Friday, February 09, 2007

NOLA Area Finally Achieves PS Interoperability

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I wrote an editorial in Monitoring Times magazine critical of public safety radio system interoperability in the Gulf Coast region. New Orleans, Slidell, and Biloxi/Gulfport/Harrison County were all using the M/A-COM ProVoice EDACS trunk systems and it was only a matter of time before this choice was going to cause a crisis.

First, let me clear the air. I am not against M/A-COM or its trunk systems per se. I am deeply concerned about using a non-standard digital protocol such as Open Sky and ProVoice. If public safety agencies want to use a M/A-COM trunk system -fine, do it! Just don't use one of the proprietary digital protocols.

The M/A-COM Provoice digital standard is not compatible with the APCO P25 digital standard which FEMA, DoD, US federal government agencies, the State of Louisiana and other parish public safety agencies in the Katrina disaster area use. When the system failed in New Orleans it caused major problems for the first responders of the city. They had to resort to 800 MHz Mutual Aid simplex channels, and car to car relay of radio traffic in order to communicate.

New Orleans, Slidell, and PS agencies in Harrison County, MS were all on my P25 Hall of Shame List (shame on them for using a system which is NOT interoperable). You can see these editorials on the Monitoring Times website.

Incorporating lessons learned in the chaotic aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, law enforcement agencies in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes can now communicate with each other using one radio system. On Monday (February 5), the parishes brought online a shared 700-megahertz digital radio system paid for with federal disaster funds and grant money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

You can read the complete Times Picayune story on this event online at:

There were a lot of lessons learned from the Katrina disaster. But this is one that every Public Safety Agency in this country using a non-P25 digital standard should read and heed. From the Picayune article I quote, "The coordinated system also means that if out-of-state first responders come in as they did after Katrina to aid the locals, they'll be able to communicate as well with a bit of reprogramming of their own equipment."

Unfortunately, there are still major problems on the Gulf Coast. Harrison County, MS (including Biloxi and Gulfport) continue to use their ProVoice system even though most all of their neighbors and a new statewide system will be P25 compatible. This is exactly the same scenario that caused major problems in New Orleans. Hancock County, the county just west of Harrison on the Louisiana border has now installed a new P25 trunk system. Jackson County, the other Gulf Coast county just east of Harrison, is using a mixed mode (analog/P25) trunk system. Hey, Harrison County do you think it is time to wake up! I think it is time for the federal government to NOT sink one more dime of taxpayer money in that county until they become interoperable with the rest of the area.

In the state capital of Mississippi - Jackson, the original plan to upgrade to a ProVoice digital system by M/A-Com has been scrapped after issues were raised by the Hinds County E-911 Commission regarding legal concerns. Plans have now been made to switch Jackson over to the Hinds County Motorola ASTRO System. This will enable true interoperability between Jackson, and the surrounding area. At least someone in Mississippi is using some common sense. Are you listening Harrison County?

The new Mississippi statewide system, known as MWIN, will be a Motorola P-25 700 MHz trunk radio system. This system will be used by ALL state of Mississippi public safety agencies, with county and municipality subscription possible. MWIN will be tied in to the MEMA and Fish & Wildlife satellite radio nets for interoperability.

But Harrsion County, Mississippi, is only a small drop in the non-interop bucket. Another shocking interop issue is found in the state of Florida. And in this case it isn't a county issue, but it is a statewide law enforcement trunk radio system, known as SLERS, that was bought, installed and operated by the state of Florida. Yep, they are using the same system that New Orleans used that caused such a problem during Katrina - a M/A-COM ProVoice trunk system.

Imagine a hurricane hitting Florida and the state law enforcement agencies not being able to talk to any of the feds unless they give the feds a radio to use on their non-interop radio system. Same applies to all the county and municipal agencies who aren't on this system which is 99% of the state's PS agencies. There needs to be some serious questions asked about public safety by the taxpayers of Florida and the media.

But Florida is not alone. In future missives on this blog, I will uncover other shocking agencies that are either using non-standard digital protocols and have plans in the works. When will this government officials learn the hard lessons of New orleans and Katrina?