Communication Sharing Across Border During Disaster

Communication Sharing Across Border During Disaster


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During a disaster, thousands of people are trying to communicate through the same network at the same time in the same area. This results in the network becoming congested, sometimes failing, leaving people frustrated and worried. The scenario is even worse in the case of first responders trying to respond to a disaster. Sometimes, a disaster affects an international border where the network coverage switches from one domestic carrier to another or completely drops.

A solution demonstrating that seamless communication is possible between first responders from both sides of the border during a major emergency was tested recently by the US DHS S&T and the Canadian Center for Security Science DRDC CSS. The technology was tested on the border of Washington and British Columbia.  

The scenario addressed responding to a volcanic crater collapse followed by a destructive mud flow, and it involved participants from local first responder agencies from both states, U.S. Customs and Border Protection; S&T, and Canada Border Services Agency.

All of the international communication activities throughout the exercise from both sides of the border were coordinated and facilitated by a public safety broadband network (PSBN), which enabled special features for first responders.

For example, when the network became congested due to heavy traffic during an emergency, PSBN gave first responders priority on the network. Also, when too many public safety users are on the network, some of the users could be moved to another network (Canadian or American) without anyone even noticing the switch.

The operation demonstrated that a national network, much like America’s FirstNET, can join forces with a similar network in Canada and behave like one network from a public safety user perspective.

The experiment also added the human factor to technology by mobilizing digital volunteers from the area, who gathered information from simulated social media sites and shared their findings with exercise decision makers to demonstrate how social media can inform response efforts.