Yenra : Safety : Emergency Broadband Communications : Researchers developing emergency broadband prototype

Communication systems connected by wire and fiber can be partially or completely wiped out in seconds by an attack or a natural disaster. Cellular telephone systems may enable communication to continue, but these are often limited to voice and are quickly saturated. Broadband wireless has demonstrated that it can carry large amounts of visual information, but can the new technology be quickly deployed?

Virginia Tech's Center for Wireless Telecommunications (CWT), the National Science Foundation, and SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) have developed a protype wireless broadband communications network for rapid deployment in disaster response and recovery efforts.

The system will connect to surviving ends of optical fibers and provide broadband wireless connectivity to as many as eight remote stations using the 28 GHz band. It will provide emergency management field workers with such communication applications as Geographic Information System (GIS) access and audio/video conferencing.

"Emergency response personnel who know they have this tool can have plans in place and the ability to update them in real time based on collaborative decision making," explains project principal investigator Charles Bostian, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech. "Check lists, inventories, and situation monitoring can be shared and rescue workers can use streaming video."

The researchers demonstrated a prototype to the Virginia Preparedness and Security Panel, which met at Virginia Tech (November 14). The system is being demonstrated through deployment of a base station and two field units. Since rapid deployment is critical, equipment must be portable, easily configured, and able to access remote databases and GIS engines.

"The base station connects to multiple remote units that can be deployed to serve an appropriately wide geographic area. The aggregate data rate will be at least 45 Mbps in each direction, that is, from the base station to remote units and from remote units to the base station," said Scott Midkiff, professor of electrical and computer engineering, in a presentation this spring. "We expect that the aggregate data rate will approach or exceed 100 Mbps. The field units will provide network connectivity to portable computers and network equipment."

Several innovations support emergency management applications, the researchers explain. "The base station and remote units include a channel sounder that assesses the capacity and quality of the wireless channels between the base station and remote units. This capability is coupled with a Global Positioning System (GPS) and GIS to provide rapid resource estimation and the ability to recommend relocation of the remote units. This enables "on-the-fly" site planning to reduce the need for pre-deployment wireless planning studies," says Midkiff. "Software development for field units emphasizes remote access of GIS engines and databases both to support the wireless network’s own deployment and operation and to support disaster mitigation and emergency management."