Company in the SpotlightBAE Systems and communication interoperability

Published 24 April 2008

BAE’s First InterComm device, also called the Vehicle Communications Assembly (VCA), is small enough (8.625” x 8.625” x 2.5”) to be easily mounted inside first responder vehicles; once installed, the VCA relies on vehicle power

Communications interoperability is the ability of diverse systems and organizations to communicate with each other effectively. This ability has been hampered or even made impossible by the use of incompatible equipment and diverse radio frequencies. BAE Systems, the $31 billion defense and aerospace giant, has entered the market with a solution engineered at its New Hampshire facilities. First InterComm appears to be a cost-effective, user-friendly and mobile answer to the communications interoperability dilemma. Communications interoperability is essential not only in national disasters but for more routine, everyday law enforcement operations and emergency response.

Communications Interoperability — the need
The tragedy of 9/11 and the catastrophe of Katrinareinforced what first responders knew for years - the lack of communication interoperability costs lives. Fifteen hours of New York City Fire Department radio communications from 9/11 revealed chaos, confusion and frustration. From 8:46 a.m. to well after the collapse of the first tower different voices heard over the call channels revealed disorientation and panic. The exchanges show that first responders did not know whether to stay in the towers or retreat, how to find emergency assistance or how to find people trapped in the debris. They were hamstrung by the inability of different agencies to communicate through the same network. The 9/11 Commission concluded that this lack of communication interoperability was a key factor in the death of at least 121 fire fighters of the 343 that lost their lives on 9/11.

Hurricane Katrina knocked out more than three million customer phone lines in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The wireless telecommunications network’s switching centers that route calls were devastated and more than 1,000 cell sites were put out of service. Power was down. Of the 41 radio stations in the New Orleans area only 4 remained on the air. Foreigners viewing television coverage of volunteer boaters making their way into New Orleans with nothing to go on except for what they could see in front of them were astounded. This was America? World superpower and technological powerhouse?

Mike Greene, BAE Systems’ director for homeland security solutions, told the Daily Wire, that the problem was not just a technological one but also a function of a basket of independent and uncoordinated decisions by various agencies on communications. Thus New York City during 9/11 was faced with various agencies operating on mutually incompatible equipment and frequencies. The situation with Katrina was compounded by the outage of power.

Communication interoperability has