Deployable comms for disaster situations

By Jonathan Nally | Editor | Critical Comms | www.criticalcomms.com.au

When a natural disaster or other large-scale emergency strikes, it’s imperative that first responders and incident commanders have access to reliable communications and a variety of essential data sources.

This is not always easy, especially if the incident occurs in a remote area not well serviced by extant communications networks, be they dedicated public safety systems or those supplied by commercial carriers.

That’s where UK firm Excelerate comes in. A specialist in producing fully equipped incident command vehicles that have comprehensive suites of voice and data communications capabilities, its products are used by emergency services operators in many countries… including Australia.

Excelerate will have a stand at Comms Connect Melbourne (22–24 November, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre), and its founder and chairman, David Savage, will give a screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-10-37-43presentation on the topic of ‘Resilient and rapidly deployable data, video & voice communications’ at 2.00pm on Wednesday, 23rd November.

As Excelerate is perhaps not as widely known in Australia as it is in other markets, we spoke with David to get more of an insight into his company and its products.

Can you please give us a brief history of your company?

Formed in 2001, Excelerate pioneered the concept of rapidly deployable, totally independent and resilient broadband via satellite for emergency incident management.

Catastrophic events, such as the 7/7 London bombings and the bushfires of Black Saturday in Australia demonstrated how fallible the terrestrial and public communications infrastructure can be, and how important it is to have alternative resilient communications for the emergency services to manage incidents effectively.

This is where the solutions we provide have become integral. Whether integrated onboard incident command vehicles, rapid response vehicles or rugged portable systems, our solutions enable emergency responders to communicate with each other in the field as well being able to share critical data, video and voice communications to any authorised back-office location in real time — without relying on terrestrial networks that may be down or suffering disruption.

Our range of solutions are now being utilised by a growing number of organisations in government, maritime, security, transport, national infrastructure, utilities and more.

Can you give us a brief rundown of your Australian customers and the solutions you’ve provided to them?

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) of Victoria is a longstanding customer. Since making contact with us for a resilient comms solution back in in 2010, CFA commissioned two large command vehicles and seven smaller Mercedes-Sprinter vehicles.

CFA are also implementing another command vehicle and a number of integrated camera solutions to extend their incident management capability following extensive use during a number of bushfires and recent widespread flooding.

New South Wales Fire & Rescue recently chose Excelerate for their two new mobile command centres, which will be used for on-scene or nearby management of major incidents such as bushfires, flooding and more, and will be an information and decision-making hub.

A number of other organisations based in Australia have reached out to us for their critical communications needs.

Today’s industry is about more than just voice comms — it’s now video cameras, PTT, mapping etc. When did you begin to get into these other fields, and what’s coming next?

Since the beginning, we have always been involved in sharing real-time information from within an incident ground whether it be data, video or voice, securely over satellite and wireless. We will always be at the forefront of integrating new technology as it becomes available. The range of solutions we offer are ever growing as our in-house R&D team works closely with customers to build a solution around their requirements.

What is it about your solutions that sets them apart?

We understand that one size doesn’t fit all so we offer our customers choice, based on their requirements and budget.

We have invested heavily in our communications provision and offer a combination of bearers, all designed to work seamlessly together. These include satellite on both Ka and Ku bands, private LTE (RapidNET), 3G/4G, GSM and more. By using multiple communications bearers we are able to deliver a better value service.

All of our solutions are simple to operate via our unique Digital Dashboard Management Interface (DDMI) to support ease of use by non-IT experts. It combines all solutions into one interface, enabling operational personnel to control, monitor and analyse every aspect of an incident from one place.

DDMI automates many functions, meaning complicated technologies and actions are made simple, reducing the requirement for human intervention and enabling our customers to focus on their primary duty as emergency responders.

I haven’t yet come across another provider who can match what we do.

Can you tell us a little bit about the case studies you’ll be sharing at Comms Connect?

This September we were delighted to hand over a Joint Command Unit for Northamptonshire Police and FRS — the first of its kind in the UK. The new unit will provide a base for commanders when in attendance at large-scale or major incidents, public events or educational requirements.

All of our integrated technologies have been designed to facilitate joint working, while enhancing operational efficiency and further supporting resilience for Northamptonshire’s incident response capability.

With the UK Government’s drive towards greater collaboration and sharing of resources across the emergency services, this new Joint Command Unit is at the forefront of this transition.

This year we have also started to roll out the new ‘Incident Ground Technology’ solution nationally for the UK Hazardous Area Response Teams (HART).

This next-generation portable solution delivers a secure and privately managed communications network over multiple bearers for added resilience, and can be quickly and easily deployed across all HART operational areas and scenarios. This includes in scenarios where vehicle-based communications might be difficult to deploy, such as flooding, enabling a more flexible and agile communications capability.

pod and satellite

At the centre of our solution is the ‘Command Pod,’ a deployable resilient data network to facilitate live camera and physiological data streams within the incident ground and secure access to the internet via authorised devices and multiple portals. A portable satellite terminal can also be deployed as a resilient backhaul where no terrestrial communications infrastructure exists or has been compromised.

Deployable cameras, enabling real-time video streaming direct from the incident ground, have been integrated to support real-time situational awareness. These include body worn cameras, rapid deploy cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles.

With the diverse work of HART teams, including, for example, inland water operations, personnel are required to operate in high-risk areas of flooding and fast flowing water, making vehicle access difficult if not impossible. With this and other challenges and communications requirements in mind, the project enables a more flexible approach to managing incidents.