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Back to Archives | Back to September 2007 Contents 

When Punting Won’t Work: Providing Federal, State, and Local Radio Interoperability during Super Bowl XLI

By Officer Bruce Midgley, Communications Bureau, Miami-Dade Police Department, Florida; and John Facella, Director of Public Safety Markets, Tyco Electronics M/A-COM, and Member of the IACP Communications and Technology Committee


n the era following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, major public events have become even more difficult to plan because of the threat of a terrorist or major criminal act. Federal, state, and multiple local agencies must work together to ensure the safety and success of major events. Televised events create even more issues, because the target value is higher for criminals, and international public scrutiny is ever present. When that event is the Super Bowl, law enforcement agencies are dealing with one of the most widely watched sporting events in the world.

Super Bowl XLI was played on February 4, 2007, at Dolphin Stadium in Miami–Dade County, Florida, in front of more than 74,000 spectators. It was imperative that public safety agencies at all levels be able to interoperate despite using different radio bands and technologies. This article will discuss some of the planning that went into this event, a new interoperability tool that was used, the results, and some lessons learned.


Advance Planning

A considerable amount of advance planning went into this event. The Miami-Dade Police Communications Bureau began planning for the event before June 2006. The planning eventually encompassed more than seven agencies of local, state, and federal governments, including the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD); the Miami–Dade County Fire Department; the Florida Highway Patrol; the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; the Broward County Sheriff’s Department; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); and other local Miami–Dade County agencies.

As the Communications Bureau learned, it is important for all agencies to buy into an interoperability solution early in the planning stages. Things would have moved faster for the bureau had it demonstrated a solution early on to all the agencies involved. Agency representatives must be able to see it, hear it, and try it in order to be convinced that the interoperability solution will be helpful to them during an event.

Another benefit of starting the planning early is that by having agencies work together over a period of time on a project like this, agencies develop trust and confidence in one another, which is helpful from an operation standpoint as well.

In most cases, every agency will want to talk with every other agency, which is acceptable only if it makes operational sense. Every discipline will want to talk with every other discipline, which may be impossible if, as was the case with the Miami-Dade example, the event involves a thousand officers and agents in a dozen different disciplines (while each may desire to communicate with the other, there may be no real need for traffic enforcement officers, for example, to talk with the bomb squad). What is recommended is developing a preplan for the scenarios most likely to happen, after which it can be decided which agencies and disciplines must talk to each other and which are preferable but optional. If the preplan is mapped out graphically on paper, it is easier for everyone to visualize and discuss. Some example scenarios for a large public event could include robberies, rioting among fans, a mass casualty medical event, a stadium fire, stadium collapse, an unexpected violent storm, an earthquake, deployment of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), hostage taking, and so on.

In many cases, desktop radios are used with a suitable antenna to “shoot into” neighboring agency radio systems. These desktop radios act as “doorways” into the other systems for the interoperability solution; this is one way that interoperability can be established. Another way is to provide a wired link to the other system, which today is often a T1 data line or in some cases simply voice phone lines. But either type of wired link is costly to lease when compared to using a desktop station. Also, wire lines are subject to being cut or disconnected, accidentally or deliberately. Therefore, technical experts should try to minimize the use of leased wire lines for agency interoperability plans.


Putting the Plan into Action in Miami

By the spring of 2006, the MDPD had identified the major public safety partners who would be actively participating in the Super Bowl. A Super Bowl Communications Committee was established, with representatives from the communications units from those agencies as well as representatives from other interested parties. The committee nominated a telecommunications manager from the FBI to chair the committee. Other discipline-related committees necessary for the successful outcome of the event were also formed: Special Response Team (SRT)/Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Committee, WMD Committee, Traffic Committee, and so forth. The Communications Committee needed to determine what communications resources would be needed for the various participating agencies based on input from all other committees.

Florida has an established communications governance structure in place, in which the state is divided into regions. The Region 7 (Miami) Regional Domestic Security Task Force was tapped as a useful asset during the planning stage. In addition to the agencies working the event, the Communications Committee included representatives of agencies that had an interest in regional communications issues, as well as members of the regional domestic security task force. Whenever the committee met, it tried to make decisions based on consensus, but ultimately, more weight was given to the agencies that would actually work the event. Through open discussion and debate, and due to the large-scale event experience of many of the members, the problems were solved readily.

Quickly the committee needed to identify both the various radio systems that would be in use and what resources (i.e., frequencies or talk groups) within those systems the various disciplines within the agencies involved would use. The committee also needed to determine the service areas for the various radio systems and when it would be likely that first responders would be needed for a task outside of the service area of their own radio system. The stadium is located in the north end of Miami–Dade County, and various Super Bowl events were held in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Using the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to plan for the event, the committee planned to use resources from various agencies, working together in a mutual-aid strategy in order to allocate first responders as efficiently as possible. This meant that officers and deputies might work outside of their usual jurisdictions, hence outside the coverage area of their own radio systems. This concern caused the committee to consider the State of Florida’s statewide Enhanced Digital Access Communications System (EDACS) as a backup for such cases. However, it was imperative that the statewide system not be overloaded as a result of this initiative. Both the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and its vendor, Tyco Electronics M/A-COM, provided cache radios, which gave deputies and agents a resource outside of their own radio systems’ coverage areas. Additionally, M/A-COM provided a VIDA interoperability gateway for use during the event. The VIDA switch proved to be a crucial interoperability link at the Super Bowl, enabling disparate radio systems to be networked together during the game.

The Communications Committee also drew a matrix to diagram what resources would be connected to the VIDA technology for primary communications before and during the game, as well as what resources would need to be instantly connected should various serious incidents unfold. The hope, of course, was that the game would be the lead story on the sports news, not the lead news story as a result of an incident.


Communications Interoperability Tools

There are many technical solutions to the problem of establishing effective communications among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies who use different frequency bands, different systems and technologies, and different vendors. SAFECOM, the federal government agency program that was created after September 11, 2001, to help improve interoperability in the United States, has created numerous documents to describe many of the aspects of solving the interoperability problem (www.safecomprogram.gov). It is not the intent of this article to detail the technical solutions to the interoperability problem except to say that there are several options available today.

As mentioned, Miami-Dade chose to use the M/A-COM VIDA platform, which is based upon new Internet Protocol (IP) technology. Although this platform is in use in such U.S. locations as Denver, Colorado; Maryland; and the Pentagon in northern Virginia, it was new to Miami–Dade County. This platform belongs to a new family of interoperability options that can be called “networklevel interoperability.” Another example of a network-level option is the new Telecommunications Industry Association/Association of Public Safety Communications Officials–International (TIA/APCO) Project 25 inter-RF subsystem interface (ISSI) standard, which allows different Project 25 radio systems to be linked together.

The TIA/APCO Project 25 ISSI network-level interoperability option allows either selected field law enforcement officers or centralized dispatchers to activate connections among different agencies’ systems. The MDPD felt this was a very important issue from the outset. Given the size of the Super Bowl event, the MDPD did not want to be forced to mandate operationally that only the central dispatchers could activate interoperability. If a major problem arose, dispatchers would be very busy and would not necessarily be able to give time to turning on interoperability.

Another issue is the ability to store certain preplanned interoperability configurations; for example, one could involve the agencies necessary to handle a major medical event, and another would include those appropriate for responding to deployment of a WMD. In each case, connections among the various agencies can be stored in memory and invoked by the dispatcher or the selected field officer.

Normally, network-level interoperability is implemented permanently at a suitable radio communications site, usually one of the central sites. In the case of the MDPD, because the technology was new to the department and time was short, the equipment was provided in a vehicle parked near Dolphin Stadium but out of the way of pedestrian or vehicle traffic—and away from inquisitive eyes.


Results

The interoperability solution worked well during the Super Bowl. All agencies were able to communicate continuously during and after the event. Luckily, there were no serious incidents. The equipment performed well, and the users were adequately trained.


Lessons Learned

Preparing everyone and thoroughly testing a custom interoperability solution takes time. All agencies that will be connected should be in place several weeks before an event to allow ample time for engineers and technicians to solve any issues.

Collecting loaner radios from the local system will always take much more time than assigning them; officers who want a radio will come to get one but will often forget to return it. It is a good idea to assign an administrative person to keep track of the radio serial number and contact information of the person to whom the radio was given.

In summary, it takes months of advance planning, coordination, and equipment staging to prepare the communications and interoperability for an event the size of the Super Bowl. That planning will pay off when all the involved public safety agencies are able to perform their missions well during the event.■

Bruce Midgley has been an MDPD officer since 1982. He assisted with the original implementation of the wide-area simulcast EDACS and is currently assigned to the Operational Support Section at the Communications Bureau, where he is responsible for day-to-day radio requests.

John Facella is the Director for Public Safety Markets at Tyco Electronics M/A-COM. He has 23 years of experience in public safety radio communications, has an electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech, and is a registered professional engineer. He is a member of APCO as well as the IACP Communications and Technology Committee.

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From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 9, September 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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