The security week that was: 03/11/11 (Emergency communications)

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The importance of emergency communications

When I was younger, I was a licensed amateur radio operator (ham radio), and you could have found me roaming the airwaves at KB5HWL from a homemade antenna I had strung up in an old pecan tree growing outside the garage. I tell you this not to build any sort of geekdom or nerd credo, but because of one experience that I shared. I grew up along the Gulf Coast, and one of the things that we amateur radio enthusiasts would do from time-to-time was bring all of our equipment to a large local park, set it up on picnic tables, power up generators and do a trial run of how these radios could be used to facilitate emergency communications.

Disaster practice wasn't a concept; we were all from a coastal area which seems to receive a hurricane every few years. The idea that we had was this: A hurricane wipes out the core communications infrastructure (it was telephone poles back then) and dozens of amateur radio enthusiasts respond by pulling the equipment out of their garages, basements and extra bedrooms and set it up to be the information sharing network operated by volunteers of the local radio relay league. Yes, I know this all sounds a little quaint in today's age of smart phones.

Fast forward to 2011. I spent the week at the IWCE 2011 Expo in Las Vegas. This is the big industry wireless technology and emergency radios tradeshow. One of the things that has happened since those days that I spent over tube radios in a dusty garage is that an entire broadband, high-speed communications infrastructure has been built. We can even ship high-bandwidth video around the nation, and we have seen systems that digitally patch together the police radio channels with the fire channels. So, what about those old radios, those push-to-talk devices still hanging on the crisp blue shirts?

I'll paraphrase a story I heard told at the conference by the afternoon keynote speaker, a Mr. Chris Essid, the director of the DHS Office of Emergency Communications (see coverage of Essid's keynote address).

Essid was meeting with law enforcement officials when a police chief disconnected his leather duty belt and dropped it on the table in front of others. On it were the standard safety tools you might expect to find: gun, baton, cuffs, radio, etc. "Which of these things do you think is the most important thing on this duty belt?" asked the chief. Most people picked the gun, but the chief said it was the radio. He said he had used the gun only once in 15 years but that he used the radio every day to save lives.

The point of the story for Essid was to underscore the importance of radio communications and interoperability, and while this was decidedly focused on the value to public safety departments, I think there is a lesson here for security departments. We tend to focus on technology investments, video surveillance cameras, access control and alarm systems, but as we have found out in some of the most serious events, it's the communications that we hang up on. Whether it's getting the incident information communicated to the entire security team to orchestrate a response or getting a mass notification system set up for a critical incident to alert our employees, students, and visitors, the role of communications can't be emphasized enough.

In other news
LG makes U.S. market debut, Utah security companies form association, more

LG Electronics, which already has a presence in the global security market, announced this week that it's security products will now be available in North America through GVI Security Solutions. ... Pinnacle Security, Silverline Security and Vision Home Security have founded a new association for security companies based in the state of Utah. ... Video and data management software developer DIGIOP Technologies has been acquired by an investor group led by The Carlyle Group. ... Officials in Ohio have scrapped plans for an extensive security camera network that would have linked thousands of cameras together to help monitor roads, schools and private businesses. ... Police in Atlanta are investigating an incident at a local Walmart in which a man managed to steal $180,000 in cash from the store's safe. ... A new report out from The Freedonia Group forecasts the private contract security services market to exceed $218 billion in 2014. ... Federal lawmakers are considering a new bill that would increase penalties for stealing medical products in an effort to crack down on some of the large-scale incidents of pharmaceutical thefts that have occurred in recent years.