Public safety agencies put radio system to the test
In December 2000, public safety agencies in Pinellas County, Fla., began testing a radio system operating on the 700-Megahertz (MHz) band. The system allowed the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services Department and the Largo Fire Department to transmit live video, crime scene images and GIS maps that were too bandwidth-intensive to send using the commonly used 500 and 800 MHz bands. The results of the project are being used by the Federal Communications Commission to create standards for use of the 700 MHz band, which it plans to license to public safety agencies.
The project began when Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola conducted a nationwide search for a location to field test software that provides a “fatter pipe” for public safety communications. The company chose Pinellas County because the county has been progressive in its use of mobile data since the 1970s, and it is committed to moving ahead with new technologies. The FCC granted an experimental license to the company to test the software.
The county installed mobile data terminals, video cameras, GPS receivers and 700 MHz wideband radios in a number of public safety vehicles. Police officers used the equipment with the company’s air interface software to stream video, such as live accounts of traffic stops, and other data over the Internet to supervisors and other field officers. Using existing off-the-shelf software, field officers also used the radio system to communicate with dispatchers, records databases, critical incident supervisors, and medical personnel in hospital emergency rooms.
For example, officers could send e-mail, including instant messages and attachments; access real-time computer-aided dispatch data such as location of other area vehicles and county GIS maps; and upload photographs of crime scene evidence to a forensic database to search for possible matches. Additionally, they could send and receive images such as mug shots, fingerprints, driver’s licenses and building renderings between mobile units and state and national crime centers, the motor vehicle department and county records management systems.
Emergency dispatchers also used the radio system to send GIS information, such as locations of fire hydrants, building plans and hazardous materials sites to firefighters in the field. Additionally, supervisors with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office used the system to hold live teleconferences with experts and personnel in the field, and judges issued search warrants to sheriff’s deputies on site.
The results of the project have been submitted to the FCC’s Public Safety National Coordination Committee, which is working with the Arlington, Va.-based Telecommunications Industry Association to create standards for using the new spectrum. Once the FCC releases those standards, it will license 24 MHz of the spectrum for public safety use nationwide.
That portion represents the FCC’s largest public safety spectrum allocation. “[The 700 MHz band] will offer a secure, public safety-exclusive way of communication for sharing information locally, regionally and nationally,” says Dave Byrum, communications engineer for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.