Texas Guard goes wireless for rapid response

To help it respond to disasters, the Texas National Guard has started to use Fortress Technologies' Rapid Response Communications Kit based on low-cost commercial Wi-Fi and WiMax technologies from Nortel and strong encryption gear and software from Fortress.

Maj. Clay Wheeler, director of command and control of communications for the Texas Guard, said geography dictated the acquisition of the kit. The state has a land and water area of 268,581 square miles, which presents challenges in communicating during emergency situations, Wheeler said.

The Texas Guard needs to be able quickly, efficiently and securely coordinate with various entities anywhere in this vast area during a major incident such as a hurricane, and the kit enables it to share critical information and save time and lives, he said.

Fortress said the rapid response kit will help the Texas Guard streamline its response to and management of a disaster situation by immediately opening lines of communications among multiple agencies such as the American Red Cross; Federal Emergency Management Agency; state, local and county agencies; and other first responders.

Robert Frisbee, chief executive officer of PacStar, which specializes in integrating communications gear into rugged, deployable systems, said Fortress tapped his company to package the Texas Guard system, which can handle data, video and voice-over-IP traffic. Fortress encrypts this traffic with its equipment and software, which provides strong encryption that complies with the Federal Information Processing System 140-2 standard based on the Advanced Encryption Standard.

Richard Gorman, mobility architect at Nortel Government, said the kit uses the company's 802.16 gear, which costs about $5,000 for the base station and about $550 for subscriber units. The Texas Guard WiMax gear operates in the unlicensed 5.8 GHz band, which Gorman said makes it easy to set up the system anywhere without having to use a licensed band.

The WiMax gear in the Texas Guard kit has a range of 2 to 3 miles. W-Fi systems connected to the subscriber units can extend that range extended even further.

John Dow, vice president of business development and marketing at Fortress, said the company is working to provide National Guard units in several states with rapid response kits.

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