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Project Aims To Solve Communications Challenges
December 1, 2010

When disaster strikes, the essential communications systems used by first responders can go awry. Land lines are broken, Internet services are disrupted, and there’s frenzied competition for finite radio bandwidths.

A prominent example was the confusion that ensued as disparate groups of first responders attempted to organize rescue efforts after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Similar communications problems affected rescuers after Hurricane Katrina and Chile’s major earthquake in February.

The University of Virginia’s Applied Research Institute, or ARI, is involved in a research project that aims to solve communications challenges in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters. ARI is part of a team assembled by the defense contractor TASC to further develop the Contingency Information Sharing Mission Support Model communications platform.

The technology, which is being designed to meet the needs of first responders, law enforcement and others, offers voice, video, data or radio communications, regardless of the surrounding environment.

The system uses a combination of satellite connectivity, broadband and wireless access, local area networking, in addition to sensor networking and integration. It can operate from its own power sources and offers video surveillance.

It also uses what is known as “radio bridging” technology to clear up the confusion of multiple groups of responders communicating via radio, as was the case in 9/11. In essence, the system receives different radio bands, bundles them and re-relays them in an orderly fashion. It can also connect the radio bands into phone systems or the Internet for more communications options.

One aspect of U.Va. researchers’ work will be miniaturizing sensors that measure sound and movement. They will then work to integrate sensors with software applications so communications operators can easily understand the data in the proper context of time and location.

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