Public safety and healthcare applications are the ultimate test for networking technology. If a network fails to perform in an emergency situation, safety agencies risk much more than network downtime or a loss of productivity – lives are at stake. Reliable, secured and real-time communications is essential in an emergency, especially when multiple departments and government agencies are involved.

To help safeguard the welfare of first responders, a new technology solution is becoming available that enables incident response personnel from multiple government agencies to communicate situational awareness information seamlessly and securely during an event, while minimizing dependency on the fixed infrastructure of the disaster site.

Several industry leaders have teamed up to deliver a new technology solution: the Advanced Incident Response System (AIRS). AIRS is one of the first commercially available IPv6 public safety solutions that enables incident response personnel from multiple government agencies to communicate.

Taking Advantage of Public Safety

At the heart of the AIRS solution is the IPv6 protocol. IPv6 provides support for the open standards-based architecture needed to create and organize a scalable network in any environment, at any time. Additionally, the protocol inherently provides the services needed for seamless mobile communication.

The use of IPv6 and next-generation technologies such as network mobility, advanced sensor systems and situational awareness applications help enable real-time secure communications between incident responders and between responders and commanders. Human and environmental conditions can be monitored on an intuitive dashboard via internal sensors, and the information can be disseminated onsite as well as to remote facilities. External sensors can deliver real-time GPS location data and detect hazards like toxic gases, chemicals or temperature changes. This information and other critical data can be captured and stored by the AIRS solution, so agencies can later review their efforts and continually improve the way they respond to situations.

Collaboration is another critical part of emergency response, and IPv6 dramatically improves the ability of multiple agencies to work with one another using network architecture. IPv6 offers a greater address space compared to IPv4, so every device on the network can have a globally unique address. Police officers, firefighters and EMT personnel can share information directly with one another under IPv6, using their own devices, without the need for reaching back communications to a remote, offsite data center or through a network translation device. A single incident area command post could even monitor multiple responders from different units. With existing technology, responders from different agencies on separate communications systems would have to connect to individual agency command posts to relay information back and forth between agencies – even though they might be in the same room. Communications may be impossible if they don’t have reach-back capabilities.

Because IPv6 also provides inherent quality of service and may ease integration of multiple media types, emergency responders can also take advantage of real-time applications such as live video and voice over IP (VoIP). A live video feed in a burning building, from an IPv6 fixed video surveillance camera or a camera carried by a first responder, can show a commander exactly what is happening, which will facilitate faster and more informed decision-making.

Secured Communications

To protect this sensitive communication, AIRS provides standards based, IP data security built into the IPv6 protocol. Peer-to-peer communications links enable first responders to communicate directly, within the mobile ad hoc network created for a specific incident, without having to access a server for client communications.

Also, sensors registering heart rate, pulse, temperature, respiration, etc. allows for real-time biometric data to be reported to onsite or remote stations including the health and environmental conditions of responders at the crisis site.

About the Source

Security Magazine would like to thank David West director, Field Operations, Federal Center of Excellence, Cisco Systems.

SIDEBAR: What Is Internet Protocol version 6?

It's designated as the successor of IPv4, the current version of the Internet Protocol, for general use on the Internet. The main change brought by IPv6 is a much larger address space that allows greater flexibility in assigning addresses. It was not the intention of IPv6 designers, however, to give permanent unique addresses to every individual and every computer. With IPv6, renumbering becomes largely automatic, because the host identifiers are decoupled from the network provider identifier.