In an increasingly globalised world, security threats are multiplying and often require a range of first responders to rapidly coordinate their assistance. Depending on its nature, a threat or disaster could require urgent attention from the fire brigade, police, bomb squad, ambulance service, military and/or environmental agency. As first responders and related agencies become more specialised in different fields, they sometimes struggle to communicate effectively with one another.
Against this backdrop the EU-funded project FREESIC is developing a cost-efficient solution that interconnects emergency responder agencies across communication platforms. Bringing together Slovakian teams with key actors from the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Poland, Spain and the UK, the project has gathered a formidable team of experts, researchers and government agencies to make the vision a reality. The system has already been tested – with positive results – and the technology will soon be ready to exploit.
An innovative communication gateway
"The solution is based on a universal gateway with customisable adapters that enable connection of third-party infrastructures to the FREESIC Unified Communication Network," explains Stefan Vanya, project coordinator and research director at Ardaco in Slovakia.
The FREESIC platform involves an open interface with open source software modules and sample implementation configurations. The idea is that any agency can use these to develop its own interface or adapter to link up with the FREESIC system.
An earlier EU-funded project, SECRICOM, had identified all the barriers to interoperability, which ranged from differing processes between agencies to budgetary pressures, security concerns, international agreements and legal limitations.
"To break through these barriers FREESIC is working on innovative ideas such as a network of networks concept as well as a generic WEB 2.0 or 'do it yourself' approach," says Vanya. "This provides a solid base for the concept to become one of the major interoperability tools in Europe and beyond."
What makes the project unique is its focus on potential end-user expectations, habits and constraints. Once fine-tuned, the technology will be ready for immediate exploitation.
Simple, safe and free
In simple terms, the platform links the telephone exchange system with professional networks, in which agencies can configure how they connect with other agencies. "The agencies can decide to what extent they want to interoperate with each partner agency, which roles in their organisation are visible for which partners and for what time periods" explains Vanya.
Fire brigades, for example, can establish interoperability with ambulance services, but also with voluntary organisations like the Red Cross. This can be set up very easily using the FREESIC web platform.
Importantly, FREESIC uses existing communication infrastructures already deployed. "These infrastructures can be integrated into the unified communication network with minor implementation efforts," says Vanya. The result is an efficient, rapid and cost-effective response to emergency situations.
Key to the project’s success have been the EU funding it received and the resulting international networking opportunities.
"The project would never have become a reality without it,” says the project coordinator.
The FREESIC platform will be available free of charge to all public safety agencies in Europe. The project team is currently working on enhanced interoperability among databases, sensors and camera outputs. When ready, this will mean greater safety and security across Europe.