Monday, September 6, 2010

Interoperability Made Simple

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) recently requested proposals for upgrading the Alabama Hospital Emergency Radio (H.E.A.R.) network.  Our proposal could be a model for advanced interoperable communications at the municipal, county, regional, or statewide level.  Although this proposal deals only with hospitals, it can easily be adapted to a localized or wide area interoperable plan to coordinate EMA, EMS, Fire, Law Enforcement, School, Transportation, and Utility communications.

The H.E.A.R. system (also known as EACOM in Mississippi, and WISPERN in Wisconsin) was conceived in the late 1960’s and implemented in the early 1970’s.  These systems evolved from a need for improved ambulance-to-hospital and hospital-to-hospital communication to speed up patient transport to a trauma center most capable of addressing critical care needs.  Two VHF frequencies were used (151.280 MHz for hospital-to-hospital communications and 155.340 for ambulance-to-hospital communications.  A network was established combining Continuous Tone Coded Squelch system (CTCSS) and Interrupted Pulse Dialing (IPD) to allowing selective calling to an individual hospital, transport vehicle, personal 2-way radio, or user group.

The need for networking emergency communications is well known at the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  As a result, DHS has established guidelines for the establishment of emergency networks similar to H.E.A.R., but also inclusive to other first responders.  The current guidelines call for a standardized communications network known as APCO-25, or just simply P25.  This new standard addresses the need for narrow band capability (unknown in 1970), common technical operating standards that can communicate with current 2-way radios in an analog operating mode, as well as an open standard digital mode for enhanced capabilities.

We felt P25 was the ideal upgrade to bring the H.E.A.R. system into compliance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulatory standards while simultaneously meeting the guidelines of the Federal SAFECOM standard (used by DHS) as well as the State Communications Interoperability Plan (SCIP) approved in most states.  By continuing operations on the VHF band, the hospitals will maintain frequency compatibility with the majority of EMA, EMS, Fire, Law Enforcement, School, Transportation, and Utility communications both in rural and urban areas.  Low cost devices are available to “bridge” VHF with either UHF or 800 MHz systems used in larger metropolitan areas.

P25 will provide enhanced selective signaling without the need for additional equipment added to mobile or portable radios operated by private ambulance services or 2-way radios used by volunteer rescue departments.  P25 supports a high level of encryption in both analog and digital operating modes for addressing HIPAA requirements.  In short, P25 is the ideal technology to address emergency medical communications as well as interoperability with other first responder and support agencies.  Additional information on P25 is available at

Best of all, today’s technology allows the integration of computers and 2-way radios through the power of broadband networking including cable, fiber, the Internet, and wireless broadband. The use of IP addressable base station radios allows every radio on the system to be connected to any other IP connected base station anywhere in the world!  In addition, any Internet connected PC can talk to any mobile or portable radio connected to any base station in the network!  And if that wasn’t enough, these new generation base stations allow remote diagnostics and programming.  If service is required, the faulty module can be diagnosed and replaced without the need of a technician!

You can review our proposal to ADPH for an update to the H.E.A.R. system by going to Check it out.  We think you will find it to be of interest.  Then give us a call at 205.854.2611 or email for an assist with YOUR communications interoperability planning.  You’ll be glad you did!