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Ask Slashdot: Ad-Hoc Wireless Mesh Network For Emergency Vehicles?

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the why-not-use-smoke-signals? dept.

Networking 200

First time accepted submitter Texaskilt writes "I am looking to put together a mobile mesh network for my volunteer fire department and would like some recommendations from the Slashdot crowd. Ideally, the network would consist of cheap wireless routers (Linksys WRT-type) mounted on each vehicle. From there, tablets or other wireless devices could connect to the router. When the vehicles are in the station, the routers would auto-connect to the WiFi network to receive calls for service and other updates. When out on a call, the router would form an ad-hoc network with other vehicles on the scene. If a vehicle came into range of an Internet 'hotspot,' it would notify other vehicles and become a gateway for the rest of the 'ad-hoc' networked vehicles. I've looked at Freifunk for this, but would like some other options. Recommendations please?"

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200 comments

Get ready for it! (3, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201691)

Of course at least 1/3 of the posts will try to knock you down with the blather "if you have to ask, you're not the right person for the job".

Re:Get ready for it! (3, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201825)

In this case, that seems a valid criticism. Messing around with technology you don't understand is a harmless, and even educational, pastime for the hobbyist/hacker. But when lives are on the line, a more conservative approach is called for.

Re:Get ready for it! (5, Informative)

HangingChad (677530) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202169)

But when lives are on the line, a more conservative approach is called for.

You know nothing about being a first responder, especially out in rural areas where radio coverage may be spotty to non-existent.

Lives are on the line whether you have working comm or not. There were times I would have settled for two tin cans and a string if I could call for mutual aid on it. During emergencies ad-hoc networks could be a lifesaver.

There is a big need for self-discovering networking between emergency response vehicles. You won't find any commercial solutions in the budget of most departments.

Maybe drag your fat butt out and pull some volunteer shifts before you start telling people in the field what they need.

Re:Get ready for it! (1, Interesting)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202283)

You're right, I don't know much about being a first responder. I'm in no position to argue with your advocacy of self-discovering networks.

But that's not what I'm arguing with. The issue here is reliability. A technical geek whose kludging together unfamiliar technology might be able to promise useful new features, but definitely can't promise that the damned thing will work.

To hackers, making technology do new and interesting stuff is an end in itself. But most people don't care about features if they can't count on a device doing what they need it to do. I may be ignorant of your work, but I think I'm right in assuming that reliability is even more important to you than to the rest of us.

BTW, I had a minor accident a few days ago, and a bunch of first responders came to my aid. I didn't have a chance to thank them, so I'm gonna thank you, for your work, and for putting yourself at risk to make life safer for the rest of us.

Re:Get ready for it! (3, Interesting)

mdfst13 (664665) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202453)

I think that you are framing the question incorrectly. The question is not if it would be better to use a more robust networking method. The question is if this would be better than no network at all. Is a network that only works 50% of the time better than a network that works 0% of the time? The original poster doesn't share the purpose of this network, but for many applications, sometimes working is better than never working.

Another issue here is that if they can build an ad hoc network that sometimes saves lives, it will be easier to then get funding for a more robust networking option that can consistently help them save lives.

It's also true that there are some applications where intermittent connectivity is worse than no connectivity. It's possible that this is one of those situations. You're right to call out that possibility. However, shouldn't we at least consider the possibility that the poster has thought that through and really would be better off with intermittent connectivity?

Re:Get ready for it! (2)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202547)

Well, this conversation has convinced me that I don't know much about how first responders might use an ad-hoc network. They say they need it, and the rest of us can only nod and agree, though more specifics would be very helpful. But from what little I've learned so far, it doesn't sound as if a solution that breaks down unexpectedly is an acceptable one.

I'd also suggest that this problem needs to be attacked on a higher level. I know that there's been a big effort to create standards for emergency radio networks using common frequencies. Part of the justification for the move to digital TV was to free up analog frequencies for this purpose. But broadcasters have ended up holding onto their old frequencies even as they moved to new ones. Obviously this problem needs some serious leadership.

Easier approach (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201907)

Talk to your Motorola dealer. You're using trunking Motorola radios, and they have IP built right in. You don't have enough bandwidth allocated to be able to do broadband stuff, but, given that you don't have a real objective stated, that's okay. You'll get one additional radio per vehicle, plus a godawful expensive adapter, and plug it into your laptops in your vehicles.

Re:Easier approach (1)

jmauro (32523) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202177)

Or you can talk to the Motorola dealer about the Mesh Networks [motorola.com] products. They work pretty good in EM situations, but they're not cheap. Which is what I think the original poster is looking for.

Re:Easier approach (3, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202919)

You can't build a mesh until you have some place for the mesh to connect.
If you are out in the sticks so far that you have no radio coverage, there is not likely any nearby mesh members either.

I can see where being deep in a ravine with your home base transmitter on the other side of a mountain might present a localized situation which might be solved if you could some how get a mesh partner on top of that mountain.

But knowing how long it takes to get something working it would be easier to send a guy out in a support car to some intermediate point and simply relay data back and forth until air assets arrive.

Does someone living near by have wifi you could tap into? Maybe. But is Grandma going to have a clue how to turn off encryption or even what the password is when you wake her by pounding on her door in the middle of the night?

Satellite phones can be had for under 700 bucks, and an annual satphone plan starts Under 500/yr. I would recommend radio mapping the service area and determining those areas where there is no radio service and equip at least one unit in that are with sat phones.

But before you go to that expense take that cell phone out of your pocket and see if it works in these areas. If it does, your mesh is already in your pocket, and just forget about ad-hoc anything in an emergency.

Re:Get ready for it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202047)

If you have to ask, you're not the right person for the job. There you go.
 
Just trying to improve the stats for number of post that say this. And no I am "Frosty Piss", I promise.

Project Byzantium? (5, Informative)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201703)

http://project-byzantium.org/ [project-byzantium.org]

I have to wonder though, what's wrong with good old fashioned radios.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201791)

If by "old fashioned radios" you mean the kind that just have a voice channel, then consider situations where being able to share things like maps or long lists quickly could be a literal lifesaver.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201957)

The maps used in most such emergencies are hand-drawn on site and need no distribution because anyone who needs them must walk past them to get to anywhere they would be of use. Seeing the map while still arriving would have no effect.

The processes have to change, and one IT guy won't do that, unless he's also called "chief".

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

bhcompy (1877290) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201975)

Interestingly enough, there are plenty of IT guys that are also called Chief, though, usually, it's because the department can't afford their own dedicated IT and don't want to deal with worthless consultants.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202039)

Well then, I guess the computers so many first responders have in their vehicles are just for show.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202483)

that's because maps are used to get to the event and inform them of what the caller thinks the emergency is. Once there, normal "old tech" methods are used, mainly because you don't need to be distracted by flashy handhelds when there's an emergency on.

Same with the police - they do not want a fancy handheld computer to access data, not when they can press a button and talk into a radio whilst keeping an eye on anyone they're dealing with.

Re:Project Byzantium? (2)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202801)

You don't need a general purpose computer to get to the event. A GPS (non-networked, assuming it has updated maps) is sufficient for that purpose, and if you want something for one and only one purpose. a PC will make it harder, in almost all circumstances (longer boot, less reliable, more confusing).

The description was more of something to use after arrival, which there is no process that would be enhanced by computers.

In typical slashdot fashion, he's looking for a technical answer to a question he doesn't know. The question should start:

If tech were free and every appliance had a 10 Gbps fiber run between it and the station, what would they do differently? If the answer is "nothing" then there's nothing to fix. If there is an answer, then the next question should be something like "why aren't they doing that now?"

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202771)

I am a volunteer firefighter as well. We have one computer in the station for 30 users. There are no computers in the trucks, unless you count the radio and ECU.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41203019)

OK, I'm backing away from the "what's it for" aspect of this discussion. I'm forced to admit that I don't know jack about that.

So far I've heard from first responders like you who are making do with simple radios, and from first responders like this guy [slashdot.org] who desperately want ad-hoc data networks.Neither side has really explained why they want what they want.

So, please argue with each other, while the rest of us shut up and listen. Please. I for one am sincerely interested.

Re:Project Byzantium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41203059)

Motorola radio networks (The trunking 800Mhz variety) already can support data and voice I believe. And they do all the "mesh" networking/repeating/whatnot you'd need.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201883)

I have to wonder though, what's wrong with good old fashioned radios.

They're fine for dispatching and communicating status amongst units. And that's all most emergency vehicles do. I can't see much use in setting up "ad hoc" networks to give emergency responders internet access; I can however see any number of uses for being able to gain control over the RF environment of a small geographical area... Anyone who has studied military tactics knows that gaining control over the environment is a major force multiplier.

I could see something more being needed for military / SWAT responses. Say you have a hostage situation and want to relay the thermal imaging of the building to headquarters or your other units in the field in preparation for an assault, or you want gun camera footage during the insertion. You need a lot of bandwidth to share that data, and the government's solution was to design satellite uplinks and encrypted mesh networking that doesn't rely on the environment to operate.

I could also see having RF equipment capable of cutting in on wifi or other civilian broadcast equipment as having a use in hostage situations; By using a highly directional antenna and a software definable radio, it might be possible to locate the cell phones of the hostages, cutting through any jamming that may be present, in order to communicate with them, activate cameras or microphones, etc.

But you're right; For most emergency responders, internet access isn't needed or warranted. Should that ever change, you want a network under your administrative control; not relying on routers that may or may not be present in theatre. In an emergency, anything that isn't highly reliable is worthless. The last thing I want to see is critical communications going out because someone picked a bad time to make ramen noodles next door!

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202183)

"But you're right; For most emergency responders, internet access isn't needed or warranted."

If you think so, you've never been an emergency responder. The potential usefulness of network access is enormous: access to medical history databases, realtime conferencing with doctors or planners, etc.

"Should that ever change, you want a network under your administrative control; not relying on routers that may or may not be present in theatre."

Most civilian responders don't have to worry much about network availability "in theater". Although there are times it can be a problem; a relative of mine was EMT and Paramedic (both) in a remote area with little access other than radio.

Re:Project Byzantium? (5, Informative)

slimjim8094 (941042) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202655)

I am an emergency responder, and frankly I can't come up with much I'd use internet for. Medical history databases? Like what? Even at the hospital they need it sent from other hospitals if they don't already have it , there's no world-wide database of medical history, and even if there was can you imagine the nightmare of hooking every EMS agency up to it? And the security involved in handling patient data on such a scale? No thanks. In any case, it doesn't do me much good. Either the patient can tell me their medical history, or we've got much bigger problems. If they're unconscious, their history is secondary to keeping them alive, and you've got plenty to do on that front.

As for conferencing with doctors - that's crazy. We already have medical directors (physicians) we can call on the phone or over the radio, and it works fine when we need it. Plus, it won't give them any more information than what you can tell them over the phone anyway. I don't much want to fidget with Skype and a webcam when we're supposed to be deciding on a course of action. They can't interact with the patient anyway, and crappy wireless webcam video wouldn't be sufficient to notice something subtle that we missed.

The paramedics that I work with have CAD for tracking status, location, nature, etc - but they don't use it past dispatch. They can also send telemetry (specifically EKGs) from their monitors via their cellphones to the receiving hospital, so a heart attack can be diagnosed from the trace before we get there. That's pretty cool, but it's about the limit of what we've ever felt like we needed.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202953)

FOUL! When someone says something about a thing outside their field, it's the god-given right of everyone else to point out that since they're not actually an expert, they must be wrong. Having an actual expert come in and 1UP the poster is poor form. As an expert, you're supposed to keep quiet and let others figure out that the poster's vision of EMTs fiddling with web cams and wifi settings while their patient bleeds out is preferable to people using older, but more reliable, technology. Newer = better. Don't you know anything about slashdot? :D The correct answer to everything on this site is to increase the version number, make it open source, do it yourself, or add more horsepower.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year and a half ago | (#41203033)

"As an expert, you're supposed to keep quiet and let others figure out that the poster's vision of EMTs fiddling with web cams and wifi settings ..."

Thanks for the sarcastic "defense", but that isn't even remotely the kind of thing I was talking about anyway. I might not have made it clear, but I was referring to developing technology, not what they have in their trucks today.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said "faster horses". -- Henry Ford

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202999)

"Medical history databases? Like what?"

I know few places have such things now, but it's happening, gradually. Try to be forward-looking.

"Either the patient can tell me their medical history, or we've got much bigger problems."

BS. If you could have at your fingertips their recent medical history, current medications, etc. on the way to the site, you would be much better prepared even if they aren't responsive. Are they taking codeine? Adderall? Nitroglycerine? Do they have known drug allergies? Known recent drug addictions? Some of the things it could tell you might be life-saving information.

"As for conferencing with doctors - that's crazy. We already have medical directors (physicians) we can call on the phone or over the radio, and it works fine when we need it."

Sure... but why use two systems when one could do the job?

"I don't much want to fidget with Skype and a webcam when we're supposed to be deciding on a course of action."

Who said anything about Skype or a webcam? That isn't what I meant at all. But if you COULD have a doctor there, without messing with Skype or a webcam, would you think that's a bad idea?

I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I was referring to future uses of the technology, not a hodgepodge of smartphones and laptops.

"That's pretty cool, but it's about the limit of what we've ever felt like we needed."

Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you're being shortsighted. You are fixated on what the current systems do for you, but you don't seem to be very receptive to what improvements in the technology COULD do for you.

Re:Project Byzantium? (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#41203069)

I know few places have such things now, but it's happening, gradually. Try to be forward-looking.

Yes. Poster would like you to experiment with configuring a wifi mesh instead of saving his life. He'll understand because he wants people who care for him medically to be "forward-looking", not "prudent."

BS. If you could have at your fingertips their recent medical history, current medications, etc. on the way to the site, you would be much better prepared even if they aren't responsive.

An EMTs job is to stabilize your vitals, not to diagnose and treat your condition. They don't need to be prepared for anything except keeping you breathing, your heart beating, and, since you're unconscious in the above scenario, not much else.

But if you COULD have a doctor there, without messing with Skype or a webcam, would you think that's a bad idea?

The doctor is at the hospital, treating the other patients who may have life-threatening injuries. You're suggesting the doctor step away from those duties to help the EMTs perform... basic triage?

Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you're being shortsighted. You are fixated on what the current systems do for you, but you don't seem to be very receptive to what improvements in the technology COULD do for you.

He's fixated on the only thing that matters: Keeping the patient alive. Who the fuck cares what systems he uses? Unless they contribute to Job #1, they're worthless. I don't want someone googling "bleeding to death" or trying to skype or webcam to someone else to tell them what to do when I'm taking the ride, I want them trained in keeping my ass alive until someone with the right qualifications to fix whatever put me in that ambulance can see me.

You're coming at this from the perspective of someone who's spent too many years in technical support -- treat the EMT like he's some kind of moron or puppet, to be directed about by the guy on the other end of the line. Medicine isn't like that. They work as an integrated team, and they depend on their training and experience, not their google-fu, to do the job.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202133)

Amongst other things, some radio systems have unhealthy habits such as producing sparks from the batteries when dropped onto the floor.

Emergency services are very picky about the equipment that they use, and with good reason.

Re:Project Byzantium? (1)

stephanruby (542433) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202323)

I have to wonder though, what's wrong with good old fashioned radios.

If you're stuck under some rubbles somewhere, or if the cell towers are non-operational and you can't be notified of an extreme emergency coming your way, the chances that you'll have a cell phone on you instead of a two-radio radio may be higher.

That's why having some fire departments maintain their own licensed ad-hoc portable gsm emergency networks [tropo.com] may not be such a bad idea. The truck ladders could be used to place antennas on high, or even have antennas affixed to them. Not to mention, such portable mobile gsm networks could probably be used for triangulation purposes.

And as a volunteer fire department, if you ever want to help out other Counties, or other States/Countries, to help during their major disasters. Your equipment and your budding expertise in this technical area could suddenly become very valuable there too.

Cellular hotspot? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201709)

Why not just use a cellular hotspot?

Re:Cellular hotspot? (1)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202617)

Because some fires are places where there is no cell service. Now, wifi would be scarce there to, but they may have more wifi then cell coverage.

Peer to peer cellphones without cell service (2)

Sussurros (2457406) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202779)

There is an Android app developed by a mob of Australians which allows cell phones to talk directly to each other in emergency situations without using any cell service at all. Sorry I have no name either for the app or the developers. It was developed last year, released this year, and is intended for bushfire teams and search and rescue operators. I'm guessing it won't be in the app store and I know it works by dialling the number you want and if both phones have the app and are within range then they connect. I'm sorry I can't provide you with more information but it's just something I read about in the Sydney Morning Herald (www.smh.com.au) some months ago and it stuck in my mind because the main developer spoke at length about the incredible problems of getting the protocols to work.

easiest solution (4, Insightful)

starblazer (49187) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201729)

While ambitious, this is the wrong path to go down. Great for hobbyists, but is NOT what emergency services needs. Emergency services needs reliability. If your department can't afford a few mobile broadband units, you should seriously look into throwing a couple more raffles or asking for more money from the city/county/township/state.

Re:easiest solution (2)

TwineLogic (1679802) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201737)

This post makes a very good point. What is going to happen to you, personally, when a call is lost for some reason, a person dies, and a lawsuit follows?

Re:easiest solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201757)

Both of you: READ
"volunteer fire department"
Meaning hobbyists and no money..

Re:easiest solution (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201797)

Even the smallest volunteer fire department has some level of 'official' standing, if not actual authority. This smells like ARES/REACT/Skywarn whackers. See: hamsexy.org

Re:easiest solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201839)

But this doesn't mean: no liability
If you screw up bad enough you can go to jail.

Re:easiest solution (2)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202841)

For most first responders, that's not true. They are protected while on the job. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jose_Guerena_shooting [wikipedia.org] Some ex-marine got his gun while the police were staging an unnanounced home invasion (he was on edge because a relative recently was killed in a home invasion). He never took his gun off safety, but the police fired 72 shots at him, hitting him with 22 of them and killing him. He never fired a shot and the initial reports all indicate the police claim he fired shots first. Yet, not a single charge was filed, even for the guy who shot blindly over the shoulder of another cop, who was in no danger and couldn't have seen or heard any shots from within. And here, firemen have protection under law from just about any liability, criminal or civil. Short of raping an unconscious smoke inhalation victim, I can't think of anything that could get a fireman in trouble.

Re:easiest solution (2)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201899)

You mean they have no money? How do they get firetrucks (which are very very expensive, if I may add), and everything else need to support their volunteer fire dept? The mobile devices are really really inexpensive. I have one from ting, the device cost me $70 (a bit more expensive than a wireless router, but not much), and for my usage I pay $15 a month (and all devices get pooled into the same plan, and will share data, making it very cost effective)

Re:easiest solution (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201927)

To add to that if the devices put together use less than 3GB per month, ting would cost $60 per month + $6 per device (+ tax).

Re:easiest solution (1)

slimjim8094 (941042) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202665)

"No money" in this context means "let's think carefully before dropping a few thou on some piece of equipment". A few cellular modems is probably less than the monthly soda budget. And yes, IAAVolunteerEMT, and we do spend like $200/mo on soda. When a few guys are sitting around all day, every day, you go through a lot.

Re:easiest solution (1)

raarts (5057) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202301)

What will happen with those broadband mobile units, if there's a crowd of people on the scene, with smartphones?
Or there's a disaster and the celltowers go down?

Re:easiest solution (1)

Bob9113 (14996) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202371)

Emergency services needs reliability.

Emergency services needs to encourage hackers like this guy to explore many connectivity alternatives. A mobile broadband unit would be less reliable than a swarm of smaller agents in some contexts. Having both options is better than having only one. Having a swarm and a broadband unit working together would solve still more cases. Emergency services is an excellent place to be advancing the state of disaster-tolerant communication networks -- both from the top down and the bottom up.

Re:easiest solution (1)

starblazer (49187) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202449)

then in that case, we need more details. Where.... What's the population? How big is the department? What is their budget? What are they looking to accomplish?

Sorry, but the statement of "When it comes up to a hotspot".... reads to me as "Whenever we can find someones unsecured wifi for our taxi or my car" versus actual EM duties.

Re:easiest solution (1)

stephanruby (542433) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202649)

Emergency services needs reliability. If your department can't afford a few mobile broadband units, you should seriously look into throwing a couple more raffles or asking for more money from the city/county/township/state.

The guy is a volunteer firefighter. His fire department is most likely all volunteers, with probably little -- to no budget.

Having reliable tools and services for emergencies is great, but government-based emergency services can be notoriously slow at adapting to changing circumstances and at adopting/trying out new technologies.

This is why you need to the people on the front-lines to do their own experimenting. If soldiers in Iraq for instance, had really waited for the next round of funding to get the body armor they needed, or the gps units they needed, instead of jerry-rigging their own version of body armor, or asking their family back home to buy them civilian gps units from Costco, many more would have died if they had not been allowed to use their own make-shift half-fast solutions.

And besides, no one is arguing that firefighters should give up on their existing communication infrastructure, to try out this new approach. This new approach would most likely be used in conjunction with those existing communication channels, trying to supplement them, not replace them (unless of course, those existing channels/tools had become non-operational, or over saturated for some reason, like they were on 9/11, or during Katrina).

Byzantium (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201731)

Not sure, but have you checked out this open source initiative? http://project-byzantium.org/faqs/

Liability? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201733)

Be careful about liability. What if something doesn't work right and a loss is blamed on the network?

My hint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201741)

Tp-link 1043 + openwrt.

Is this the best way to proceed? (1, Insightful)

Meshach (578918) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201753)

Having Emergency vehicles depend on an ad-hoc network seems risky at best and a potential disaster at worst. Might be best to just stick to the telephone (or whatever you currently use) and leave the flaky network to the non-life-critical tasks.

Re:Is this the best way to proceed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201921)

Regarding disaster: every home-brew solution is useless in a disaster as you have to be able to communicate with other volunter and professional emergency responder teams. Ideally the state or country standardizes on one system and sponsors equipment for all relevant parties. Normally tetra or similar systems are used.

Re:Is this the best way to proceed? (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202857)

Usually, in the US, the city standardizes on one, and the county on another. The state, a third, the feds, a 4th. And often the police and fire are on incompatible systems.

Throwing another homebrew into the mix wouldn't make that much difference.

Re:Is this the best way to proceed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202281)

Just look at PA... they tried to implement coverage for the state on a setup where different area could inter-communicate etc, and the coverage is so spotty and awful it *is* better to sometimes use a phone. An adhoc setup could at least allow those in the area to communicate while allowing the ability for someone without coverage from the network to hop a few adhoc mesh links and get out onto the network and talk to who they need to

money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201775)

A lesson i have learned over the years; when spending other peoples money always ask the question, "is it better, or just different?". I dont know the size of your operation, or what state you are in, but analogue, trunking, IP (opensky...) radios are normally more reliable, which is the name of the game. Other services like LTE may be the best bet (location location location), and if you can find the right people to talk to at the state you would be surprised the kind of things the state will spend money on.

Re:money (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202871)

If you had infinite money and infinite bandwidth, what would change? If the answer is "nothing" then don't spend any momey. Figure out how it helps before trying to build it to see if they do anything with it.

Cellular data? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201787)

Even the most basic of smartphones have good tethering capabilities. Why not simply go with normal phones? Wi-fi on the station, and mobile data when not? Generally, the simpler an idea is, the better.

What is it for ? (5, Insightful)

SomethingOrOther (521702) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201793)

What is it for?

No really......
You have told us how you *think* you want to communicate, but not what information you are communicating.

The first step of any IT problem is to adapt your ideas to fit users needs........... not adapt users needs to fit your ideas.

Re:What is it for ? (2)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201925)

Actually, that's the second step. The first step is to find out what users need. This step is often skipped, alas.

Re:What is it for ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202049)

What is it for?

Hey, it is VITALLY important that I am able to update my facebook status at ALL times.

If I can't post pictures to flickr and videos to youtube while I'm fighting a fire, I refuse to be a volunteer firefighter.

You must be the FNG... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201795)

"Wireless Mesh Network" sure sounds sexy, doesn't it. And what Fire Department wouldn't want more sexy shit than, say, the Police Department?

APRS (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201811)

for a Emergency Vehicles i would propose that you take a look at APRS http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_Packet_Reporting_System used by HAM guys. this is the robustest wireless protocoll i am aware of, also the range is better than WLAN.

Narrow the scope (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201843)

This is essentially being done by the Emergency Medical Service in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where every ambulance is a hot-spot -- but only for the sake of conveying electronically collected medical reports and transmitting them (via VPN) to "the cloud" where they can rapidly be seen by receiving hospitals and by other units on the same incident. (Yes, we've addressed all HIPAA concerns.) It is *not* being done as a means to communicate calls for service. In Virginia Beach, calls for service are transmitted via a VPN on the commercial cellphone service, with a municipal trunked radio system as a backup.

My advice: Field test the heck out of the routers. Make sure they can survive the weird electric power supply anamolies that occur during standard vehicular operations.

Re:Narrow the scope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202549)

How's ORION doing, anyway?

(I helped build that muni radio net.)

Have a look at Mikrotik (3, Informative)

Jimbookis (517778) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201893)

http://www.mikrotik.com/ [mikrotik.com] devices might have what you want. They are inexpensive, very flexible and have interesting mesh modes I have yet to try out and will run directly off your fire engines battery system with some power filtering and clamping. Whatever you do in general you should have a play, write a clear specification with all sorts of test cases and run a small trial for a while. Make the devices/solution meet your requirements, not the other way around or you will be sorry.

Don't cheap out when lives are on the line (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201897)

Get a budget. Go with a commercial solution. Homebrew is for people hacking and tinkering with stuff. You need something designed to be rugged and meet your requirements.

Astro radios, tetra radios, other systems designed for emergency services are all good options. Go talk to the IT staff at your local cop shop to see what they're doing and if you can nail down their vendor contacts. It will go a long way. Don't have your volunteers trying to reboot the routers when it's more important for them to be saving lives.

Throw a few more Ham & Bean suppers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201911)

Seriously - ad hoc crap is worse than nothing to emergency workers. Get the right equipment or learn to do without. Don't cause mayhem trying to introduce a homebrew system that *might* work half the time.

Mesh potato perhaps? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201913)

A recent article over at arstechnica about an interesting piece of wireless mesh hardware: http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/08/how-one-man-is-bringing-voip-net-access-where-telecoms-fear-to-tread/

Good ol' HAM radio? (5, Informative)

guruevi (827432) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201931)

It works well, it won't give you much throughput but if all you need is some text and voice-based systems this should be plenty (it's about 300-9600 baud for IP so a slow serial link).

The issue I see with your approach is that when the vehicles are within range of each other they will also be within range of the same hotspot. So mesh is simply overkill. Mesh is intended for lots and lots of nodes in dense areas to connect to each other to a single (large?) uplink for either anonymizing or places where you cannot place (either due to economic or ecologic reasons) multiple antenna's. This works well for the GSM range because they are intended to cover literally miles (2W) at a frequency that is licensed to cooperate with each other and able to penetrate a lot of structures so two cell phones can technically talk to each other and extend the range of the original tower another mile or so (given the battery usage to do so is acceptable).

The 100 mW you get out of a WiFi router close to the hydrogen resonance frequency is simply not enough to cover a mile of random area which may have other compatible and incompatible broadband sources (microwaves, garage door openers, bluetooth ...) that could overpower the signal.

You're better off using the professional systems for this. WiMax base stations can be had for $1500 and a receiver is ~$200 and it will cover about 50km. Otherwise get a free cell phone plan for your volunteer fire department (I mean, some local corporate overlord MUST be benevolent enough) or set up your own transmitter (HAM or otherwise).

Re:Good ol' HAM radio? (2)

drwho (4190) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202331)

This is not appropriate for ham radio. Ham is supposed to be for amateurs and emergency comms only. Emergency comms as used by an auxiliary force. It is not to be used for commercial purposes, military purposes (even though tthe military acna overrid this and do whatever they want, it would be frowned upon), and not for police/fire/rescue. Seriously, the emergency services have enough equipment and bandwidth of their own, they shouldn't be trying to compete with all the signals on 2.4 ghz and the ham frequencies. They shouldn't be using crap equipment either.

This should be obvious - emergency services communications need to be reliable - not the ad-hoc stuff life mesh and ham radio that works when the sunspots are in the right position. That means VHF and big heavy radios, high bandwidth gear, that has been proven reliable and yet costs a lot of money because of it. There are no rusted out old pickups being painted red and used as fire trucks. Same principle applies here.

Consumer grade routers? Not a good idea! (2)

toygeek (473120) | about a year and a half ago | (#41201949)

While I applaud your willingness to use technology where you see a need for it, the consumer grade routers just aren't up to the task. I've seen routers die simply being moved from one side of the desk to the other. All it takes is a cold solder or a flaky chip and *poof* that router is history. You'll be troubleshooting weird problems constantly and will be replacing routers just as often. If your solution depends solely on these routers, then I think its not much of a solution at all.

Re:Consumer grade routers? Not a good idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41201983)

Agree completely. I have experience with professional mobile mesh networks, and from your description, you will not be happy with dd-wrt or anything similar. Adhoc wireless networks are dinosaurs - what you're more interested in is mobile WiMax deployments. This is of course more costly - but you get what you pay for. Otherwise, you're wasting your time and starting down a path that no one will be happy with. Trust me.

3G (2)

Great Big Bird (1751616) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202059)

What about using some level of 3G wireless access that can be low bandwidth attached to other hardware?

Re:3G (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202261)

good point... all you need is a smartphone with hotspot feature (galaxy s2 has portable hotspot)

i've heard that tethering is sometimes a no no in the states unless you pay extra, but i'm on a telstra plan in australia and can set up a wireless 3G hotspot for computers or other phones in a couple of seconds at no extra cost (and with no nasty letters following)

where are you fighting fires exactly? i was involved in a volunteer fire brigade for nearly 10 years with both rural and urban roles. connecting to open wifi is a nice idea, but what's the likelihood you're going to find any open networks at the location of every job? what about if the job is out in the bush? what if there are heaps of networks in range but they're all secured (as they should be, unless you're at McDonald's or something)?

depending on where you are, you may be unlikely to find a solution that is 100% guaranteed to be available at every job, but where I am telstra's 3G is the most available mobile service. even satellite communication can be patchy in some places. if it was for something really critical you might want to consider a multi-tier approach

another possibility may be overlaying a data signal on a UHF band. the brigade i was with had uhf radios in every vehicle and they were always within range of at least one repeater station (if not fixed, mobile comms with repeaters brought in) because radio is your lifeline. we also had trunking radios that we could make phone calls from (i'm not sure exactly how they work underneath, but if you have them they may also be a possible avenue for data).

Hammers and Nails (2)

abarrow (117740) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202061)

Yeah, this definitely feels like a case of "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail".

WiFi meshes like crap. Your first responders will spend valuable time just trying to get their devices to work. While your volunteer situation is well understood, and your budget is probably pretty low, don't ask people to depend on consumer stuff for this sort of thing. A trunk radio system (and one that is not too highly loaded) or something similar is highly recommended.

VANET (5, Informative)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202121)

So you want to set up a VANET [wikipedia.org] (Vehicular Ad-Hoc Network)...a subset of the MANET [wikipedia.org] (mobile ad-hoc network). There's even a proposal [wseas.us] for a secure fire truck communication protocol via VANET. Perhaps you can find more information by reaching out to some of the agencies working on this protocol.

Saw a presentation on MESH for emergency response (4, Informative)

bdwoolman (561635) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202137)

Keven Whipp of the Montgomery [County Maryland] Amateur Radio Club gave a presentation last April on a very similar topic to the Columbia Area Linux User's Group (CALUG). The radio club has been working with Montgomery County to test various setups of MESH networks on Linksys WRT54GL routers running custom firmware to be used in emergency situations. They have been testing distances and reliability using different frequencies using high gain antennas (which require a license). As I recall the deployments they tested faced a lot of technical and regulatory obstacles. And they were looking at simple static deployments, not mobile. If, say the infrastructure went down after a flood, their objective was to provide basic internet services to Emergency Response Teams working in the area.

Anyway, here is a link to a PDF summary of the presentation. [calug.org] My take away was that even after pretty extensive testing the system was not ready for prime time, but was very promising. To be useful in the situations to which they aspired the Mesh had to be reliable and robust. It was not. I am sure they would be happy to share their experience with you. And I bet they made progress over the summer.

How is this going to be more useful? (2)

NimbleSquirrel (587564) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202213)

What exactly do you need this system for? Seriously, if you are needing internet access to save people, there is something wrong. Sure, there may be a situation where an Incident Commander may need to look up something like an MSDS on a hazardous material, but in that situation a tablet with 3G access is all you need.

If you're wanting this for comms, then you really need to think again. For Emergency Services, any comms system need to be robust (ie. not built on cheap consumer grade hardware), reliable (ie. able to work when parts of the system fail, and it must be easy to fix or replace) but most importantly it need to be able to work with the systems of other Emergency Services. If you go ahead and do your own thing, it could potentially cripple your response capability. If your Fire Department was first to attend a Mass Casualy Incident, would you be absolutely sure that your system, built on 'cheap wireless routers', would be 100% effective? Would you be prepared to stake your life, the lives of other firefighters, and the lives of multiple casualties on this system working? If the answer is not an absolute yes, then walk away now.

Don't get me wrong, it is a cool idea, but it is not something that you or your Volunteer Fire Department should be looking into as a deployed solution. You cannot go from "hey, this sounds cool" to putting it into operational situations without doing some serious research and development as well as thorough testing. This may seem over the top, but this is for an Emergency Service: people's lives will depend on this.

Meshed Mofi Service router (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202277)

You are likely looking for an inexpensive service router ideally with a number of different ports, ideally supplied by 12 VDC (negative ground.) Ideally the service router will have a number of comm interfaces including two wire, antenna, USB, etc.. There are a number out products on the market. Your challenge is to validate the product, accept the risks, or adjust your specs/reqs.

UMTS service router wan
meshed 5 GHz wifi service router wan
meshed 2 GHz wifi service router wan
Tetra service router wan
APCO P25/P35 service router wan
MPT 1327 service router wan
MPT IP service router wan
Iridium service router wan

Not appropriate (3, Insightful)

drwho (4190) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202279)

I've been doing wifi mesh networks for over ten years. As much as people try, these just aren't reliable or secure enough to be used for such things as military and emergency services networks. Emergency services have more radio spectrum than they know what to do with, and access to lots of other resources. Use technology which is appropriate to these advantages, taking into account the demand for very high reliability.

There are standards for this. (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202295)

It's not standardized across the US, but many states have standards for emergency radios. [fcc.gov] Find out what's standard and go with it.

One of the more useful projects of Homeland Security is to get all the agencies that have first responders connected in emergencies. It's hard, because each agency has their own system and they don't interoperate. Here's the Texas plan. [region49.org] And the Florida plan. [myflorida.com]

Most of the hard problems have to do with too many people on the air in urban areas. If you're a volunteer department, you're probably not in an urban area and don't have that problem. If you want something that will Just Work, get high-powered 700MHz public safety band capable VHF FM handhelds and vehicle radios for your own people and get them fitted into your state plan. A few Iridium satellite radios for command personnel and those who really need to talk to the outside world during an incident are helpful. Here's one suitable for fire truck installation [infosat.com] . Iridium airtime costs are high, about $1.29 per minute, but in an emergency that's the least of your problems.)

Re:There are standards for this. (1)

tipo159 (1151047) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202611)

Iridium airtime costs are high, about $1.29 per minute, but in an emergency that's the least of your problems.)

Have you seen the movie Contagion? There is a scene in the movie where the CDC reps are scoping out a sports arena to use as a make-shift hospital and the local people come in and ask "whose budget is this coming out of?" I am a county ham radio volunteer (backup communications) and, having been through a number of county and regional drills, this scene struck me as so true. There are budget people at the EOC who clear the simulated expenses run up dealing with the simulated emergency and know what budget the expenses will come out of.

Re:There are standards for this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202787)

In ICS, the Logistics Branch gets the stuff and the Finance/Admin branch figures out where the money is coming from.

use a cisco 877w (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202327)

This would be pretty simple to do with a cisco router.

One SSID for the 'WAN', all devices in same subnet.
Each device also has an SSID to talk to your tablets etc, turn on DHCP on each individual router.

Advertise both subnets into OSPF. Central site can advertise out a default route.

Job done.

Directional WLAN (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202445)

If you have a need for long-distance, broadband communications, you should build yourself either cantennas or cantennas+parabolic dishes. Even very primitive cantennas which are just cans with a hole inside work wonders to boost distance. Some guys on youtube made 70km links with parabolic antennas ! Make sure there is no line-of-sight obstruction, as this will strongly attenuate the signal. That in turn means you need long, portable masts. German THW has dedicated communications gear and units for that. SATCOM is also an option, as you will almost by definition have line of sight to a geo-stationary sat.

Of course, always ask yourself "what is the scenaio we will need it ?" "how would that communication technology be integrated into actual operations in a meaningful way ?"

If your connventional HF communications gear does the job, WLAN would be just a hindrance. I assume WLAN or SATCOM only makes sense in a major disaster such as a vast flood or whenever senior leaders and politicians need to perform confidential video conferences. Always remember, Rommel lead whole armies via hand-typed morse code and rather primitive HF radios.

Also, have you thought about text messaging via HF by some kind of automated acoustic signalling ? Makes a lot of sense because HF works quite well over serious distances and without line-of-sight. Text should be encrypted, of course; just use GnuPG.

The Serval Project (4, Informative)

complete loony (663508) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202489)

The Serval Project [servalproject.org] on the Android Market [google.com] .

Our focus is on providing useful services without any reliance on fixed infrastructure. Phone calls and text messaging via adhoc mesh, and even file distribution in the field.

Though you might find our next release more suitable than the version on the market. It's still in heavy development, but would also allow phone calls to be relayed to the PSTN via an asterisk PBX. We'd be happy to provide an alpha version and help you to get the most use out of it.

We're also working on a separate application that uses open street map data for situational awareness and collaborative mapping.

A few thoughts (2)

KenDiPietro (1294220) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202499)

I can see several applications that would make this type of network incredibly useful. Having the ability to distribute situational awareness video in real time would be awesome. This could be useful independently from internet connectivity and a tablet with a decent amount of storage could keep the video for later review. If it were within the budget, wouldn't a head's up display in the firefighters helmet of something built into the brim of a law enforcement officer's hat be pretty slick? The ability to Wifi locate any of your team could also be quite useful. Perhaps more to the point are disasters like Katrina or 9/11, where the telecommunications network may be down for extended periods of time. This kind of backup network could very well be the difference between life and death. If enough of these radios could be dropped in place with solar and battery backup as entire area could be brought back online in a very short period of time. Year's ago there was mention of a completely independent group of license exempt wireless pros forming an instant adhoc network on the the upcoming anniversary of September 11th to drive this exact point home. As a suggestion, you might want to look if the 4.9GHz band in available in your location. Among others, Motorola's Motomesh uses this band. It's clean, licensed for this use, and some Wifi adapters can be switched to work in that band, lowering the cost for equipment. Certainly, challenges exist and need to be worked through but if the opportunity to experiment is presented, why not go for it?

An unreliable network was used many times HAM (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202625)

Exactly. In such situations, an unreliable mwireless mesh has been used many times, proving it's worth. It was called ham. That experience shows that an ad hoc mesh is sometimes far better than no communication, or in addition to whatever other communication is available.

It's funny to me that MOST people consistently debate how well things MIGHT work without considering how similar things have worked. Ie, most public policy debates concern ideas already tried in California or elsewhere, yet everyone argues whether X would work, ignoring the fact that California already tried X and it failed miserably (or succeeded, as the case may be.)

We are trying HSMM-MESH (2)

tipo159 (1151047) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202513)

Our local club is playing with HSMM-MESH to supplement our existing ham radio set-ups (two repeaters and an "assigned" ARES/RACES-type simplex frequency (in the last regional drill, hams in the next county were demanding that we get off "their" frequency, which is why "assigned" is in quotes)). Some times it would be helpful in an emergency situation to be able to transfer files or stream video and Wifi speeds are better than TNC speeds.

A bunch of us have purchased a bunch of WRT54Gs and reprogrammed them, but we haven't yet tried to get them to mesh.

Bad idea (2)

slimjim8094 (941042) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202585)

First of all, let's imagine the technical stuff isn't an issue. Imagine all the trucks have cellular modems and can just communicate over the Internet as usual. What are they using it for? I do volunteer EMS (not fire, admittedly, though I work with fire agencies a fair bit) but I can't figure out what it'd be used for, aside from CAD (computer-aided dispatch) which is outside the scope of our volunteer agency, and likely outside the scope of yours. Large-scale incidents (MCIs) do require a lot of information sharing that might be well-served by a data network of some sort, but interop is already a huge problem just with bog-standard FM radios. What sorts of computer data are they going to share without the internet? Keep in mind, this has to be data that's either already available digitally (in which case, why the network?) or created on-scene and then digitized. I can't think of any, honestly, except for perhaps pictures? And they're not really necessary.

So assuming there's a use for wireless data sharing, what justifies not dropping a few hundred a month (which is nothing for even a volunteer FD) on cellular broadband? It's a mature technology, reliability is high, and it doesn't require any customization - just logging into a VPN or something, if even.

Finally, your solution can't be finicky or unreliable at all. If it doesn't work once, it'll become a liability and nobody will rely on it. People don't screw around with stuff like this, since it can literally get people killed. Public safety has been doing fine on voice radios for a long time, and even if it could be done better, there's no hesitation about giving up your enhancements permanently the first time there's a problem with it.

I'm an amateur radio operator. I get the attraction to playing with this kind of stuff. But I'd never use it in my EMS agency, since "playing" isn't acceptable. That's why we buy $1k-a-pop Motorola radios that do less than my $100 Chinese HT - because there's no fidgeting, and no question about whether it's going to work when you need it. Even if you've dropped it in a puddle, or it's gotten dropped from 6 feet onto pavement, or used it to clobber a drug addict away from you (yes, it happens).

Mobile routers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202607)

If reliability is what you seek it's probably best not to rely on ad-hoc wifi networking but pay that $5/mo and get a mobile (cell) card to connect to a router ($50-100). It's incredibly cheap and we use to do it for any employees that carpooled.

Get real! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41202781)

Your thinking of putting 'emergency' services together using band aids, twine, and consumer crap products and expect it to work reliably enough so that you don't get sued for when it fails?

What? (1)

kenh (9056) | about a year and a half ago | (#41202989)

If you have a need for internet access, get a MiFi/wireless hotspot. If you only want internet access if one of the houses/businesses has a free/unsecured hot spot you can "jump on to" what is the point? Either you need it or you don't.

Do you rummage through people's medicine cabinets for bandaids/medicine or do you bring them with you? Do you look for garden hose when you respond to a fire or do you have a tanker with a pump and hoses you bring with you?

If there is an open, unsecured, wifi hotspot the mesh network can find in the neighborhood, why can't the netbooks, laptops, and tablets you bring with you find them?

Wasn't there a post not two-four weeks ago about an effort to make mesh networks areas without service? Did the original poster even see that posting?

Commercial grade...not hobby grade (4, Informative)

ff1324 (783953) | about a year and a half ago | (#41203039)

Disclaimer: I work for a paid fire department but started as a volunteer. I understand the financial challenges for both m

Our metropolitan area uses InMotion OMG1000 or OMG1050 mobile routers. The cost just over $2000 each, but they create a man network for emergency equipment, have up to four different WAN connections, are remotely configurable and upgradable, and provide GPS services. They're almost bulletproof.

Wiring up WRT54Gs isn't the answer. You'll spend more time than your time is worth creating a solution than finding funding to implement one. Apply for a FIRE grant or cooperate with multiple agencies to access a larger program. Check with your county or state.

Realisitcally, an air card is all you need otherwise. If enough agencies want in on the project, see if the wireless provider will put you on your own APN.

Good luck.

My Volunteer EMS service (1)

Adam Appel (1991764) | about a year and a half ago | (#41203045)

I am in a Volunteer ambulance service we are also a USA Medical Corps member so we have a response to MCI's and natural disaster events. We mainly work sporting events, fairs, festivals and so on. Some are loud (Cage fights, heavy metal concerts etc) so voice comms are not very useful. Some are spread across hundreds of miles vast sections lack even cell service (like the Fireweed 400; Sheep Mountain to Valdez, AK). And some we run a field clinic with 3 exam rooms and 5+ roaming teams of medics and 2 fast response team in a non-motorized setting with a tight HIPAA compliant comm net. So our needs are quite varied. Several of us in leadership are IT or comm pros (our comm director owns a industrial communications sales/service for oil and gas exploration companies) and have gone though a number of potential solutions. This is what we do: Our backbone for disaster work is the ALMR radio system some of which can carry data or will soon. We have a few SAT phones for bush work. Over that we have our own VHF/UFH simplex/duplex radios with repeaters and FCC assigned channels (however that works) for our day to day work cupeled with regular data plans with a ATT MiFi type divice for PCR's, SCAT forms and as much paperwork as we con do electronically.

I have to wonder why you need the local networking?

I know I didn't address the question of the best way to set up an EMS/Fire network, but that's what I got. Good luck.

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