Primetech technology puts command in the Picture

Emergency Area Radio Link

Common Operational Picture

by Henry Walker, Director of Primetech (UK) Ltd.

As part of an ongoing desire to look at improving crisis management, in compliance with the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, the improvement of interoperability across the Category 1 and 2 Responder community is still a major issue.

Where there are just one or two response agencies involved in an incident, the lines of communication are relatively straightforward. The incident management technology that is used in a complex, multi agency scenario however, needs to enable the flow of critical information to and from different tiers of command, multiple agencies, and at regional, national and international levels.

Much of this centres around the implementation of a Common Operational Picture (COP) described by Wikipedia as "a single identical display of relevant (operational) information shared by more than one Command." This capability to collect and share multi dimensional information will facilitate collaborative planning and the provision of enhanced situational awareness, enabling Commanders to make timely and informed decisions.

The practicalities of delivering a COP are very much reliant on integrating many sources of information onto networks including satellite technology. As a leading provider of mobile satellite and secure Wi-Fi, Primetech was invited to participate in the Radiance Integrated System Demonstration (RISCD) earlier this year at the Home Office Scientific Development Branch exhibition. We were commissioned to simulate a Silver Command Unit, providing the control unit, the Wi-Fi meshed network, integration to a private 3G base station, and a simulated satellite link to the Gold Command HQ. Working with the other technologies in the project enabled us to develop the systems we have now.

Satellite has few boundaries and is not dependant on the local terrestrial or mobile network; it enables communication with the outside world from the incident ground to be set up even when there is no conventional service. As a backup to satellite, meshed networks can be deployed to back haul as a resilient solution. For guaranteed privacy and service, implementing a private 3G network is possible to give an overlay network.

An example is "Tactical Connect" from Roke Manor Research, a small form 3G system (combined base station and standalone core network) which delivers voice communications and live video streaming and can be connected the internet via the satellite or other broadband link. Should First Responders using Wi-Fi enabled devices wander outside of normal Wi-Fi range, this 3G expands the range of coverage up to 40Km, acting as a bearer to pick up all data and video transmissions, allowing data rates of up to 7.2 Mb/s to be achieved at speeds of 120 Km/h.

Aside from the benefits of being able to deploy rapidly, it has the added advantage of reliability and interoperability through the use of well proven open cellular standards. Roke's software defined solution provides access across the entire communications stack and is easily customised.

Communications applications on the network can enhance interoperability between multi agency responders. EARL (Emergency Area Radio Link), a communication system developed by ARL Communications, is a secure, rapidly deployable, cost effective Voice and Radio over IP (VoIP and RoIP) system. It interconnects legacy radio systems from across the UK and abroad to produce a resilient communication system over any bearer. Simon Land, Business Development Director at ARL Communications, adds: "by utilizing quickly deployable, portable gateways, the system can link to the internet via satellite or 3G - no need to change over existing equipment or build a new network. EARL can use current networks to create a network of networks that can be rolled out quickly and provide video and recordable voice and text communications for Incident Commanders". An integrated logging tool allows a complete record of the incident to be produced post incident Civil emergency commanders rely on information which adds substantially to their understanding of the situation. This includes information on who's doing what; information about the physical landscape, such as building plans and maps; and information about known risks, such as types of hazards. The capability for every Commander, at every level to be able to contribute to, and see the COP is crucial: hence the need for integrating technologies to aid situational awareness.

Photophone XT software - a unique encrypted, interactive image and data communications application, allows the dynamic capture, transmission and receipt of multimedia intelligence between Bronze, Silver & Gold Commands. The objective of the system is to enhance and speed up the relevant information flow provided to Commanders, without saturating them.

First-on-scene officers can use the camera on their portable device such as a BlackBerry smartphone, Android device or Windows Mobile PDA to capture an image or video, adding voice over or text over notes. These images and files can then be transmitted to the Command suites and to the rest of the team on the ground, who may be equipped with rugged tablets, laptops and desktop PCs. The system is a bi-directional tool which means that additional data (e.g. floorplans of building) can be captured and transmitted from Gold or Silver Commands and sent down the line to the First Responders.

Technology is being advanced all the time, but similarly, exercises such as the RISCD are showing that it is practical to use Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) equipment to create a truly interoperable network using existing equipment, with satellite as the backhaul media.

For further information, visit

Return to Products menu