The Legacies of September 11th - Public Safety Interoperability
This Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the events of September 11th, 2001. For those old enough, the memories are likely as vivid today as they were on that tragic Tuesday morning. If you are younger, you’ve heard stories from older friends and family about how that day unfolded. What initially appeared to be a tragic airline accident was quickly revealed to be a coordinated and deliberate attack. Amidst the chaos of the day, the nation was glued to their TV or radio looking for updates as phone lines flooded with calls to loved ones.
I was living in Germany at the time and had meetings in Connecticut the day before. I was getting ready to catch my flight out of JFK when, like most, it was the events on the news and realized I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. I was one of the thousands of travelers stranded in the chaos, and for me it was several weeks.
This tragic day was an inflection point for first responders’ communications and many ongoing changes and standards development exist today as result.
Interoperability Was an Issue
The attacks of September 11, 2001 represent one of the largest scale public safety events to ever occur. First responders throughout the New York, New Jersey metropolitan area rushed to the scene. Unfortunately, the different departments and jurisdictions struggled to communicate across their different radios making coordinated responses more difficult.
It was not unusual that the different departments had different devices and radios, with equipment purchasing of this equipment done at the local level. (This is still the case, but today the devices are required to be compliant for the local organization to be eligible for federal funding for the devices.)
With communications hampered, first responders entered an environment that looked more like a combat zone than a financial district with limited communication abilities. According to a recent blog post by Derrick Orr of NIST, “the inability of responders from different departments and jurisdictions to communicate over their various radio systems during the event, which was determined to have been a factor in the inability to evacuate 343 firefighters from the World Trade Center Buildings, who all perished as a result.”
Interoperability Changes Today and Future Developments
In the 20 years following September 11th, much has changed in law enforcement, intelligence gathering and other agencies. For public safety, interoperability has become critical. The Project 25 interoperability standards are an excellent example.
P25 allows customizability by vendors for different user purposes without sacrificing compatibility between devices. P25 ISSI enables different networks with different vendor equipment to interconnect with each other, expanding the network in a cost-effective way and also offers flexibility for the future.
In 2001, the idea of video calls or data transmission to handheld devices was non-existent. As mobile technology has evolved to include not only voice, but video and data, so has the need for Interoperability between MCX, P25, Legacy systems, etc.
As LTE-based Mission Critical voice, video and data gets under way there is a need to interconnect to the legacy LMR systems including P25, TETRA and others. A number of equipment manufacturers are developing an IWF (Inter-Working Function), which enables this interconnect and for example supports connecting a P25 RFSS and Radio via ISSI on one side to an MCX Server and mobile device on the other.
The memories of September the 11th still reverberate. Valid8 is pleased to play a small role helping device manufacturers ensure interoperability of devices that could help save lives.
Working closely with public safety equipment vendors & organizations over the years Valid8 has seen the interoperability challenges faced by public safety organizations. It was from those learnings that we developed our P25 ISSI CSSI Conformance Test Tool and MCX testing. These commercially available tools to conduct compliance and interoperability testing using Valid8’s Conformance Test Suite.
Recently, Valid8 successfully completed an over-the air test of MCX as part of our 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standard compliant testing solution for the mission critical communications industry. This test was developed as part of Valid8’s relationship with NIST PSCR and their goal of a vendor-agnostic testing solution.
Valid8 has been a regular participant at ETSI MCX Plugtests events, participating in trials of the Mission Critical communication chains, with an emphasis on "the interoperability of a variety of implementations using different scenarios based on 3GPP Mission Critical Services in Release 16."