Public safety professionals and emergency responders are trained for the all-important job of protecting the public – on a day-to-day basis, and when faced with a natural disaster or other emergency situation. Much of this training and preparation assumes that they will be able to communicate with each other when an emergency occurs.
For years, land mobile radio (LMR) networks have been the staple of public safety communications. Cell phones have increasingly been adopted as a communications tool by many first responders; however, neither option ensures reliable, interoperable and sustainable communications – the ability for multiple federal, state, local and tribal public safety teams to talk efficiently to each other – during an emergency or for daily operational communications.
Emergency situations can leave cellular networks congested or disabled, and land mobile radios typically only allow communications among officials within one unit or agency. Because of the radios’ limited geographic reach and restricted number of licensed frequencies, the equipment may not allow multi-agency interoperable communications between a police officer, a firefighter, a local EMS crew, a hospital in a neighboring state, or a representative from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Hurricane Katrina illustrated the need for reliable, interoperable communications; however, the Gulf Region and other areas prone to hurricanes are not the only places in need of this type of technology. Wildfires, earthquakes, tornados, severe snow storms and other natural and man-made disasters such as 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and hostage situations, all require reliable, inter-agency communications to ensure the safety and security of the public.
Achieving interoperable communications nationwide is an increasingly high priority for policy makers and the public safety and emergency response communities. It is this growing concern that led an electronics technician with the FBI and an attorney with the DOJ to approach Ligado Networks with an idea that would initiate the Satellite Mutual Aid Radio Talkgroup (SMART) program. SMART is a satellite-based service that connects federal, state, local and tribal public safety professionals via numerous overlapping national and regional talkgroups. The SMART program is designed to tackle the financial and governance challenges that have often impeded the development of interoperable public safety communications.
Ligado Networks ’s satellite network delivers reliability and interoperability. Satellite service is available even when cell towers and landlines are congested or damaged and is accessible from remote areas not served by terrestrial communications networks. The mobility of Ligado Networks ’s satellite terminals ensures that public safety officials can communicate, even if emergency operations centers need to be evacuated, which was the case during Hurricane Katrina. In addition, Ligado Networks ’s dispatch-style, push-to-talk technology, is familiar to first responders and ideal for command and control. A SMART talkgroup provides significant interoperability in addition to other talkgroups a Ligado Networks customer may already be using locally.
To reduce financial barriers, Ligado Networks offers the SMART talkgroups free of charge to anyone who already has Push-to-Talk (PTT) service with Ligado Networks . Many government and public safety organizations across the country currently are Ligado Networks subscribers.
The management of SMART rests not with Ligado Networks but is entirely in the hands of the people who know public safety best. Each SMART talkgroup is managed and monitored 24×7 by a different federal, state, or local public safety entity, ensuring design, control, and management by public safety officials through multiple public-private partnerships with Ligado Networks .