Keeping first responders in touch

Communication is critical for first responders. Unfortunately, disaster sites often are riddled with radio dead spots.

On Aug. 5, Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) tested a possible solution to the problem earlier this week ' a 'bread-crumb communication system' that employs smart multihop relays, the bread crumbs, that advise first responders when to place the next device to extend the communications range.

The relays were assembled from off-the-shelf microprocessors and other standard hardware. The smarts in the relays come from software developed by NIST that monitors the status of radio communication signals. When the signal weakens, the software alerts users so that they can lay down another relay before walking out of range.

According to Nader Moayeri, manager of NIST's Wireless Communication Technologies Group, existing approaches to establishing ad hoc wireless networks in emergency situations typically instruct first responders to lay down breadcrumb relays at specific locations, such as around every corner in corridors or in every stairwell.

'Static rules do not take into account all the environmental variables that affect signal degradation, such as attenuation, fading and interference,' Moayeri said. 'The communication range in a commercial building corridor is vastly different from that of a factory floor, which is unlike a coal mine.'

The tests were conducted with two prototype breadcrumb radio systems developed at NIST, one operating at 900 MHz and the other at 2.4 DHz. The demonstration was conducted at the 2008 Workshop on Precision Indoor Personnel Location and Tracking for Emergency Responders at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.
The NIST team is interested in sharing their prototype technology and its underlying concepts with businesses and other organizations working to improve the quality and reliability of first responder communication systems. Additional information is available here.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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