Interoperability in Action: Connecting Communities & Powering Responses
Over the past 20 years, the need for critical incident management – more specifically, the ability to communicate seamlessly across various organizations and agencies – has become a top priority.
Interoperable communications and signaling is the merging of technologies on one specific platform, enabling first responders and incident stakeholders to share voice communications, cellular communications, data and video.
This allows the stakeholders to easily share information with first responders, helping with the triage of incidents and providing further insight into what is happening on a minute-by-minute basis, even prior to arriving at a critical incident scene.
Why is interoperability important?
With true interoperable communications and signaling, there are many daily use cases that can justify the implementation of this technology.
In the healthcare industry, particularly during peak illness seasons or global health crises, information regarding number of beds, personal protective equipment, or other supplies and resources available can be shared instantaneously, allowing healthcare facilities to address emergent needs quickly and efficiently.
In addition, the sharing of information regarding available beds per facility, on an up-to-the-minute basis, can help curb collateral damage resulting from facilities extending beyond maximum capacity with patients or sending patients to hospitals that have no capacity, thus transferring them multiple times.
This has been true during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York. Across the state border in New Jersey, the critical information regarding bed count and resource availability has been readily available, resulting in no such overruns in the healthcare space. New Jersey, during the H1N1 pandemic, implemented a cloud-based platform with true interoperability®.1
In the corporate or commercial space, large and small corporations with numerous local, regional or national facilities need the ability to communicate critical information, such as security credentials, data reports, supply chain management updates or inventory of assets – all critical functions for organizations, which could be made more efficient with streamlined communication and centralized decision-making.
How we view sporting events – and the vulnerabilities that surround such events – have necessitated the need for multiple security and law enforcement agencies, along with vendor services and game-day operations teams, to be able to communicate not only during emergency situations, but also when coordinating other tasks. For instance, communications between transit, stadium security, local responders and hotels can be streamlined with interoperability in communications.
In the education space, a critical incident can be communicated both internally and externally with activation from a desktop, tablet, laptop, cellular device or two-way radio. Internally, incident reporting from the classroom can be communicated to the school office, the central administration, the security office and to external first responders, such as fire, security or law enforcement.
In any critical incident, response time can be drastically reduced, and the technology available can allow the cellular device to become a camera and a microphone for first responders, who can also leverage the tech’s GPS capabilities.
In cities today, technology is changing rapidly, and two-way radios are being replaced at a huge expense every two or three years. The expense to simply replace what you need isn’t great; however, the platforms for such frequencies are updating to the point that transponders and antennas must be changed, thus creating a situation in which the entire system must be replaced. With true interoperability, only the radios that are required need to be replaced, which could save cities millions of dollars over time.
For each of the use cases above, there are internal and external capabilities that enhance communications and allow true interoperability or one-touch signaling. The power of interoperable communications is in its ability to unite all stakeholders on one common platform. In order for all to function at the highest levels, the sharing of information, video, data and the merging of various voice communications (two-way radio and cellular), can provide every stakeholder the tools they need to manage and respond to incidents – both big and small.
The Rise of Interoperability
After September 11, 2001, the federal government, upon realizing that first responders had no ability to communicate across the different frequencies and platforms, expended time and financial resources to end the divide between those frequencies and platforms. After a significant expense, very limited interoperability was established, only encompassing two-way radios, and only then with specialized and expensive crystals in each radio. The result of the expense was the development of a network that would support the 3G network, and thus, interoperability was not achieved.
Meanwhile, developers have attempted to merge the technologies, with limited success. Most claim interoperability when, in reality, the developments are only enhanced mass notification systems and don’t provide the platform necessary for true interoperability. Additional incidents have arisen, such as the Virginia Tech tragedy, the H1N1 pandemic, SARS, Columbine, the Sandy Hook tragedy, the sniper murder of a Pennsylvania State Trooper and more – all situations in which interoperability could have reduced critical response time.
While many others have tried unsuccessfully, the interoperability of communications and signaling has finally been accomplished by the Mutualink platform. This cloud-based platform provides a level of communication that allows individual network owners to keep their networks secure, while enabling them to share critical content on an incident-by-incident basis.
In addition, it allows for critical control internally of virtually any mechanical or electrical system that has contact closure capabilities. Imagine being in a critical situation, sharing video, merging two-way radios and cellular communications and still being able to make administrative announcements for evacuation – all the while keeping important information off the 911 emergency network so possessors of police scanning technology, cannot listen in or strategize against law enforcement.
Mutualink is the first fully encompassing solution that addresses the original interoperability issues uncovered by the September 11 attacks, and further underscored by other critical incidents in the years following.
Used by FEMA, Mutualink is DHS SAFETY Act-certified and is a full interoperability solution. It is utilized in many higher education facilities and is a robust communications solution that can help stakeholders better prepare for critical incidents, as well as help business, public transportation, security, healthcare and public facilities coordinate and share critical resources in real time.
1 True interoperability is a registered trademark of Mutualink Inc.