Even while the federal 9/11 Commission was making recommendations last week for emergency preparedness and a number of other homeland security components, the State of California was already testing a proof-of-concept emergency response network. Its goal is to knock down barriers to information-sharing among local and state emergency responders.

The state's pilot Emergency Response Management Network (ERMN) is funded largely by a competitive grant won from the Federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to Tom Worden, a chief technology officer in the communications and technology department of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (OES). Worden described the project at a meeting last month of the Wireless Communications Alliance (WCA), a Silicon Valley organisation that unites businesses and individuals for wireless education and networking.

The vendor-neutral project involves integrating multiple data sources from multiple California agencies and organisations into a geographic user interface that allows distributed decision-making and situational awareness. Municipalities can weave together geospatial information systems, alerting and notification systems, records and resource management, routing, video surveillance, sensor networks and automated vehicle location and tracking systems so that they can work as a unified team.

For example, the common geographic interface shows the location of an incident, the location of the various firehouses and police precincts near it, the various hospitals in the area and their available bed counts, the type of facilities they are (whether they're a burn or trauma center, for example), and other variables.

Wi-Fi on multiple bands
ERMN is based on a distributed network architecture that uses Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz, 4.9 GHz, and 5.9 GHz bands; the state's OASIS satellite system; cellular networks; the California Research and Educational Network (CalREN); and the public Internet as redundant IP data paths, Worden said.

ERMN is initially being deployed in Alameda County; nodes will also be installed in OES and California Department of Transportation headquarters in the state capital of Sacramento.

Further deployment of the system will depend on the pilot outcome and availability of additional funding, Worden said.