US sets final emergency responder wireless pilot

Ambitious Multi-Band Radio project seeks to unite first responder community.

Looking to help eliminate the dangerous and inefficient hodgepodge of communication and network technology used by emergency response personnel, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today said it had picked 14 groups from across the country to pilot an ambitious Multi-Band Radio project.

In 2008, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate awarded a $6.2 million contract to Thales Communications to demonstrate the first-ever portable radio prototype that lets emergency responders-police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and others-communicate with partner agencies, regardless of the radio band they operate on. This is the final pilot in a three-part test, DHS said.

Currently radios only operate within a specific frequency band; subsequently, responders are often unable to communicate with other agencies and support units that operate in different radio frequencies.  Comparable in size and weight to existing portable radios with similar features, multi-band radio would provide users with much-improved incident communications capabilities, the DHS stated.

Thales Liberty multiband mobile radio received US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certification in April. The Liberty radio is made in the U.S. and is the first multiband, software-defined LMR designed specifically for government agencies and first responders, the company said.

The MBR prototype is capable of operating in the primary public safety bands between 136-174 megahertz (MHz) and 380-520 MHz as well as in the 700 MHz and 800 MHz bands. Additionally, when authorized, the MBR is capable of operating on the Department of Defense bands in the 136-138 MHz and 380- 400 MHz ranges as well two Federal Government bands: 162-174 MHz and 406.1-420 MHz. This capability will for the first time let for Federal agencies interoperate with local, tribal, regional, and state counterparts, the DHS said. Carrying a price tag of $4,000-$6,000, the MBR is equal in form, factor, and cost to existing high-end portable radios, the DHS said.

The 14 pilot organizations are:

 -2010 Olympic Security Committee (Blaine, Wash., and Vancouver, B.C. Canada)

-Amtrak (Northeast Corridor)

-Boise Fire Department (Boise, Idaho)

-Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group (Ottawa, ON Canada)

-Customs and Border Patrol (Detroit)

-Federal Emergency Management Agency (Multiple Locations)

-Hawaii State Civil Defense (Honolulu)

-Interagency Communication Interoperability System (Los Angeles County, Calif.)

-Michigan Emergency Medical Services (Lower Peninsula Areas)

-Murray State University (Southwest Kentucky)

-Phoenix Police Department and Arizona Department of Emergency --Management Greater Phoenix and Yuma County)

-Texas National Guard (Austin, Texas)

-U.S. Marshals Service (Northeast Region)

-Washington Metro Area Transit Authority Transit Police (District of Columbia)

Each agency will conduct a minimum 30-day pilot in fall 2009.

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