BAE Systems’ interoperability box seeing traction
After introducing its First InterComm interoperability solution a year ago, BAE Systems is reporting significant traction among first responders spanning several states at the county and local level (including Maine, where they are using the technology as you read this in the effort to deal with the power outages caused by a massive ice storm).
The system lets first responders communicate using existing radios and frequencies at incident scenes without the use of additional infrastructure such as temporary towers. It automatically provides interoperability and interconnectivity when multiple agencies arrive at an incident scene by connecting users, regardless of what radios they are using, via a box located in a vehicle, said Michael Greene, director of homeland security with BAE Systems.
“One of the big distinctions we put in our design is to have a system that is useful every day for first responders,” Greene said. “We solicited a lot of feedback before we jumped in with a solution from first responders everywhere. They wanted a system they could use every day rather than once or twice a year when they did training.”
Most agencies have mutual-aid agreements and send a particular vehicle to incidents that require the help of multiple agencies, Greene said. That vehicle would be the one containing the InterComm unit. During an incident, the unit automatically seeks out various radio signals—regardless of frequencies and whether they are digital or analog—and upon receiving them converts the signals to VoIP and transmits them via a mesh network created by the InterComm box. All users need to do is tune in to a particular channel on their radio. BAE handles the configuration of their radios beforehand.
Greene said the solution also is useful for complementing and extending the range of existing radio networks. This is particularly useful for communities rolling out Project 25, or P-25, networks in the 800 MHz band, as the typical RF footprint they can obtain from these systems can be significantly less than their legacy analog systems. Moreover, the system can work as a bridge between those agencies that move to P25 handsets and those agencies that continue to use their analog networks.
Along with the usefulness factor, Greene said the First InterComm system is affordable, costing about $5000 for one box.
Earlier this month, BAE Systems donated, installed and provided training for 10 First InterComm units to emergency responders in Grady County, Okla. State Rep. Joe Dorman spearheaded the donation through a combined effort between BAE Systems and the National Association of State Fire Marshals.