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Emergency communications converge inside the SFU Mobile Comm Truck

SFU MobComm truck with VSAT, HF, and PSTN gateways parked outside the B.C. PREOC.

There are complexities in interconnecting agencies but more at the social layers than at the technology layers. The Simon Fraser University (SFU) Mobile Communications (MobComm) Truck was designed to patch a Regional Emergency Operations Centre (REOC), specifically the British Columbia Provincial REOC (termed as the PREOC) communicating through the Internet (TCP/IP) and public telephone lines (PSTN). The first-responder (e.g. forest firefighters) naturally communicate with Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radio sets.

During my April 2012 ISCRAM visit to Vancouver, our good friend, Prof. Peter Anderson arranged for me to tour the PREOC and the MobComm truck.

It’s not the truck or the fact that a vehicle full of communications equipment that is actually attractive, it is the ability for the MobComm truck to interconnect voice and data. Voice calls originating at the PREOC or images of maps can be directly fed to the the fire-fighters on to their UHF handsets or PDAs. The PREOC voice calls can be VoIP calls through an Internet SIP Phone or a GSM cellular telephone call but the fire-fighters interact through their UHF handsets. The interconnection happens through a single piece of computer hardware and a software to dynamically allocate channels and interconnect groups on the fly.

Recently, in his inaugural speech at the 3rd LIRNEasia DRR public lecture, had the Sri Lankan National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) Director General explain the communications infrastructure and the organizational capacity readily available to respond to any hazard event. It is mainly designed to handle rapid onset tsunamis but can be easily extended to all-hazards. The hazard information dissemination communications architecture consists of a multitude of of redundant technologies. Predominantly, a combination of Interactive Voice Response (IVR), GSM, Internet and HF radio based technologies.

The hardware that interconnects the various communications technologies

The NDMC could use the same interconnecting technology the SFU MobComm truck has to offer but minus the wheels and engine. Thereby, better integrate various technologies NDMC has. Converging the technology through the intercnnection portal, the NDMC could easily scale towards an all-hazards all-media apporach; whereby information is shared with public or closed user groups through any medium whether it be SMS, Twitter, HF, VoIP, etc; all of them can be managed through such a message brokering communications system.

The Telecom Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) had developed a partnership between the GSM service providers and TRCSL to build such a MobComm truck that is robust for the Sri Lanka. TRCSL invited the architect of the MobComm truck, Prof. Peter Anderson, to guide them through the process. However, that project seems to be at a standstill. Perhaps the NDMC should instigate TRCSL to resume the project.

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