May 19, 2014
Two centuries ago, hundreds of thousands of settlers made their way through the Cumberland Gap, pushing the Western frontier of the then-young United States into Kentucky and points beyond. Today, portions of the Wilderness Road through the Gap—originally cut by Daniel Boone following Native American paths—have been preserved or recreated in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, which straddles the borders of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. But the vast majority of East-West traffic, some 32,000 cars per day, no longer flows on the surface, but rather underground through the Cumberland Gap Tunnel.
Built in the mid-1990s, the 4,600-foot long dual-bore tunnel connects the states of Tennessee and Kentucky with two lanes of US Route 25E in each direction. The area encompasses multiple federal, state, and local jurisdictions, so it’s crucial for public safety to keep all of the relevant agencies in easy communication. To do that, the Cumberland Gap Tunnel Authority recently undertook a complete revamp of the tunnel’s radio systems, putting Telex C-Soft software IP consoles and IP-223 dual IP remote adapter panels at the heart of dispatch operations.
“The old system used analog phone lines through the tunnel,” explains Rick Torstrick, whose company, Harlan 2 Way in Harlan, Kentucky, handled the radio project for the Tunnel Authority. “But they were having quite a bit of problem with those lines on the Tennessee side.” Part of the issue was moisture from the numerous underground springs and streams in the tunnel’s path. “The tunnel cuts through a cave,” Torstrick continues, “and they have a lot of dampness. Among other things, water was getting in the lines and the lines had also been chewed up by rodents.” The old system also predated current narrowband requirements and was therefore not compliant with FCC mandates.
The solution was to use an IP network running on military-grade fiber, known to be reliable in a hostile environment. The network connects the C-Soft consoles in the dispatch center on the Kentucky side to distributed Daniels radio base stations, which are interfaced via the IP-223s. “We have some of the transmitters in an equipment room on the Tennessee side,” Torstrick says, “and some in the tunnel at CP1, which is one of the cross-paths between the two bores. That’s also where we originate the leaky-feeder antenna cable that runs the length of the tunnel.”
All told, the new system provides channels for tunnel management and operations and a wide range of agencies: the National Park Service, state police on both ends, sherrif and ambulance services in Claiborne County, Tennessee, and Middlesboro police and Bell County ambulance in Kentucky.
Torstrick says several criteria guided his choice of the new system. “I needed something that supports at least 13 channels, and C-Soft does more than that. I needed a system that works over IP, like C-soft does. And I needed to be able to bring all the channels into one location and to patch channels together, which C-Soft lets you do from one screen.”
Now that the system is in, Torstrick points to “ease and flexibility” as two noteworthy aspects of C-Soft in daily use. “It’s flexible,” he says, “because as long as you have an IP network, you can plug the system in anywhere. Even if your control room caught on fire, you could plug a laptop into the network somewhere else and you’d be up and running again.”
As for ease-of-use, that has turned out to be particularly important due to the unconventional way that dispatch operations are organized at the tunnel. Instead of having a few dedicated full-time dispatchers, there is a larger pool of personnel who rotate two hour dispatch shifts interspersed with other duties. That makes it critical that the dispatch system is intuitive, easy to learn, and easy to remember. “The system is simpler to use than the old analog console they had in there before,” Torstrick says. “The dispatchers can keep just the two main channels they use all the time up on the screen. But when they need to they can quickly display the other minimized channels. The dispatchers like the C-Soft consoles a lot.”