One vision of unified communications

Inglewood, Calif., looks to bridge the gaps among emergency teams

MIKE FALKOW, acting city administrator for Inglewood, Calif.,
has a vision for interoperable emergency communications that could
light up his region of southern California. Inglewood is about 20
minutes from Los Angeles International Airport and sits in the
middle of earthquake country.

During the past three years, city officials have been focused on
emergency preparedness, readying Inglewood for a major earthquake,
airplane crashes, spills of toxic wastes, and other disasters or
dangerous events.

Officials created a division for public safety systems that
would oversee implementation of technologies such as computer-aided
dispatch and records management, mobile data computers,
telecommunications, and radio.

“One place I knew we were desperate was the area of mobile
telecommunications,” said Falkow, who is also the
city’s information technology director. “We learned
from [hurricanes] Katrina and Rita that if something bad goes down,
guess what? The whole telecom is going to go down. If we have [a
major earthquake] down here or a plane goes down, we could lose a
lot of cell sites.”

Police officers live by their radios, Falkow said. He wanted to
give the police department military-grade telecom technology
— a mobile system with satellite phone communications and
Internet connectivity that could be quickly deployed.

“I wanted to stand up a device, point it to the southern
sky and 45 minutes to an hour later get cellular communications if
I wanted to call the White House or other agencies,” Falkow

Falkow bought the PacStar 5500 deployable network that connects
users with phones, laptop PCs, IP-based devices, and wired and
wireless systems — all supported with advanced security.

Going mobile

IT officials realized that the satellite dish was too large. They
wanted something more mobile. Falkow had limited funds but was able
to pay for new equipment through some asset forfeiture money from
the police department. He went back to PacStar to see if the city
could get a mobile trailer that had a generator and a
self-acquiring satellite dish. He’s in the process of
finalizing that purchase. Public safety officials will be able to
load everything in a trailer, haul it in back of a command van, go
to a city park or other area and create a mobile emergency
operations center.

“I can plug analog phones directly into my PacStar device
and create a 911 center,” Falkow said. “I can have the
cell phones and notebook with wireless network.”

Falkow said he wants to bring in a Quantar bay station and
another device to bridge the PacStar with the Motorola radio
system. “If I have all three, I have police officers and the
first responders, all in communications with one another, taking
commands from an incident manager,” he said.

The next stage would involve migrating the computer
aided-dispatch system off a 25-year-old IBM mainframe to a
Windows-based server environment.

The PacStar device is also a server, he said. Other devices can
plug into it because it has a router and switch. After the dispatch
system is on a server, Falkow could make a replica, put it on a
first responder’s vehicle and plug it into the PacStar

“It would be as though the dispatch center down in our
sub-basement is fully operational,” Falkow said.

Falkow is working with his representative in the California
State Assembly, who is a former Inglewood City Council member, to
extend the system to other municipalities in that state’s
assembly district.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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