Assured Disaster Communications: Blueforce TACPAC for Disaster Response

Assured Disaster Communications: Blueforce TACPAC for Disaster Response

You know it’s bad when you are driving south against a 120-mile rolling backup of vehicles which are headed north.  There are fights at the gas stations.  When Blueforce was asked to pre-deploy with our emergency communications gear to Jefferson Parish in the hours before Hurricane Gustav was to come ashore, we beat the storm by a mere 60 minutes and bunked at a courthouse in New Orleans.  The storm seemed tame at first, but then the reports came in.  Grand Isle, Louisiana under 15 feet of water and the location was being described as a recovery effort because public safety officials were unable to communicate with Grand Isle officials.  Cell towers were under water as were the public safety RF repeaters.

Blueforce was deployed for assured command and control communications given the success our solutions with civil-military operations in Iraq.  Blueforce was deployed to Grand Isle mere hours after the storm passed and delivered local network and satellite backhaul within minutes of arriving at the incident command location.  The Army Corps of Engineers arrived 48 hours later.  FEMA arrived 96 hours later.  In both cases they used our comms links for command and control and establishing the logistics chain to help the citizens recover from the storm.  The net: small deployable communications man-packs can change the game in the initial hours of an event.

The first 72 hours after a natural or manmade disaster are critical hours that make or break the speed of recovery. Power is gone. Commercial communications services are denied if available at all. Worse, a nonpredictive inter-agency mash-up is inevitable; with it comes an interoperability nightmare. Your ability to positively impact recovery and life safety is borne of an ability to communicate and coordinate in denied, disparate, and dysfunctional operating environments. That’s why agencies need an approach to Assured Communications that works.

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the Blueforce team continues to be surprised at the lack of interoperability between agencies. Industry continues to turn out voice communications platforms that claim “interoperability”, as long as the gear is all from the same manufacturer. Agencies are having none of it and the Blueforce team is seeing a strategic shift amongst agencies in the adoption of TCP/IP and LTE technologies for the movement of voice and information because internet protocols are fundamentally interoperable and in use by almost every agency today. Most importantly: data links provide for parallel movement of mission critical data compared with the serial “one person may speak at a time” nature of radio.

Despite the best scenario planning, the one thing a continuity planner can count on is not having fully grasped the “not knowing what we don’t know” during the preparedness and planning phases. It’s not because we aren’t smart or thoughtful people, but because non-predictive events define the very meaning of chaos. You may be able to predict the event, but certainly not the “where” and the “who” involved which are critical to solving the “how”.

Much of Blueforce’s tactical experience comes from working in post-conflict, civil-military environments where “network-centric” doctrine is easily translated into business continuity or disaster response communications protocols. “The First 72” hours will present three core complexities that must be considered and planned around for mounting an effective and timely response:

  1. Organizational: Anticipating the “who” will respond when calamity strikes may seem easy, but every organization we have worked with has brought different gear and divergent communications capability.
  2. Environmental: Many agencies believe that the million dollar communications “war wagon” is the answer to mounting an immediate and effective response. During Hurricanes Gustav (Louisiana) and Ike (Texas), these war wagons couldn’t make it into the area of operation for nearly a week because of washed out roads and bridges.
  3. Operational: Organizational and environmental challenges bring about the most difficult challenge of all, that of operational complexity. Every organization will have their own notion of how you move information and in what format. Each will also have made assumptions that power will be available, commercial services will be in abundance, and that gear brought to the fight will interoperate.

Contingency Communications is one of the tracks at our upcoming Blueforce DC Metro Field Day and we will be going “hands-on” with our TACPAC product. The Blueforce TACPAC portable communications pack system is the next generation of “last tactical mile” assured communications for use in austere environments and provides data and voice services for three to five commanders. Whether your application is disaster response, continuity of operations, command and control, or technical collection, the TACPAC provides mission critical capabilities to move information when operating in austere environments. Designed and built for a “network centric” concept of operation, the TACPAC was built for small units that need to setup fast, and redeploy as quickly.  Furthermore, the design center is one that makes a core assumption that the operator will not have (or desire) access to local infrastructure. The TACPAC generates its own power, provides two modes of backhaul, and provides data and voice for 24×7 operation.

Powered by a foldable solar array and leveraging lithium ion batteries for power storage, the TACPAC provides redundant voice and data communications systems to ensure connectivity in any situation and delivers the following capabilities:

  • Reconnaissance and rapid assessment
  • Interoperable voice and data communications within 5 minutes of arrival using terrestrial and/or satellite communications
  • Immediate command post/command and control
  • Data, voice, and Internet; Wired or wireless internet
  • Blueforce Tactical for Android tracking, sensor normalization, and accountability
  • Standalone solar power generation and storage

Hurricane Gustav was the second most destructive hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season and triggered the largest evacuation in United States history. More than 3 million people fled the oncoming hurricane which caused nearly US$6.6 billion in damages. The hurricane made landfall on the morning of September 1 at Grand Isle, Louisiana with wind speeds of 105 mph. The island’s infrastructure was largely destroyed. Blueforce principals were deployed with several TACPACs to the island within hours of the storm passing and provided interoperable emergency communications that were used to assess and mount a rapid response. Local officials have estimated that the unprecedented access to communications so early in the response saved them months of recovery time.  To see the TACPAC in action, register NOW for the Blueforce METRO DC Field Day.