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Deployable Mobile 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Solution Succeeds in Bexar, Texas
Author: Bill Buchholtz, Executive Director, Bexar Metro 9-1-1 Network District
Mobile Communications Ace the Test
When it comes to disaster planning and operational continuity, Bexar Metro 9‑1‑1 Network District (Bexar Metro) in Texas is ahead of many public safety agencies. In the last several years, Bexar Metro experienced natural gas leaks, power and phone line outages, cut fiber optic lines, flooding and forced facility evacuations. Thankfully, in each of those situations the network continued functioning with only minor interruptions because of the previously established back-up regional emergency operations center and a redundant multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) network. But this string of bad luck forced a change to the traditional thought process and put the focus on surviving a large-scale catastrophe; which resulted in the realization that additional capability was necessary to ensure continuity of operations during a large scale catastrophic event.
Operational Continuity for Diverse Needs
Bexar Metro is responsible for an emergency services network serving nearly two million people in thirty-seven jurisdictions across a geographically large and diverse area that spans three counties. Of the twenty-five public safety answering points (PSAPs) in Bexar Metro’s jurisdiction, most have three or four call-taking positions, but the largest serves the city of San Antonio with seventy positions. During initial planning for comprehensive operational continuity, it was clear that no single strategy would meet the needs of every PSAP.
Initially, Bexar Metro considered construction of a full-scale brick-and-mortar back-up facility. But the expense and time required for construction was a big challenge. What became clear was the requirement for a cost-effective, readily available and scalable asset to augment the current operational capability. After considerable research, it became clear that the perfect solution was Intrado’s THOR Shield (THOR), a rapidly deployable mobile 9‑1‑1 emergency communications solution. This unique option includes a specialized mobile communications/command center designed specifically to provide on-demand, scalable operational functionality and a technical staff trained to provide support whenever and wherever 9‑1‑1 communications are adversely impacted.
Putting THOR to the Test
Investing in any kind of survivable operational capability requires careful vetting to be certain it will perform the way you need under extreme conditions. In order to be certain THOR would meet the full spectrum of operational needs, Bexar Metro and Intrado jointly deployed THOR to San Antonio for a multi-day, multi-agency, live field test.
In cooperation with a local communications service provider, Intrado mobilized THOR, a two-story, 40-ton, 80-foot-long vehicle with next-generation emergency communications technology, to operate as Bexar Metro’s live 9‑1‑1 communications and command center. The Intrado support team configured THOR to provide a comprehensive replica of San Antonio’s police, fire, and EMS, and Bexar County Sheriff’s communications functionality.
Throughout the test, all 9‑1‑1 and select administrative calls terminating at the San Antonio Police Department, San Antonio Fire & EMS, and Bexar County Sheriff’s Office were rerouted to THOR. Personnel from each of the agencies were able to redeploy to THOR without service interruption; and first responders were able to effectively dispatch all emergency responses through the computer aided dispatch and radio systems, which were seamlessly integrated into THOR. It was clear from the start that THOR was the supplemental support needed to ensure operational continuity.
Making the Right Choice
Bexar Metro’s requirement for a new approach to protecting 9‑1‑1 emergency communications is shared by nearly every emergency services jurisdiction in the country. Most have 9‑1‑1 operational continuity procedures in place to keep emergency communications functioning in most situations. However, many operational back-up plans are built on strategies that are outdated, untested or inadequate for unplanned catastrophic events.
Comprehensive 9‑1‑1 operational continuity planning must be an integral element of the emergency response strategy for every municipality and emergency communications jurisdiction across the country. The difficulty is in knowing what type of back-up capability is the right solution. When planning for operational continuity, it is essential to consider factors such as historical natural disasters, geographic vulnerabilities, the capabilities of neighboring PSAPs, and budget restrictions and funding mechanisms.
For most emergency communications jurisdictions, a full-scale back-up facility is too much, and often times financially out of reach. At the same time, a simple overflow plan or interagency transfer strategy may not adequately protect operations during a catastrophic or regional event. In these situations, a mobile communications and command strategy like THOR might be the best solution. This type of program can provide an all-in-one, on-demand operational continuity capability that can be customized to the precise needs of the PSAP, and can be scaled to meet the exact demands of the situation impacting emergency communications.
Confidence in the Face of Disaster
Bexar Metro 9‑1‑1 Network District is well aware that disaster can strike out of the blue. When that crisis has the capacity to impact operations it is imperative to have a plan in place that will protect emergency communications no matter how severe the event. Testing Intrado’s THOR in a live environment proved this unique solution is a valuable component to ensure operational continuity; and Bexar Metro is pleased to be the first in the nation to sign a THOR Shield multi-year, multi-agency agreement that ensures the citizens of Bexar, Comal, and Guadalupe Counties will have continued access to 9‑1‑1 during wide-scale emergency conditions.
- Corporate News/9-1-1magazine.com (via Intrado, 2/15/13)