LAS VEGAS--The Beavercreek Township, Ohio, Fire Department has added seven surrounding counties to its interoperable communication system first developed in 2004 through a public-private partnership between the county and software-bridge provider Catalyst Communications.

The township initially suffered from incompatibility issues that similarly affect local, state and federal jurisdictions throughout the United States. Existing technologies, disparate radio systems, cultural strongholds and department-driven territorialism left the township unprepared for a widespread disaster, according to Jeffrey Ochester, the township’s network operations manager, who spoke during an IWCE 2006 conference session.

“Someone will get hurt if first responders can’t communicate,” he said.

Finding an interoperability solution became a priority for the township in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and particularly after last year’s Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. But before a solution could be implemented, Ochester had to first secure funding. The township applied for a FEMA fire assistance grant and a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the parent agency of the U.S. Forest Service, with a stated goal of improving firefighting capabilities.

Once funding was secured, the private-public partnership between Catalyst and Beavercreek began. Ochester specifically wanted interoperability for the four surrounding counties, which at the time communicated through multiple systems. He also wanted to ensure each county could use existing hardware and radio systems; control talk groups and radio channels from the dispatch and control center; and block interoperability traffic from the command center. Part of interoperability is the capability to centralize logging of cross-network traffic and to provide dispatchers with tools to see the alias and emergency identification for all radios, he said.

Because multiple jurisdictions would be tapping into the solution, Ochester knew any new technology must incorporate M/A-COM’s EDACS, Motorola’s Smartnet/Smartzone, VHF conventional and Sprint Nextel’s iDEN platforms, as well as be Project 25-compatible. He also said it should be user friendly for those in the field and for dispatchers.

“Ideally, a fire, police, EMS, private-sector, state and federal radio system would link while offering dispatchers a user friendly GUI,” Ochester said.

The township decided a software/hardware solution that offered a fault tolerance consistent with modern computer networks and an ability to use existing computer infrastructure was key to achieving interoperability, as well as to stay within its allotted budget. Therefore, its interoperability solution became a combination of computer and radio hardware coupled with Catalyst’s software products. The system incorporated the township’s legacy radio and computer network architecture and let other agencies keep their proprietary radio systems. It also provided intelligent radio management and linking from a desktop computer, Catalyst President Robin Grier said.

Additional counties can piggyback on the system by accessing Beavercreek’s equipment via mutual-aid agreements, Ochester said, adding that the system has paid off, in more ways than one.

“ROI using Catalyst equipment as the primary interoperability technology continues to grow as additional government agencies expand the existing system in the area,” he said.