May 22, 2006

Multi-agency collaboration prepares for Voice-over-IP phones at Firefighter Incident Command Posts

As part of this year's San Diego County Wildland Fire Drill, sponsored by the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association, held May 15-17 at the Dos Picos County Park, a collaboration between the San Diego Sheriff's Department, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and HPWREN allowed for a demonstration of Voice-over-IP, or Internet telephony, services that can be used at Incident Command Posts that will be set up for future large fire incidents in San Diego County.

A wireless data connection from the Dos Picos ICP was facilitated by a pre-installed relay on a hill on private property above the park, with clear view of the ICP site and the HPWREN backbone site on Mt. Woodson.

Dos Picos Wildland Fire Drill
One of the new firefighting helicopters is passing through the beam of the wireless link between Mt. Woodson in the background, and the HPWREN relay above the Dos Picos County Park in the foreground. The solar-powered relay is providing fixed wide-angle camera support in addition to network connectivity to the Dos Picos designated Incident Command Post site.

The proximity of relay allows for wireless connectivity from CDF resources at Dos Picos via a small antenna mounted to a vehicle.

Dos Picos Wildland Fire Drill
Dos Picos Wildland Fire Drill
(left) Jim Davidson is aligning the antenna connected to the HPWREN radio on the roof of the CDF Emergency Operations Support Mobile Communications Center.
(right) View from the roof of CDF's Mobile Communications Center, showing the HPWREN radio and antenna pointed towards the HPWREN communications relay on the hill above the Dos Picos County Park.
Dos Picos Wildland Fire Drill

HPWREN's two objectives at this year's event was to more involve CDF in the installation and data distribution throughout the ICP, and to assess the usability of Voice-over-IP and video conferencing. The installation and data distribution was greatly facilitated by a new CDF IT person, Doug Mitchell, who took over the installation and made it all work. Mitchell further improved communications by adding more network security capabilities.

A Voice-over-IP capability was enabled by the Sheriff's Department providing several (currently four) phone lines via one of their San Diego facilities with easy access to HPWREN. In addition, they also host the phone line end of the VoIP equipment (FXO). The VoIP telephones (FXS) are then located at the ICP, with HPWREN providing the connectivity between the FXO and FXS sets. This collaborative activity will allow to deploy phone lines during a real fire immediately after HPWREN is providing connectivity to the ICP, and the ICP-local connectivity get established. An additional benefit of this setup will be a phone number consistency irrespective of where the ICP is located, which will be facilitated by moving the ICP-allocated Internet address subnet to the location of the fire camp.

A lesson learned at the fire drill was that one of the lines should be dedicated to FAX services.

Dos Picos Wildland Fire Drill
Ron Serabia is demonstrating video conferencing via the wireless data network in the CDF Mobile Communications Center at the Dos Picos ICP, with Jim Hale participating at UCSD. This setup is potentially useful for briefings and meetings during an incident, while utilizing a standard laptop with a microphone and DV camcorder connected via a firewire interface, using free Skype version 2 software and an inexpensive Firewire DV camera driver. To the left of Serabia is a separate Grandstream 101 Voice-over-IP Internet telephone, and to the left of that is another video conferencing system made by Polycom.

For day three of the drill it was decided to also test video conferencing capability. While a professional video conferencing system was only marginally working (for unknown reason, perhaps insufficient bandwidth, which should be investigated separately), video conferencing via Skype worked in all of several tries without problems.

The daily briefing at the Dos Picos County Wildland Fire Drill was attended by participants from various agencies. The objective was to further enhance collaboration in joint activities for future large county fires.
Dos Picos Wildland Fire Drill

Dos Picos Wildland Fire Drill
County helicopter 12 is taking off and dispersing water in support of firefighting operations during the drill
Dos Picos Wildland Fire Drill

More photos can be found at May 15, May 16, May 17 #1, and May 17 #2.

Please note: The product names used in this article are only meant to show some test examples, and they are not intended as endorsements of product suitability to any applications. Your mileage may vary....

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