Hi-tech program to aid first responders in Ottawa emergencies

Paramedics, firefighters and police will be able to communicate with each other to swap data, images and high-definition video to and from vehicles in a pilot project at the University of Ottawa.

“Speed is the No. 1 metric for first responders to evaluate how effective they are. Time is essential,” said electrical engineering and computer science professor Hussein Mouftah, who’s also been named Canada research chair in wireless sensor networks.

The First Responder Networked Vehicle Test-Bed system will use long-term evolution, or LTE, wireless broadband technology. The project is also supported by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance

High data speeds will give emergency workers new capabilities such as talking face-to-face using tablets, or taking and transmitting X-rays of hazardous materials, suspicious packages or explosives.

Emergency workers from different services currently communicate through dispatchers; they can’t directly contact each other unless they are face-to-face at a scene.

The objective is to provide inter-operability, said Mouftah.

For example, if a team of firefighters requires direction or a change of plan on how to attack a blaze, “they’d need maps of this site from police,” said Mouftah.

Using the network, “they can get this information very fast,” he said.

Another example is if people are trapped in a building.

By downloading floor plans, they’d be able to map out a strategy to reach the victims.

A variety of first responders work together every day in crisis situations, said Ottawa police Insp. Mark Ford of the emergency operations unit.

One of the challenges is ensuring all responders “have the same information, facts, details that are available to them to make the appropriate decisions.

“It is very much a coordinated response” on a day-to-day basis. “But this really becomes important when we’re dealing with larger scale — whether it’s incidents and/or events.”

In the National Capital Region, the system could assist cops with investigations involving multiple agencies, such as OPP, RCMP and military police, said Ford.

“So all these people who are dealing with events that may not recognize boundaries or jurisdictions, and we need to have that capacity to work together and share information,” said Ford.

The project is in its early stages and is expected to run about five years.

Mouftah is estimating it will be on the ground by spring 2015.

Eventually, the goal is for first responders across Canada — and south of the border — to communicate seamlessly.



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