Homeland Security and Public Safety

Nationwide Public Safety Network Gets Real-World Test at RNC

In a preview of what could come out of the planned nationwide public safety broadband network, police used iPhones over a private network while securing the 2012 Republican National Convention.

The Republican National Convention, which ended Aug. 30, was a chance for politicians and speakers to test their ideas on live audiences, but it was also an opportunity for police to test out some new technology. As part of security operations, police in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., tested the use of iPhones over a privately run long-term evolution (LTE) voice and data network with special permission from the Federal Communications Commission. The test network was a working preview of what could come out of the upcoming nationwide public safety broadband network being overseen by the First Responder Network Authority.

“This is the first time that such a mission has been allowed” in an operational environment, said Kevin McFadden of Cisco’s National Security and Defense team, reported GCN.com. The test gave officers the opportunity to transfer video from the streets to the command center as well as to one another. The network also gave plain clothes police officers the opportunity to operate less conspicuously because they weren't using police radios and ear pieces.

For the test, LTE receivers with ranges of three to five miles were placed on towers around Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg. Pocket-sized MiFi wireless routers were used by police to provide gateway connections between iPhones and the network, although such a stopgap will not be necessary when commercial phones have the capability to connect directly to police networks, McFadden said.

GPS features in the smartphones allowed for the tracking of officers and provided the command center with a better overall picture of what was happening in the field. This also saved time because officers did not have to report their locations. “The amount of radio traffic was reduced significantly,” McFadden said.

Using public networks during large-scale events isn't a good option for emergency personnel because of network congestion. Having a dedicated network provides assurance that bandwidth will be available and also provides an opportunity for advanced functionality, said Sgt. Dale Moushon, commander of the St. Petersburg Police Department’s intelligence unit. “There are going to be so many possibilities coming out of this as the technology matures,” he said. “This showed us it is possible and it is coming.”

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