BAE Systems recently introduced the VCA200, the latest addition to its First InterComm line of IP-based devices that provide interoperable voice communications for first responders at an incident. The VCA200 improves upon the previous VCA100 in that it enables users to connect conventional radios to radios on trunked systems, said Mike Greene, the company's director of homeland security solutions.

Each VCA unit, which is mounted inside first-responder vehicles, automatically recognizes and connects to other VCA units at a scene, immediately forming a mesh network.

"When [first responders] arrive at the scene, all they have to do is flip to a designated channel on the radio, push the push-talk-button and their voice gets picked up by their VCA," Greene said.

The VCAs are programmed to work with any radios the agency employs, he added.

"It doesn't matter what kind of radio system they use," Greene said. "We configure that unit to be compatible with their system. We don't touch their radios, we don't reprogram anything on their side — we do all of it in the box. That's a big cost savings for a lot of agencies. Many of the agencies hire out to reprogram their radios and spend from $25 to $200 per handset."

According to Greene, the VCA is easy to use. It gets its power from the vehicle and "its only button is the power button," he said. In addition, the device's talk-group-controller software makes it easy to set up talk groups at an incident. Up to 16 talk groups can be established. Icons representing each VCA at a scene pop up on a graphical user interface. All a user has to do to join a talk group is click on the icon representing his VCA, and then click on the icon that corresponds to the talk group he wants to join.

"We used feedback we got from a number of chiefs to make it even more simple and useful to them," Greene said.

The VCA also is capable of transmitting data, which the company demonstrated last month at International Wireless Communications Exposition (IWCE) in Las Vegas.

"At the show we demonstrated notebooks connected to the mesh network, and using the network to transmit video across the network and move data files back and forth," Greene said. "So, an incident commander at the scene could share floor plans, chemical data sheets, arrest sheets, building-violation reports — anything they have — with other responders at the scene."

Each VCA costs "about what a digital radio costs," roughly $5,000, Greene said.