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Thread: Planning, the wireless infrastructure and emergency response

  1. #1
    Cyburbian AnvilPartners's avatar
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    Planning, the wireless infrastructure and emergency response

    Has anyone heard how or if the Wireless Communications Infrastructure industry and the state offices of emergency services are going to start talking with each other? After the hurricanes this year, and the dropouts in wireless communications services, I'd think this would be a hot topic -- since most response efforts were severely hampered by lack of communications, and most victims didn't have the information they needed to get through the event or move to the appropriate evacuation areas quickly.

    There could be some coordination with emergency services, that would help industry 'harden' some cell sites to ensure they continue operation throughout a disaster or event. Which sites should be hardened? Are there operational improvements that could extend a site's operation after the incident -- so communications are sustained throughout the initial days of recovery? What types of incentives could be created to encourage the additional expenses to harden the sites?

    Would it be helpful for the state offices to know where other standing towers are -- in case they need to expand thier coverages in the future? What about emergency response and the placement of additional equipment -- could mutual aid agreements be crafted to allow emergency response agencies to temporarily install repeater or radio equipment on private towers to facilitate better communications through the response?

    I'd like to find out if this is being discussed anywhere, and participate in that discussion if possible -- anyone have a lead? I've checked with a few state offices of emergency services, and found nothing -- apparently thier emergency planning functions don't include this kind of integration/coordination.

    RES

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Such systems are in place in our area. However, without power, they don't do much good.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian AnvilPartners's avatar
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    The sites can operate for days without power if they are appropriately designed with backup power generation (generators or fuel cells). It's also highly unlikely that any sites in your area have been 'hardened' so they will continue operation after a disaster.

    The point is, we should look at wireless communications just like any other valuable infrastructure, and plan for it's use and retention throughout emergencies...AND, unlike some other infrastructures, it is super critical since no organized response is possible without it...

    RES
    "Sometimes you have to get medieval with it...hammer, sparks, sweat, the whole nine yards...so don't forget your asbestos suit."
    Aphorisms on Public Hearings, Planning Guild Handbook (2001).

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    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    There are two separate things that a communication node must be supplied with:

    (1) electricity
    (2) communication link to the larger whole

    Number 1 is achieved thru expensive UPS and diesel generator systems (generator systems that are still, to this day, finicky with autostarting), but number 2 is the trickiest of all. Satellite links are expensive and of relatively limited bandwidth, and can be disrupted by severe weather of exactly the sort that will be around when the service is most needed (ie hurricane et al). Wired links are vulnerable to the same forces that the light standards and electrical poles are vulnerable to, and other wireless connectivity relies on nodes down the line being able to continue the chain.

    So it's not actually so simple a problem.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by resmith
    The sites can operate for days without power if they are appropriately designed with backup power generation (generators or fuel cells). It's also highly unlikely that any sites in your area have been 'hardened' so they will continue operation after a disaster.
    Last I saw the news, its been 3 MONTHS since the N.O. disaster, and large parts of the area still have no power. Consistent reliability is the key to effective emergency communications. I'm not sure cells are the answer. COWS may help, but my point is, the information age pretty much sucks when the power goes out.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Yep, 3 months later and there are still parts of the city without power, yet, the mayor has managed to establish wireless internet for the residents.

    http://www.nola.com/search/index.ssf...87360.xml?nola
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

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    Cyburbian AnvilPartners's avatar
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    We're finding some solutions that may actually make this workable.

    A company called Fiber Tower supplies microwave backhaul to sites and systems, so when the land lines to the telecom switch go down, the site can still remain up and running, via the microwave link. So the interconnectedness problem is now, less of a problem, as the microwave link can provide redundancy.

    On the generator side -- we found that portable generators were not the greatest answer, since they are portable, and the first thing folks need when they come back to an area is power -- then your portable generator becomes too portable, and turns into thier portable generator.

    Fortunately, significant advances have been made into fuel cell technology, and they are actually being used in some places to provide backup power. At this point, size and output are still an issue, but we're hoping to see advancements there in the near future.

    The biggest thing we found from the hurricanes was 1. antennas and coax being blown off the towers and 2. radio equipment under water. Im guessing improved mounting techniques could deal with #1, but flooding will take some work -- maybe elevating equipment out of the FP or even putting the equipment on a floatable barge type platform?

    I guess, bottom line, we can do something about resiliency of the sites as well as continued operations throughout the event, but it will cost $$$ and it will have to be planned.
    "Sometimes you have to get medieval with it...hammer, sparks, sweat, the whole nine yards...so don't forget your asbestos suit."
    Aphorisms on Public Hearings, Planning Guild Handbook (2001).

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    True - wireless communication infrastructure systems, especially propietary ones it would seem, are highly vulnerable to interruptions in normal operations.

    That's why volunteer ham radio operators are an important part of emergency response communications. It would not be wise to count on them, but they do rise to the call of duty when needed, and seem to often have the flexibility to set up their own repeaters, for example, if needed, or communicate directly radio to radio. Unfortunately, many communities hamper ham radio operations by placing undue restrictions upon them. Planners are generally not a serious problem in this regard, as their antenna-restricting powers are regulated by the federal government. HOA's and CID's, however, are often built and run in a way that deters ham radio operators from 1) enjoying their hobby and 2) living there.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    I'd be hesitant to place all my eggs in the microwave basket. Microwave towers require power just as fiber optic equipment does (though, yes, the equipment is more distributed). Microwave backups to fiber optics are more useful in areas where the direct fiber itself might fail - i.e. an earthquake-prone area.

    I think the above poster is on to something re: the importance of HAM radio.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    I think the above poster (kc0ltv-mn) is on to something re: the importance of HAM radio.
    Here is an example from my fair city's EMA website:

    The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES), is part of the Communications Division of the Evansville/Vanderburgh Co. EMA. It was created under the rules of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It is activated by order of the Emergency Management Director. RACES is a vital part of the communications within the Evansville/Vanderburgh Co., State, and Federal Emergency Management Agencies. Its members (over 100 locally) are amateur radio operators, who, working with their own personal equipment, can be activated on very short notice. Effective communications can be provided, within the county and Tri-State as well as most points within the continental United States, using commercial power, or emergency power sources as may be required. Most of these individuals are members of the Tri-State Amateur Radio Society, which maintains two VHF repeaters and two emergency power generators. RACES members provides communications assistance by acting as an interface between those emergency services who do not have direct communications or as a replacement communications in situations where "normal" communications may fail. Much of this equipment is mobile or portable and can easily be relocated to an on site command post.
    Oddball
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  11. #11
    As stated above, generators are the answer. For a site that is essential to emerency communications there should be 2 generators, in case one fails. There should be enough fuel to power the generator for maybe two weeks. AND The generators should be tested WEEKLY.

    Unfortunely cost could be an issue, which is why the government and private companies should share a few sites that have emergency power.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Do you realize how much fuel you're talking about here? Two WEEKS worth of diesel for a generator is no small volume.

  13. #13
    I am not sure how much electricity these things would consume. But why not, put it underground nobody will see it.

    7 WTC had about 50,000 gallons of diesal.

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