Second Extinction Coming For Public Safety?

By Christopher Vondracek

Steven Raucher, or “Steve from the Future,” as he has been known to refer to himself, is the co-founder of RapidDeploy, and a man determined to make a difference in public safety communications.

RapidDeploy recently launched a video proclaiming a second extinction was coming for public safety – spelling extinction for legacy public safety software and suggesting major changes in the communications industry. Evolution to the cloud is the clear message. “The existing solutions in American public safety are built on technologies which are outdated and do not leverage the power of the cloud,” Raucher said

Raucher, a 20-year veteran of the finance and IT sector, became a first responder in 2015 and gained firsthand experience of the challenges first responders face during a call for service. His RapidDeploy co-founder, Brett Meyerowitz, a volunteer paramedic, formerly with Intel and the former CTO of one of the largest online gaming sites in the world, had “never even heard of Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD),” when he set out to write a system built by first responders for first responders.” It is worth noting that Brett also built the first cloud-based retail bank in Africa.

With Brett and Steven’s background in technology, they saw the burden many agencies face, especially in rural locations, where response times to 9-1-1 calls are slower and costs can quickly escalate. Rather than running critical communications systems on disconnected on-premise legacy infrastructure, the RapidDeploy CAD provides reliability, speed, and reduced cost of ownership to agencies, all within a web-based and cloud-based dispatch system.

RapidDeploy recently had a successful test run in America. At a stadium-sized event, with over 30,000 attendees, Raucher’s team was field-testing when they lost all cell connectivity due to a network overwhelmed by fans uploading videos, sending pictures, and connecting with social media. In the event of an emergency, such loss of service could be disastrous.

“All cell connectivity was lost,” Raucher said. “We were accessing the RapidDeploy CAD over a satellite link, and it became unresponsive.” However, one responding officer was running his iPhone on FirstNet, and he was able to tether to his laptop and the cloud and access the RapidDeploy CAD over the FirstNet network. “Our CAD sparked right up,” Raucher said. “We were running live in the field, in the middle of this enormous crowd, with zero latency. It was fantastic.”

The mission of RapidDeploy, according to the co-founder, is to “reduce response times for all and improve first responders’ safety by increasing situational awareness.” A cloud-based solution can also better integrate everything from mapping, weather, traffic, IoT sensor data and other mission-critical data sources.

And while it was successful with a mass gathering, RapidDeploy also aids rural districts. Raucher notes that roughly 75 percent of 9-1-1 PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points) in America are comprised of five or fewer call-taking and dispatch positions. Being smaller facilities means they cannot afford to run the traditional legacy systems that require racks of servers and dedicated IT support. That leaves these agencies in the unfortunate position of running second tier, or sometimes no software at all, to manage their dispatch of emergency services.

“The cloud can democratize public safety whereby small agencies can now run their entire operations using a world class software solution that historically was only accessible to larger agencies.”

Raucher sees FirstNet as a unique opportunity in the world of public safety. “This is the first time we have run our CAD on a hardened Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) designed purely for first responders,” Raucher said. “What FirstNet is doing is really remarkable.” And in what Raucher’s video calls the “Second Extinction” of the status quo in delivering better public safety communication, he sees FirstNet and other partners willing to innovate within the industry as the “survivors,” the rest ending up on the museum floor.

WATCH VIDEO

Christopher is a freelance journalist living in Washington D.C., most recently with Courthouse News.

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1 Comment on "Second Extinction Coming For Public Safety?"

  1. Let’s reflect on the infrastructure required to make Cloud based services work. First, you need a LAN to connect to. The LAN must be robust and reliable (read encrypted)to support the level of workstation to server communications. This level of communications is dependent on the paradigm used by the particular software. FirstNet wants to be the LAN.

    CAD software is morphing into a mapping based application where the GUI map is refreshed by the server on a constant basis. This may be megabytes of data every second. Where the typical LAN is rated at 50-100 MBs (normal/legacy) wired or WI-FI, and there is a local server, it works well with multiple users. When the server is moved from the LAN into the ‘Cloud’ (requiring a WAN to LAN link)and a mission critical high-speed (fiber/DSL/Cable) circuit is not available, the fire hose becomes a garden hose.

    Few people understand how LTE actually works. On the outbound side, the aggregate available bandwidth is a ‘carpet’ of radio transmission with the number of ‘threads’ being a symbol of data. Under the advancing standards (5G), groups of threads may be designated for individual devices thus allowing/giving priority.

    The more block bandwidth available (i.e.: 10-20 MHz), the higher the capacity-throughput rate. That is why the ‘gift’ of Band 14 was originally supposed to be dedicated to Public Safety ONLY. Under agreement it is now just another segment of AT&T’s commercial network. Granted it takes Band 14 devices to access the spectrum but it won’t be long before a firmware update makes that happen for all of AT&T’s subscribers.

    That’s the bitter-sweet portion of the FirstNet promise. Obviously as the user-count rises with 5G priority, the number of public safety receiving users may be quite high if the AT&T infrastructure incorporates the RAN hardware for Band 14. However, the inbound portion (like 2-way radio there is a talk-out and a talk-in) is a different story.

    Like other methods of 2-way communications LTE uses different frequencies and channels for the subscriber radio to talk into the network. This is similar to the wired asynchronous networks which give different data rates for inbound and outbound service i.e. 40MBs Downstream/5 MBs Upstream. The talk-in side of wireless data uses an individual FDMA based connection which contends for the number of shared channels available on the inbound side bandwidth. When too many users simultaneous demand transmission, interference occurs just like any other shared radio system. Throughput suffers. Also, inbound data moves at a much slower rate because of the nature of FDMA modulation vs. LTE.

    Now, consider the two scenarios of rural systems or COW based major incidents. The local LTE infrastructure is limited by deployed bandwidth/hardware (how many bands will be deployed by AT&T given the local market) and/or how many bands deployed in the COW. In the busy metropolitan scenario the inbound contention will be brutal given the FDMA contention by both commercial and public safety users which cannot be ‘throttled’ at the LTE processing level. Add in users doing MCPTT.

    Having roughly 50 years of exposure to computing starting at machine code through enterprise design (including data warehousing) and about 45 years of public safety (35 as a consultant), I’ve seen a lot of schemes come and go. CAD started as a terminal service and grew up to be a browser/window/.net based GUI. The data transport requirement is 2-fold, one at the display level (best done on the workstation) and second on the data level, typically at the server. Also throw in virtual services and data clouds to make things easier to manage.

    Sorry to say, I do not believe the gift of FirstNet will ever be unlimited access to data at all times. Under the scheme of what is being marketed, FirstNet becomes the LAN for workstation data (local and cloud), for CAD transport and net based queries, backhaul for local systems (server to *) AND ROIP based conversation which, by the way, is not too efficient on a one-to-many (PTT) basis. Oh yes, throw in all those fancy new ‘Apps’ now being conceived and developed. I’m sure those will all be data efficient.

    The local transport (LAN) requirements at the rural, COW and dense metropolitan level are be best serviced by a WI-FI/WI-Max based proprietary infrastructure (that was the reason for 4.9 GHz) and use of a local CAD server. This will limit the WAN transport requirements and talk-in side contention. The local server takes the brunt of the queries and provides access on the WAN side for remote queries and status by other authorities. At least the public safety users will be able to run their handsets in Wi-Fi mode.

    So, my advice to those dazzled is: get your head out of the ‘cloud’. Buying ‘services’ instead of infrastructure may be simple but, at some point, the cost of support is going to break the budget. Furthermore, things may go downhill quickly when the severeness of the incident reaches disaster level.

    I had hopes and lobbied for a ‘universal’ CAD when the FBI was pushing NCIC 2000 (for those of you who are old enough to remember). I wasn’t naive, just a bit pragmatic. The major ‘extinction’ will be when public safety becomes a nationalized cookie-cutter service. Will ‘Allthings’ FirstNet ‘extinct’ land mobile radio? Not in my lifetime . . .

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