Pacom to build digital radio net

The U.S. Pacific Command (Pacom) plans to develop interagency digital radio networks for an emergency response network to serve the federal government and state and local police and fire departments in Alaska and Hawaii - making it the largest project of its kind.

Pacom decided to develop the Pacific Mobile Emergency Radio System (PACMERS) to avoid the interoperability problems that plagued coordination among federal, state and local agencies responding to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Air Force Maj. Kurt Kindred, the PACMERS action officer for the Pacific command, control and communications staff, said the multiple federal, state and local agencies responding to the Oklahoma City bombing used multiple radio frequencies that made coordination difficult. Several of the agencies reverted to "cell phones as the default emergency radio system, which in turn became overloaded," Kindred said.

To avoid those problems, the PACMERS systems in Hawaii and Alaska use a shared, trunked land mobile radio (LMR) system, with each agency having a channel bank or "talk group" on the system, which allows for easy interagency communications.

"I am not aware of any project on this scale," Kindred said. "The Virginia State Police have a statewide system, but that's dedicated to a single agency.... PACMERS will provide one common infrastructure statewide to DOD and other federal users, as well as state and local police and fire departments."

Kindred said PACMERS in Hawaii will serve federal and state users on all the Hawaiian Islands, with the Customs Service - a PACMERS partner - operating on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the big island of Hawaii. The PACMERS network in Alaska will tie together DOD users at bases in the Fairbanks and Anchorage areas, as well as certain state and local emergency agencies statewide.

Robert Hall, chief of the modernization planning branch for the information technology plans and programs division at U.S. Army Pacific - which is managing PACMERS for Pacom - said his agency plans to acquire a "total turnkey solution" through the General Services Administration's Applications 'N' Support for Widely Diverse End User Requirements contract, with the competition closing at the end of this month.

Neither Hall nor Kindred would identify the bidders, but General Electric Co., Motorola Inc. and Ericsson all produce digital, trunked LMR systems and gear.

Kindred said that long-haul intrastate communications in Alaska for PACMERS would be provided through an existing Alaska system. In Hawaii, Hall said, connectivity among the islands would be provided either through the Hawaii Information Transfer System, a network developed by AT&T under a Defense Information Systems Agency contract or a new digital microwave system.

The Customs Service currently operates an interisland, interagency, federal, state and local analog microwave system in Hawaii called the Rainbow Communications System. Customs believes the system could provide the interisland connectivity, said Chuck Bussell, manager of the system.

Using Rainbow as the interisland link for PACMERS depends on several factors, including an upgrade of the system to digital from analog microwave and that "PACMERS be a government-owned system and not commercial vendor owned," Kindred said. Pacom "would welcome" the participation of Rainbow, if "stumbling blocks," including the analog system, "could be overcome," Kindred said.

Pacom views PACMERS as essential to managing a coordinated federal and state response to natural disasters or dealing with potential threats posed by weapons of mass destruction, Kindred said.

North Korea has developed long-range missiles capable of hitting Alaska and Hawaii, which, Kindred said, "puts us in range of weapons of mass destruction.... We need a common user infrastructure to deal with such contingencies."

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