shift within the public safety communications industry as a whole. It signals a move toward open, standards-based equipment and protocols that would allow for fully interoperable emergency communications.
This shift has been a long time coming. In fact, the initial recommendation covering the scope of proposed standards was formalized in 1989. The standard has evolved in this time, and it actually encompasses several standards. Together, these lay the groundwork for interoperable, digital radio communications between federal, state, municipal/local and tribal public safety users. Bottom line: The ultimate aim of P25 is to enable fully interoperable communications between first responders regardless of agency or equipment.
Over time, the growth in hardware and software offerings closely approximated the standard, all while allowing for variations among vendor offerings. Legacy installations, however, weren’t always upgradeable—either due to the cost of doing so, which often is prohibitive, or because they were left to fulfill their function until newer, more compliant systems were sourced, put out for bid and ultimately selected and deployed.
An unintended side-effect of this shift was a widening technology gap between what vendors had on offer and what public safety agencies could source. In some respects, the costs and complexities associated with newer technologies outstripped the ability of departments to stay up-to-date. From a technology and cost perspective, public safety agencies have been drawn into a situation of extending the life of legacy installations, combining those installations and associated hardware with newer, highly compliant standards-based deployments while still managing to plan for unpredictable future requirements.
Understandably, this was a near-impossible task. Add to the mix the uncertainty of equipment upgrades and, in some cases, licensing. The ability of public safety agencies to formulate and stick to budget was at times a tortuous exercise.
This year, Raytheon made two announcements directly related to the public safety communications sector that should alleviate some of these stresses.
The first was an announcement of a $1 million donation to establish the UCLA Center for Public Safety Network Systems. The stated aim is to bring together academia, industry and public safety agencies to provide technical leadership, collaborative research forums. The center’s stated mission is to benefit public safety agencies and guide the public safety community in the evolution of technologies and standards.
Although Raytheon is donating the funds, this is to be a purely run UCLA Center initiative. What’s truly admirable in the approach is that any public or private organization meeting the membership requirements established and maintained by UCLA is welcome to join the center. The concept of highly sophisticated—yet highly competitive—providers of interoperable hardware and software working together for the good of their client agencies is not only good for everyone, but also speaks to the highest ideals of the P25 standard itself.
The second announcement, made in March, was the selection of Downey, Calif., to base the company’s Public Safety Regional Training Center (RTC). The RTC will provide testing, research, training, maintenance and logistics support for the western U.S.
Further, it serves as a regional counterbalance to its Raleigh, N.C., base. The RTC’s aim is to further expand research uniquely tailored to public safety agencies. As a systems integrator, the Raytheon team plans to verify future technologies for integration into open architecture, standards-based systems that allow for backwards compatibility and the testing of proposed public safety technologies. Because the center was established with the view towards assisting public safety agencies in the furtherance of their goals, plans call for a consortium of communications experts across academia, industry and the public safety sector itself to participate in the process.
What both initiatives underscore is a growing trend towards cooperative exploration, formulation and ultimate definition of standards covering interoperable communications. This empowers public safety procurement agencies by providing standards-based alternatives—freeing them up from buying only from one brand or vendor. The move toward competitive pricing based on proven interoperability will spur innovation and engender that outcome we all seek: the ability to communicate in times of crisis.