Interoperable communications network assisted law enforcement at GOP convention

Fri, 09/14/2012

A consortium of leading technology companies implemented an interoperable communications network at the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL, which enabled police officers from several area departments, as well as security personnel assigned to the convention itself, to transmit real-time video images, voice and data via smart phones and tablets.

The interoperable network represented the first time a group of commercial vendors collaborated on a “multi-vendor” approach, using a non-proprietary “open system,” to establish a “private network,” which could not be accessed by members of the public. It was also the first time such a system was executed at a National Special Security Event, explained a news release issued by the consortium on Sept. 17.

Some of the vendors considered this temporary network in Tampa to be something of a dress rehearsal or a trial run for the type of network they hope will be implemented as part of the $7 billion deployment of a new National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). “The combined efforts of these companies and the customer community have created an interoperable broadband network that may be used as the blueprint for the larger FirstNet National Public Safety Broadband Network architecture,” said TJ Kennedy, Raytheon’s director of public safety and security, in a prepared statement.

Raytheon, which handled the project management and engineering support, joined four other vendors: Cisco, which provided the LTE packet core, Unified Communications applications, IP routing and switching, and cybersecurity; Nokia Systems Networks, which provided the LTE radio access network; Reality Mobile, which offered its mobile video and visual collaboration platform; and Amdocs which provided subscriber and device data management.

Some of the costs to implement the network in Tampa were covered by a public safety interoperable communications grant, explained Bob Meyer, a business development executive with Raytheon, and other costs were covered by the vendors themselves. Much of the communications hardware will remain in Tampa through January 2013, so local police departments -- with the help of a few remaining vendor personnel -- can continue to deploy the system.

A similar interoperable communications system was deployed at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, though that system was a “commercial” system, accessible to members of the public, rather than a purely private network, as was set up in Tampa, Meyer told Government Security News on Sept. 14.

“It was anticipated that a commercial network [in Tampa] might become over-loaded, so we set up a private network,” Meyer said. “There was no possibility that our network would get clogged up.”

The system marks the first time federal, state and local first responders have simultaneously used a 700 MHz D-block broadband network for an NSSE, said the consortium’s press release. The network was deployed under special temporary authority (STA) from the Federal Communications Commission for the GOP convention, and provided a field trial of a multi-vendor integrated LTE system.

“This technology enabled us to gather critical information for use in real-time decision making,” said Sgt. Dale Moushon, St. Petersburg Police Department intelligence unit. “The LTE system and focused applications gave law enforcement an advantage, allowing police officers to use everyday devices in a strategic and tactical way.”

Law enforcement officers from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties used the LTE broadband system to secure the safety of convention participants and the Tampa Bay area community. The system provided first responders with secure, encrypted voice, video and data communications, as well as an evidence-quality, permanent recording of all data collected at the event. 

The Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties operations centers and field personnel were provided secure access to the LTE system applications to support command awareness and enable sharing of real-time activity with executive staff and public information officials as needed.

The Cisco IP Interoperability and Collaboration System (IPICS), Cisco Jabber, and the RealityVision applications allowed law enforcement officers and intelligence teams to receive and share live video, and position information about crowd movements well in advance of media and public social networking.

The applications integrated fixed camera feeds, live video transmitted from smart phones, GPS-enabled blue force tracking, and Land Mobile Radio P25 push-to-talk voice resources from existing federal, state, and local radio systems. 

This is an open-systems collaboration among first responders, wireless broadband equipment suppliers and a system integrator to deploy much needed capabilities during the NSSE. The system uses Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) products from each of the partners to enable a manufacturer-agnostic platform for smart phones, tablets, and computers sharing video, voice, and data in real-time. In keeping with the STA requirements, the LTE network offered an alternative method of communication to field personnel that allowed roaming between commercial and private dedicated high-speed 4G services.