Pepro LLC

Hardening Sites Means Preparing for the Worst Case Scenario

Mar 25, 2014 | Posted in -- The Pepro Blog

As the push for a dedicated Public Safety Broadband Network draws closer to reality, it should be the goal of key decision makers and stakeholders, to ensure the network is built to the same rigorous standards for site hardening that have been utilized by the public safety community to build existing mission critical LMR networks.

A key component of FirstNet’s plan for an affordable LTE network is to develop public/private partnerships which would include commercial carriers. A review of recent major emergency events, such as Hurricane Sandy, the earthquake in Washington DC, the derecho winds in July 2012, (which caused destruction along a 700 mile path in the Midwest and Mid Atlantic), highlights the weaknesses of commercial carriers during the most critical times. Whether the weakness is due to a lack of backup power, failure of backup power, congestion of the network, or loss of equipment due to power surges, it dramatically illustrates the distinct difference between a business model for communications and a mission critical/public safety model.

Determining the hardening requirements for a Public Safety grade, “always on” network is not a one-size-fits-all/most solution. The process starts with an accurate assessment of all the potential threats, both natural and man-made. In public safety terms, this means determining the “worst case scenario” for both and then establishing that as the minimum hardening requirement. In the gulf and on the east coast where the threat of hurricanes is an annual threat, the wind load requirements for towers and shelters should meet that expectation. In areas where flooding is a threat, back-up power should be elevated to safeguard against damage. Some threats are fairly predictable by region/season, such as wind, lightning, heat, etc. Other natural events are not as predictable but are a potential threat, depending on geographic location, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes.

Man-made threats include but are not limited to industrial accidents, fires, vandalism, active shooter or hostage events, and terrorist attacks. Man-made threats don’t have to be major events either, they can be interference caused by a nearby industrial complex, or a radio station. Training first responders to lean on systems that can fail or degrade in predictable situations will compromise their performance when they need to be at their best.

First responders should never have to ask "can you hear me now?" The commercial networks are only as useful to public safety communications as their performance in a worst case scenario. Assets and systems, no matter how useful in optimal conditions, should not be introduced unless we know we can rely on them in a crisis.