August 1, 2010
How does a small city handle a big crowd without huge problems? That’s a key question facing authorities in the Gulf Coast hot-spot of Galveston, Texas, where popular events such as Mardi Gras, Spring Break, and the Lone Star Motorcycle Rally can draw nearly a half-million people to a city of under 60,000. The answer, of course, involves a broad array of effective public safety practices, many of which depend on the availability of reliable, high-performance emergency communications both within the city and beyond. To handle the job, Galveston built its special event communications system around the C-Soft RoIP platform from Telex.
“During special events we don’t like to use assets that might be needed for the day-to-day operation of the rest of the city,” says Robert Simmons, Galveston’s Risk Manager. “So we set up a mobile command post in the field with dispatchers. The big challenge for these dispatchers used to be trying to use radios to monitor the number of channels in play at a given event.”
Fire, police, and EMS each operate on their own channels and respective subchannels, and inspectors and planning personnel also have their own channels. “Everyone needs to be able to talk to everyone else at some point, or to have someone contact them,” Simmons explains. “It just wasn’t feasible to try to listen to six, seven, or eight channels, so we used to have to limit the dispatchers to monitoring just two priority channels. If you were in the field on an unmonitored channel, you’d have to manually switch your radios over to either the police or fire channel, at which point you’d be getting in the way of their communications. If you needed help quickly, it wasn’t very efficient and it wasn’t very safe.”
Simmons says his first taste of a possible solution to the problem came when he visited the County of Galveston’s emergency operations center and saw their Telex C-Soft system in action. “I saw the benefits of being able to look at 12 or 24 channels at one time on one screen,” he says. “It allows a much more effective use of radio assets, because the dispatchers are able to monitor visually. That takes the burden off of the people in the field, who can now just talk to a dispatcher on their regular channels without worrying about switching over.”
During an event the mobile command trailer, which Simmons says can be “ready to go in five minutes,” is deployed with two permanent dispatch stations. The overall system is made up of two Telex C-Soft radio dispatch and signaling consoles, three IP-223 dual IP remote adapter panels, and six Motorola XLT radios. Point-to-point communication is enabled by a 900-MHz antenna that ties the unit into a network that provides access to additional IP-223s.
“Because the Telex system is so versatile,” Simmons says, “once we’re on that point-to-point system our mobile unit can connect to some 40 additional emergency and public safety resources operated by numerous agencies throughout the county. Instead of having to buy 40 radios, all I need is a C-Soft license and access to the Internet, and I can communicate with these other agencies’ radios, even if they’re not using a Telex system. Having that kind of interoperability is always beneficial. If anything we have going on down here impacts the highway or the mainland it’s nice to be able to contact the affected agencies directly.”
Simmons says that the first real test of the C-Soft based system was the 2010 Lone Star Motorcycle Rally, an event whose attendance was estimated at over 400,000. “It sounds like it would be crazy,” he says, “but the crowd at this event is actually very easy to work with. We’ve had very few issues, but you still have to be prepared and ready to deal with whatever comes up.”
“The C-Soft system worked out very well for us,” Simmons continues. “It did everything that was promised, and we were very happy with it. In particular, it gave our dispatchers the ability to monitor multiple channels in a way that they simply couldn’t handle efficiently before. And it gave us the ability to access all the radio assets we might need from surrounding areas. Those are two big advantages right there.”
Simmons adds that he “saw the benefits enough that I’m going to expand the system as much as I possibly can. We currently have a 12-position license on each of our C-Soft consoles, and we’re going to upgrade both of those to 24-positions. And we’re going to tie IP-223s into every radio asset that we have in our main dispatch center, so that if we ever do need to call in outside help — for a hurricane, for example — we’ll have access to the radio channels of all the various departments that are coming down here even before they get here. With the Telex system, we’re now able to take the greatest possible advantage of all of our radio resources.”