Comms Connect Brisbane brought together Queensland-based players in the critical communications field on 27 July 2017 at South Bank. With plenty of interesting, educational presentations delivered with dry humour by experienced industry personnel, it was an event not to be missed. If you weren’t there, here’s a recap of the day:
The most obvious message throughout the day was that change is not coming – it’s here. There is an incredible breadth and depth of modern technology available which, if properly utilised and integrated into the public safety arena, could revolutionise the way we operate today.
The first speech was The Changing Landscape of Land Mobile Radio – Threats and Opportunities by Hamish Duff, the President of ARCIA. The LMR scene has seen much change and new technologies coming into the market, but Mr Duff said business-critical voice communications is still a must-have. He stressed that LMR industry members are diverse and experienced, and that they all have a part to play in advising governments and clients about the way forward.
Next was Craig Anderson, Director ICT Service Development of Queensland’s Public Safety Business Agency (PSBA). He spoke in detail about interoperability and the possibilities already open to organisations today. Using an example of an intelligent smoke detector, this device could potentially not just alert occupants to danger but also contact 000 and the local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers.
“We are still working in a traditional space,” said Mr Anderson. But with the new technology available now in the public safety ecosystem, “We’ve got to challenge ourselves on what it is we can, and what we should be doing.”
He encouraged the industry to not let fear of the front page or a mismatch of internal strategy prevent them from making progress and implementing new technology.
One of the most memorable talks of the day was the presentation by Craig Stolte, the Assistant Superintendent GWN Executive Manager of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES). Mr Stolte spoke about his experience being part of the post-disaster operation after Cyclone Debbie hit Queensland earlier in the year.
As you probably know, Cyclone Debbie took out some critical infrastructure and communications went down in affected areas. The impact on operations for emergency services personnel in these areas was catastrophic – crews were unable to do their jobs as nobody knew what anyone else was doing and they were, essentially, blind.
QFES took pre-emptive action by heading up from southeast Queensland before the cyclone hit and bringing COWs (Cells On Wheels) and calves (smaller repeater stations of the COWs) to various regional towns. Once the cyclone was over, they made their way through the affected areas and deployed the COWs and calves in strategic locations to restore communications. Most impressively, these mobile units could be quickly deployed in just half an hour.
The ability to keep doing their jobs using their usual digital communications despite BAU infrastructure being lost during the cyclone was key for public safety crews working in the post-disaster clean-up.
“If we don’t have comms, we can’t do our business. So we brought the network to them,” said Mr Stolte.
The same technology was used in the Rockhampton floods to get the network back online with some additional assistance from POLAIR.
I was thrilled to be invited back by Comms Connect to present once again after last month’s Sydney edition of the event.
Optimising Public and Private Data Networks for Communications Assurance Across Diverse Geographies
Public safety organisations require communications to do their jobs; this was a point driven home by QFES. But how can emergency services providers ensure the lines never go down or stay down in a practical manner? I examined the pros and cons of public networks and private networks.
Put simply, public networks by bearers such as Telstra, Optus and Vodafone may be more cost-effective but the issue of availability is a concern. Conversely, private networks such as P25 and Mobitex have extraordinarily high availability, but the costs to build and maintain your own network are also extremely high.
The answer isn’t a simple ‘public’ or ‘private’. The key to knowing what’s right for your organisation is gathering requirements from all relevant stakeholders including frontline personnel; knowing the environment that you work in; understanding the resources and skills you have (and don’t have) at your disposal; and evaluating all your options scientifically and systematically, then making an informed decision.
As I show in this presentation, the answer is different for everyone: Queensland Ambulance Service uses a private network while Tasmania’s ambulances operate on Telstra. And then you have New South Wales Ambulance, who use a hybrid of public and private networks to ensure maximum coverage and reliability.
While the Brisbane edition of Comms Connect is smaller than the Sydney and Melbourne editions, it was definitely worth taking the day out to see learn what’s new and what’s important in the fast-evolving critical communications arena. As ARCIA’s Ian Miller said,
“We are about to enter a paradigm change for communications – convergence.”
It’s going to be interesting to see where this goes, and how quickly public safety organisations are willing to move with incorporating new communication technologies.