Emergency Operations Centre

EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTRE

Guidelines on Appropriate EOC Telecommunications Systems

March 2012

Introduction

As stated in Regulation 380/04, “The emergency operations centre [EOC] must have appropriate technological and telecommunications systems to ensure effective communication in an emergency.” This document will provide advice and assistance in determining what EOC telecommunications systems may be “appropriate” for a municipality. It is the municipality’s decision to determine if the telecommunications capabilities in their EOC are appropriate. Whether your EOC is located in a municipal office, in a community hall, or as a stand-alone EOC, this document is to be used only as a guide in this process.

The basic principle is that there is a need for reliable and timely two-way communications between the EOC and participating or supporting agencies or departments, or between the EOC and the incident site. Communication system redundancy is very important for ensuring the sustainability of an EOC and this document suggests back-ups that may be appropriate for use in an EOC. If possible, it is advisable to also have back-ups for the back-ups.

The telecommunication capabilities that a municipal EOC needs may vary based on the size and type of municipality, the presence of vulnerable populations, and hazards and risks that a municipality may face. Agencies and departments need to be operable, meaning they have sufficient communications capabilities to meet their everyday and emergency communication requirements, and they should be interoperable with other agencies, departments, or jurisdictions. Communications interoperability is the ability for public safety agencies, such as police, fire, and emergency medical services, to exchange information via two-way communications.

To determine the telecommunication needs within the municipal EOC consider:

• Who needs to communicate, with whom, and when?

• What information must be communicated?

• What means of communication will be used?

While this document focuses on EOC telecommunications, municipalities should consider the assigned space for an EOC (or if establishing a new EOC, the desired structure) when planning telecommunications. Factors such as the level of the building where the EOC is located; the ability, or lack thereof, to mount antennas; whether raised flooring is present or desirable; the space to locate a generator; the presence of high-rise buildings or other concrete structures; and local geography may all affect telecommunications capabilities in an EOC.

It should be noted that because of the quick pace at which technology changes, readers of this document should analyse, research, compare, and test any product or service prior to making any designs or purchases. Although every reasonable effort has been made to make this document as comprehensive as possible, readers should not base all EOC telecommunications decisions solely on this document.

Section 1 - EOC Telecommunications Systems: Recommendations Based on Population

Determining what an appropriate system may be for a municipality can be complicated and overwhelming. The following are recommendations, based on a municipality’s population, as to what may be deemed as appropriate telecommunications systems.

1.1 Population < 1000

For municipalities of this size there are a number of variables that make communications difficult. For example, limited funding, staffing, and municipal infrastructure may all limit communication methods. Coupled with this is the fact that most small municipalities are often rural with no centralized population and limited technological advances, such as robust cellular and internet service.

Some recommendations for appropriate EOC telecommunications systems in municipalities of this size are as follows:

• At least one phone line for telephone calls

• At least one phone line for faxes

• At least one digital answering machine

• Two-way radio communications between the EOC and municipal response agencies

• At least one cell phone to act as a back-up in case the telephone system is not functional

• At least one computer with internet access and e-mail capabilities

• At least one dry-erase board or flip chart with markers

• An additional consideration or an asset for an EOC would be one television with cable or satellite connection

In order to help facilitate these recommendations the following ideas and options are presented for consideration.

Telephones and Fax Machines

If the EOC is in the municipal office the regular office telephones may be used for telephone calls and faxes. The advantages to this are that the telephone numbers are well known, documented, established numbers that may only require minimal costs to set up for use as a phone line in the EOC (i.e. telephone extension cord).

It should be noted that regular municipal business may need to continue during an emergency and therefore the telephones and lines may need to be used for both regular and emergency business. Having phone lines handling both purposes will complicate communications and therefore should be avoided if possible.

It will also be beneficial to have a digital answering machine to help manage incoming messages. If a digital answering machine is used, the voicemail message that is recorded as a prompt for the caller should be informative in order to help keep the line clear. For example, if applicable, make reference to another number the caller can use in case of an emergency.

Two-way Radio System

Many municipalities already have two-way radio systems in place for regular communications between municipal agencies. Such examples are public works radios and fire department radios. These systems can easily be adopted for use to communicate with the EOC by placing at least one radio in the EOC.

Also, as a minimum, very basic two-way radio communications can easily be established by using radios that can be economically purchased at most department stores. These radios are often compatible with similar models, which allows for expandability of the telecommunication system. Therefore, extra radios may be purchased and provided to other response agencies, as required. However, a disadvantage of this system is the fact that communications on these radios are not over a secure channel, allowing anyone with a similar radio to hear communications. Therefore, confidential information should not be relayed over these radios.

Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES)

For a community of this size, the local ARES group is probably organized at the District or County level, and there may even be a plan to deploy an ARES capability within that Group’s response plan. The closest ARES Coordinator may be found at the ARES Ontario website (www.ontario.racares.ca). On the website, click on the word “Search” midway down on the left side of the page. In the new page that opens, place the cursor over the “Search by” selection on the menu bar, click on “Postal Code” and enter the first three characters of your postal area. The search will produce a list of local operators. Contact one to determine who in your community is active in ARES.

A list of planning considerations and ARES telecommunication services can be found in Annex B. Even the most elementary preparations, especially identifying the type of antennas to be used, the location of antenna suspension points, and the preparation of a weather-tight entry point where temporary antenna cabling can be brought into the building will significantly decrease response time.

Cell Phones

Having a cell phone ready for back-up is made easy by purchasing a “pay as you go” type phone. These cell phones are relatively inexpensive to purchase with minimal on-going costs. Alternatively, if a municipality already has a cell phone for staff to use it could be used during an emergency, if required. Again the advantages of the phone number being established and known are gained with this option.

Another option, with the proliferation of cell phones, would be for a municipality to develop an agreement with staff that have personal cell phones. The agreement could simply state that if staff members are willing to use their personal cell phones for emergency purposes then the municipality would reimburse them for any calls made during the emergency. There are several advantages to this idea, such as no on-going costs to the municipality and more than one telephone number being used in the EOC.

If the cellular system in the municipality is generally reliable, this option may be used as the primary means of communication within the EOC. In this case, the municipality would have to inform other response agencies that cell phones are required for communications in the EOC.

Disadvantages to using cell phones as primary communications are outlined in Section 3 of this document.

Another advantage to having a cell phone is that even if you cannot make a cell phone call you may still be able to send text messages. If it is a Blackberry phone, you may be able to send messages PIN to PIN (PIN to PIN messages will be explained further in Section 3).

It is strongly encouraged that you communicate with your service provider to be aware of and remain up to date on the limits of the services that are being provided to you, as well as on the potential for any additional features that may be offered.

Computers

Many municipalities have at least one computer in their municipal office. If this computer is in an office that functions as an EOC then the computer can easily be adapted to fulfill the need as a computer in the EOC. An internet connection and e-mail capability are critical as another means of communicating, and can become a primary means of communications if telephone lines are down.

It should be noted whether or not the computers will be used for regular business during an emergency, as this will determine their availability.

Dry-erase Boards and Flip Charts

Dry-erase boards and flip charts allow for internal communications displaying any key events that have happened, taskings and responsibilities, schedules, etc. Dry-erase boards and flip charts are also an efficient way for EOC staff to quickly be briefed on what has happened during an emergency.

Included in these types of communications could be:

• Timelines

• Key contact numbers

• Important internal procedures

As the dry-erase board fills up with information a picture of the dry-erase board could be taken with a digital camera and then saved to a computer for later reference. The dry-erase board could then be erased and re-used.

Internal communication dry-erase boards and flip charts should be kept separate from any similar dry-erase boards or flip charts used for master logging or key events so as to not cause confusion.

Televisions and Radios

At least one television with antenna, cable, or satellite connection should be available in the EOC. Although this document is not intended to discuss what to communicate with the media or public, it is a good idea to have a television in the EOC to ensure that proper messaging is being provided to the public. A television may also allow for an actual view of the emergency scene. As well, having an AM/FM radio and a weather radio in the EOC should be considered.

1.2 Population 1000 – 4999

Although municipalities of this size may not be as limited in resources as municipalities of smaller sizes, communicating effectively from or in an EOC can still be challenging. Factors contributing to this could be, but are not limited to, resource limitations, history of complacency regarding emergency communications, or a lack of support material to aid in the building of emergency telecommunications systems.

EOC telecommunications recommendations for municipalities of this size are as follows:

• At least one phone line for incoming telephone calls

• At least one phone line for outgoing telephone calls

• At least one phone line for faxes

• At least one digital answering machine

• Two-way radio communications between EOC and municipal response agencies

• At least two to three cell phones to act as back-up in case the primary telecommunications system is not functional

• Computers with internet access and e-mail capabilities

• Dry-erase boards or flip charts with markers

• One television with cable or satellite connection

Telephones and Fax Machines

As with the recommendations above for municipalities with a population of less than 1000, many of the items required in the EOC can be obtained from existing municipal offices.

Telephones, fax machines, and computers can be set up in the EOC when required. Although phone jacks may need to be installed in the EOC, the phone lines do not need to remain active. The telephone service provider can re-activate the phone lines quickly if the jacks are already installed. For more information on this please see Section 3 under Telephone Systems.

An advantage to this idea is that there may be little on-going costs to keep the lines when there is no need for them. But a disadvantage is that the phone numbers into the EOC may not be known in advance.

Also, as with the recommendations for the previous population range, it will also be beneficial to have a digital answering machine to help manage incoming messages. If a digital answering machine is used, the voicemail message that is recorded as a prompt for the caller should be informative in order to help keep the line clear. For example, if applicable, make reference to another number the caller can use in case of an emergency.

Two-way Radio System

Municipalities with a population of 1000 to 4999 are likely to already have some sort of two-way radio communications system in place which will likely be adaptable for use during an emergency between the EOC and the site. The system should be checked to ensure that it is adequate as a two-way radio emergency communication system.

Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES)

The probability that there is an Amateur Radio operator in a community of this size is reasonably high. A quick way to determine is to go to the ARES Ontario website (www.ontario.racares.ca), and follow the same instructions as in section 1.1.

If there is no local operator it is probable that an ARES Group is organized on a Municipal District, County or Regional basis. The closest ARES Coordinator may be found at ARES Ontario website. That Coordinator can assist with selecting from Annex B the capabilities that would best complement your plan.

An annex to the emergency plan outlining the type of temporary antennae to be used and the structures available to suspend them, along with identification of a weather-proof access point into the EOC, will significantly reduce the time needed to set up the radio station. Other preparation factors can be found in Annex B.

Cell Phones

Similar to the ideas for cell phones for municipalities of < 1000, many municipalities already have staff that have cell phones provided by the municipality. These cell phones can be used during an emergency as either a primary or back-up means of communications. Or the municipality can enter into agreements with their staff similar to the agreement stated in the ideas for a population of < 1000.

It is strongly encouraged that you communicate with your service provider to be aware of and remain up to date on the limits of the services that are being provided to you, as well as on the potential for any additional features that may be offered.

Televisions, Dry-erase Boards, and Flip Charts

Television, dry-erase board, and flip chart recommendations are similar to those listed above for a municipality of < 1000.

1.3 Population 5000 – 9999

EOC communications for municipalities of this size should be more robust and resilient than smaller municipalities. It is recognized that there are limitations to having an excellent telecommunications system within the EOC; however, with the number of varied ideas and options available, a good telecommunications system should be attainable. Municipalities of this size generally have more critical infrastructure in a more urbanized, denser population type setting, which necessitates an appropriately equipped EOC.

Telephones

To set a minimum or maximum number of telephone lines for an EOC in a municipality of this size is difficult, with many variables. But it is noteworthy to mention that the number of telephones and lines required is likely to exceed the number the municipality has on hand in staff offices. Therefore extra phones and lines may need to be purchased and placed in storage or disabled until required.

Some of the variables that will help determine the numbers of telephones that may be required in your EOC are as follows:

• The number of agencies expected to participate in the Municipal Emergency Control Group and how many of them would need dedicated phone lines - different agencies may use their own cell phones and therefore may not need a dedicated line. This should be determined in advance with the responding agencies. Also the amount of activity the responding agency may have in the EOC will help determine if a dedicated phone line is required. For example, agencies who are not likely to make many phone calls may share one line between them.

The hazards identified in the municipality will also help determine how many phone lines are required. If the hazard may result in a quick response, short duration emergency such as a fire or chemical spill, it may be that not as many phone lines will be needed. If the hazard is likely to produce a drawn out response that is long in duration, such as a flood or ice storm, more phone lines may be required.

• The critical infrastructure within the municipality may also help determine the number of telephone lines required within the EOC. If the town office is on a Private Branch Exchange (PBX)1 some of the phone lines coming from the PBX may be relocated to the EOC, allowing for more phone lines in the EOC.

• The abilities of the municipality itself to respond to the emergency may also help determine the number of phone lines required. For example, if the municipality has a substantial capacity to deal with a chemical spill, the emergency may not be as protracted, resulting in the need for fewer telephone lines in the EOC. As well if the municipality has the internal ability to perform certain functions outside of the EOC, fewer telephone lines may be required. For example, if the municipality has a public relations department, all activities dealing with the media and/or public could be done through the normal method, which may result in fewer telephone lines in the EOC.

Cell Phones

A back-up or redundant system should be in place in case the landline system is affected during an emergency. Reverting to cell phones is an option, with advantages and disadvantages. A number of cell phones would be required for use in the EOC similar to the number of telephone lines required. As well, maintaining these cell phones when/if not in use would have to be managed with the associated ongoing costs. However, an agreement similar to the one mentioned for a population of <1000 may be reached, but the number of cell phones required may make such an agreement difficult to manage. Another method of cutting costs and increasing resiliency is the use of Bluetooth cell-phone conversion/docking kits. There are several options commercially available and they effectively pair a cell phone with a desk unit to turn it into a desk phone. They can also be paired with desk units that have been assigned an extension from the municipal or EOC switchboard. Having an area to keep cell phones charged may become an issue especially if there is no power. Also, the dependability of cell phones may be an issue if/when the landline system is down and power is out with the general public also relying on the cellular system. Cell phone sites can easily become congested and the call drop rate increases.

Once again, it is strongly encouraged that you communicate with your service provider to be aware of and remain up to date on the limits of the services that are being provided to you, as well as on the potential for any additional features that may be offered.

Satellite Phones

A satellite phone(s) may need to be considered as another back-up means of communications if/when both the landline and cell system are off line. Cost would be a significant factor in determining the need for a satellite phone along with the fact that some additional training on using the satellite phone would be required and additional options added to the satellite phone in order for it to be used indoors. Also, when using a satellite phone when all other phone systems are down you must ensure that the person you are calling either has a satellite phone as well or is out of the affected area. Maintaining lists of those with satellite phones and the associated numbers would be prudent. Section 3 of this document will speak to the importance of the need for municipalities to conduct research into the various options that may be available and what will work best for them, especially with respect to associated costs.

Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES)

In addition to the advice offered under Section 1.2, consideration should be given to installing one (preferably two) “dual-band” Amateur VHF/UHF antennas on the roof of the building housing the EOC, and routing the transmission cable to the operating position. This avoids the problems associated with erecting antennas in foul weather. Cost is not excessive and such a project could possibly be eligible for funding (eg. Joint Emergency Preparedness Program). In addition, the radio coverage gained with antenna height above what is typical of ARES temporary installations will be dramatically improved.

Computers

Computers with internet and e-mail access should also be made available in the EOC with requisite printing and scanning capabilities. If the computer has the ability to send and receive faxes this may lessen the number of phone lines required in the EOC. As well a computer may be used to project information that is to be used internally in the EOC and could display the same information as the dry-erase boards or flip charts used in smaller municipalities. A recommendation therefore would be to have two computers both with internet and e-mail capability, one of which can be used to display information. If it is decided that e-mail will be a primary means of communication during an emergency, then an increase in the number of computers would be required. However, this may be offset by fewer telephone lines required in the EOC.

As well, an enterprise server can be set up to convert incoming faxes as emails and outgoing emails sent to faxes.

It is important to note the need for rotating stationary supply stocks. For instance, after some time paper will begin to go stale and this has the potential to jam fax machines and printers.

Television

Television recommendations are similar to those listed above for a municipality of <1000.

1.4 Population of 10,000 – 49,999

Municipalities of this size should have the capabilities to ensure a secure, resilient EOC telecommunications system, with the ability to use advanced technology and have appropriate back-up systems. With internet and cellular capabilities being more robust in urbanized areas, such as municipalities of this size, advanced technology-based options are more acceptable as communication methods. Ideas such as multiple direct phone and internet lines into the EOC should be considered and utilized effectively and efficiently. To help offset the costs of equipping such an EOC, the EOC could be a multi-purpose room used for meetings or training, which requires an increased number of phone lines and readily available internet access. The ability to discern what hazards will affect the EOC telecommunications system should be considered and the requisite resources to address various issues and impacts should be available.

Emergencies in larger municipalities often require the involvement of additional agencies, thereby requiring an EOC to be better able to communicate effectively with all emergency responders and the public. To assist with this, EOC telephone contact numbers should be published in advance of an emergency and made available to any potential emergency responders. Furthermore, Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems may be used in the EOC, but some direct phone lines should also be available (PBX systems are described in Section 3).

Telephones

Recommendations on the number of telephones required are similar to the ones provided for a population of 5000 to 9999, but the main difference lies in the resources that are potentially available to the larger municipalities. In a municipality of this size, it would be expected that each agency will have a phone line available in an EOC equipped with telephones that have voicemail capabilities.

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP)

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) capabilities could be considered in an EOC if there are multiple phone lines with internet connections. VOIP allows for phone calls to be made through a computer over the internet. VOIP capabilities would need to be set up in advance and there would be on-going costs in maintaining such a system. But, again, this would reduce the number of phone lines leading into the EOC and may also function as a back-up telecommunications system. VOIP may be an attractive option if forming an EOC in an existing structure where the cost of wiring landlines is high. If choosing to use VOIP in the EOC, you should consider any internet connectivity issues in the municipality or during an emergency. As VOIP is through the internet, any loss in connectivity may result in issues with telephone communications. In addition, power outages may affect the VOIP system and, therefore, back-up analog telephones and lines should be considered.

Internet Video Conferencing

Another option to web-based communicating would be to use internet video conferencing tools such as Skype or MSN Messenger. These are relatively easy and economical to set up, but require the user on the other end to have the same application. This can be set up in advance with the command post, evacuation/reception centre or the media centre. The main disadvantage is that each user needs a computer with internet access. But such capabilities allow for the relay of real time information and video. As well there are internet-based video conferencing services that are available from providers for a fee. WebEx is one such example.

As well the municipality’s website can be used to share information regarding the emergency to the public.

Cell Phones

Cell phones should be readily available in a municipality of this size to use as either a primary or back-up means of communication. Most senior staff that would be sitting on the Municipal Emergency Control Group will likely have municipality supplied cell phones with many of these cell phones having e-mail capabilities. Advantages of this option include a decrease in the number of computers with internet access required in the EOC and individual e-mail accounts for EOC members. Also, there would be no additional cost to implement this option.

It is strongly encouraged that you communicate with your service provider to be aware of and remain up to date on the limits of the services that are being provided to you, as well as on the potential for any additional features that may be offered.

Two-way Radios

Two-way radio systems are still an option for communicating in a municipality of this size. However, it is likely that a municipality of this size will have more than one radio system, which presents opportunities and challenges. One opportunity that this presents is that the municipality may be able to have a secondary back-up system for use during an emergency. But one challenge multiple radio systems might present is the possibility that not all systems may be compatible with one another. Therefore, it would be judicious to determine in advance which radio systems are or are not compatible and to establish which system(s) would be used as primary and back-up systems. Factors to consider when determining primary and back-up systems may be, but are not limited to, the number of radios in the system, the coverage of the system, user friendliness, and charging requirements.

Also there is software available that allows users in the EOC to talk through the telephone system to a radio on the other end. There are costs, set up, maintenance, and training that would be required for such a system but there are numerous advantages; such as no need for multiple loud radios in the EOC. Users can talk to many different radios over one telephone system with no worries about storing, charging and maintenance of radios in the EOC.

Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES)

In this size of community there is probably a local Amateur Radio Club or Association, and there may well be an associated ARES Group. The club may well have its own website with contact information, or the closest ARES Coordinator can be found at the ARES Ontario website (www.ontario.racares.ca). A direct relationship between the Community Emergency Management Coordinator (CEMC) and the local ARES Coordinator, as discussed in Annex B, is highly recommended.

In a community of this size the scope of a response is likely becoming more complex. The number, capacity, and sophistication of municipal telecommunications is increased, lessening the risk of primary telecommunication system overload. But this is likely balanced by the scale of the response required of the NGO responders, who may not have overly sophisticated telecommunication systems of their own. The ARES role will probably focus on moving written administrative and logistics communications between the deployment points (reception centre, medical support, shelters, etc.) the EOC coordinators, or with their own headquarters. ARES also has the ability to move communications for displaced persons, relieving the stress on cellsites, etc.

As well, an antenna and radio equipment should be stored at the EOC permanently and tested periodically. The local ARES club can assist with this.

Computers

Internal EOC communications can be done with a computer and projection system. The same type of information that is displayed on dry-erase boards would be displayed on the projection system. Projecting information using a computer allows for multiple pages of information to be displayed, e-mailed, and saved.

1.5 Population 50,000 – 99,999

An EOC for a municipality of this size may not have as many limitations as the smaller population ranges as to the availability of technology or other options to choose from. A municipal EOC of this size should be able to apply several, if not all, of the advanced telecommunications resources outlined for a population of 10,000 – 49,999, along with some additional options.

Telephones

Direct, dedicated telephone lines equipped with telephones that have voice mail, incoming call signal lights, ringer volume controls, and message waiting displays should be available for each agency that could reasonably be expected in the EOC.

Cell Phones

Cell phones with e-mail and internet capabilities should be made available to agencies responding to the EOC. Cell phones of this type may be used as either primary or back-up means of communication. If used as a primary communication system, these cell phones can help reduce the number of computers and landline telephones required in the EOC. Most municipalities of this size may already have these cell phones for their senior staff. Therefore, initial costs of using this option would be minimal. However, agencies that are not part of the municipality, but may be responding to an event and working within the EOC, may not have these cell phones. Therefore, provisions may have to be made for those agencies if this option is used.

It is strongly encouraged that you communicate with your service provider to be aware of and remain up to date on the limits of the services that are being provided to you, as well as on the potential for any additional features that may be offered.

Intranet

An additional recommendation is to make use of the municipality’s intranet, if so equipped. An intranet is a private computer network that uses Internet Protocol technology to securely share any part of an organization's information or network operating system within that organization. The intranet could be used to send messages to all staff and to share pictures and videos of the emergency. It can also be used in the EOC as an electronic bulletin board. Access rights can be restricted or lessened as required such that only certain staff will receive certain messages.

EOC Software

EOC management software can be used in an EOC, which allows for communicating through web-based applications and on-line tools. Such communicating capabilities may help decrease the number of telephone lines leading into the EOC and allow for communication from other locations. For example, some EOC management software will let users log-in from remote locations and examine what has happened during the emergency, and communicate with responders in the EOC. These software packages also allow for internal EOC communications that would normally function through other means. Key events, master logs, and taskings can all be communicated through an EOC management software.

Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES)

The advice provided under section 1.4 for municipalities with a population of 10,000 – 49,999 for the employment of ARES is equally applicable in this size community. Consideration could be could be given to implementing a full scale ARES capability as outlined in Annex B. This raises the level of readiness as a source of alternative communications. The ARES Group will need some access to the EOC for training with the equipment, participating in ARES Ontario and NGO exercises, and routine maintenance such as keeping computer software and radio channel programming current. As with any volunteer organization these activities can take place outside normal business hours. It is recommended that an access protocol be established.

1.6 Population 100,000+

In addition to the recommendations made for the smaller municipalities above, a municipality of this size should have the capabilities and resources to be able to use technology to its fullest potential. Having dedicated professionals available to properly maximize any EOC equipment and software should be considered the norm for a municipality of this size. The ability and means to communicate in real-time with audio and video functions between the EOC, emergency site, and other agencies should be made available.

It is recommended that an EOC for a municipality of 100,000+ people be equipped with the following capabilities:

• EOC management software

• For an EOC in a municipality of this size to function efficiently and effectively EOC management software should be considered a necessity. EOC software will streamline many processes and functions that may otherwise become cumbersome and time consuming.

• Dedicated phone lines/agency

• A consideration would be for each agency in the EOC to have its own dedicated line(s).

• Tele/Videoconferencing capabilities

• This would allow real-time communications between the EOC, other agencies, and the site making management of the emergency more effective.

• Inter-jurisdictional communication capabilities

• Communicating between multiple levels of government and NGOs should be considered a necessity in a municipality of this size, and, therefore, the EOC should have the capabilities to do it.

• Telecommunication recording

• In order to limit liability, recording of telephone lines, e-mail, etc. may be considered. As well, this can be used as a valuable reference tool when reviewing the emergency.

• File Management Software

• An emergency of any significance will engender a significant amount of information. Keeping track of this information is best done with file management software. It will assist with record keeping of financial management, communication tracking, personnel tracking, resource tracking, etc. Such software collates, stores, compiles, and logs all information pieces including emails, faxes, logs, invoices, etc and, therefore, reduces the number of staff required to do so.

• Back-up systems

• Reliable back-up systems should be considered for any system that is used in an EOC; not only for telephone systems, but for computers and its associated software, conferencing, etc. A reliable back-up system can be as simple as pen and paper.

• It is important to note the need for rotating stationary supply stocks. For instance, after some time paper will begin to go stale and this has the potential to jam fax and printing machines.

• Geographic Information System (GIS) Systems

• In large municipalities, such as this population segment, it is impossible for any one person, or group of people, to know where all infrastructure is located; streets, topography, etc. A quality GIS system with appropriately trained people can. The advantages of a municipal GIS system are too numerous to list here, but more information on EOC GIS systems can be found in Section 3 of this document.

Section 2 - EOC Telecommunication Systems: Recommendations Based on Hazards

This second section is designed to consider some of the common hazards that many municipalities face, and how these hazards can affect EOC telecommunications systems. With this information, municipalities can then decide how to mitigate or prevent telecommunications from being affected by an emergency. Also, they can take steps to ensure adequate back-up telecommunications systems are in place.

There are four key hazards that are common in Ontario and that, if severe, may disrupt telecommunications, and they are as follows (in no particular order):

• Severe Weather (i.e. ice storms, tornadoes)

• Power Outages

• Forest Fires

• Flooding

2.1 Severe Weather

Severe weather events are a common occurrence in Ontario. The ability for such an event to disrupt telecommunications systems has been witnessed numerous times and is well documented. Telecommunications systems can be affected by ice storms, snowstorms, strong winds, and tornadoes. If your municipality has identified any of these types of weather events as a hazard in your municipality, you may want to consider the points that are discussed below when equipping your EOC or reviewing your EOC telecommunications capabilities.

Weather affects telecommunications primarily in terms of impacts on the transmission lines themselves. In general, it is either the weight of ice or snow on the lines that causes the failure, or by the wind blowing the lines down or snapping the telephone poles. Therefore, in considering back-ups for landline telecommunication systems, a solution that is not affected by the wind, ice or snow should be found.

Cellular phones may be an adequate back-up, but cell towers have been affected in ice storms and have been blown over in tornadoes and high winds.

Two-way radio communications are another possibility, but please note that if your radio system uses towers or external antennas, this equipment can easily be affected by ice and wind. To help mitigate the affects of weather on radio antennas, they should be placed on an EOC roof that is sheltered from the wind and snow, and where they are easily accessible in order to make them clear of snow.

A satellite phone is another option to consider; however, once again, if there is an external antenna, it can be affected in much the same way as a two-way radio antenna can be, and, therefore, the same considerations should be given when mounting the antenna on a roof above the EOC. A simple handheld satellite phone with no external antenna might be a good choice since there is no externally mounted antenna. However, a key disadvantage to this is that the user must be outside in the severe weather to use the satellite phone.

Another point to consider is the location of the EOC itself. If the EOC is located in an area of the municipality that has above-ground telephone infrastructure (i.e. lines on poles), telecommunications are more likely to be affected. But if the EOC can be located in an area where the lines are buried, chances of the telecommunications being affected are lessened greatly.

As well, if your EOC is in an area surrounded by trees that could blow over or snap in a severe weather event and hit your EOC, telecommunications lines and antennas may be affected. The EOC should therefore be kept away from such locations, particularly if severe weather is a hazard in your municipality.

2.2 Power Outages

Power outages are very common in some parts of Ontario. How the municipality and its citizens are able to cope with these outages and the resulting lack of telecommunications will be a key indicator of how resilient the EOC telecommunications system should be.

Most telephone systems require an electrical outlet to operate properly. When there is a power failure these telephone systems will likely not work, or not work to their full potential. Therefore an adequate EOC telecommunications back-up system that is not dependent on electricity should be chosen if power outages are an identified hazard in your municipality.

Telephone lines that do not use a Private Branch Exchange (PBX – explained in Section 3), which are connected to a telephone that does not require electricity to operate, would be a good choice as a back-up system. However, such phones do have limitations with the features they offer. For instance, it is likely that these phones may not have other telephone capabilities such as incoming call signal lights or call display.

Cellular phones are an option, but once the battery loses its charge it is no longer useful. Also, cellular towers operate on batteries during a power outage and once the batteries drain cellular towers are no longer useful.

Satellite phones and two-way radios can be used, but as with cell phones, once the battery drains, satellite phones and radios will no longer be of use.

Battery back-up systems will help for brief power outages, but generators will be required for lengthy power interruptions.

E-mail can be used if the computer and modem are not affected by the power outage.

Runners can also be used as a backup strategy. Runners personally deliver communications, just like a courier. If this option is to be used as a back-up, official communication forms should be on hand to write messages on.

Most infrastructures rely on electricity, and this is especially true of the telephone system. It is noteworthy to mention that even though the power outage is not in your area, it may still affect your EOC telecommunications systems. For example, if there is a power outage in another municipality where there is a telephone switching station, it may affect your phone lines, rendering them inoperable. This is not a great concern unless you are managing an emergency or it affects your 911 service. It would be prudent for emergency managers to work with utility companies to locate switching stations and other telephone infrastructure within and outside your municipality. Working with the telephone service provider may result in some viable solutions or alternatives to this potential problem.

2.3 Forest Fires

Forest fires are another hazard that could negatively affect EOC telecommunications. In Ontario, thousands of kilometres of telephone line run through forested areas susceptible to forest fires. Regardless of whether the telephone lines are above or below ground, a forest fire can negatively impact the lines. Above ground lines are susceptible to being burned, or poles can burn causing lines to burn, break, and snap. Below ground lines can melt along with the underground telephone infrastructure.

Therefore, an adequate back-up EOC telecommunication system that is not affected by forest fires should be chosen.

Again, cell phones are an option, but depending on where the towers are, it may not be a wise choice. If the cellular tower is located in the same area that is susceptible to forest fires, then cellular service may be affected as well. It would be good planning for an emergency manager to work with the cellular service provider to locate towers and determine the tower’s susceptibility to forest fires.

Two-way radios are also an alternative, but as with cellular towers, radio towers are susceptible to forest fires as well.

Satellite phones are a good choice with no prominent shortcomings due to forest fires.

Forest Fires also have the potential to take out electricity due to lines and poles burning. This is a concern due to the fact that EOC telecommunications systems depend heavily on electricity to function properly. For ideas and options to help mitigate this, please refer to the above section on Power Outages.

2.4 Flooding

Flooding may not be normally associated with negative impacts on EOC telecommunications systems. But if any telephone service infrastructure is on a floodplain, low lying areas, or in basements, this may cause telephone service interruptions.

It would be sound emergency planning to work with the telephone service provider and local GIS technicians to locate telephone service infrastructure and determine if the equipment is located in an area susceptible to flooding. If so, an adequate EOC telecommunications back-up system should be chosen, preferably one that is not susceptible to flooding.

Any of the normal telecommunications back-ups such as cellular phones, two-way radios, satellite phones, etc., are good choices. The infrastructure that these systems need is usually on higher ground away from floodplains, rivers, lakes, etc.

Another point to consider is the likelihood of flooding in the basement of the building your EOC is located in. If no EOC telecommunications equipment is situated in the basement, then flooding may not be an issue. However, if the basement has a history of flooding, for whatever reason, then it would be prudent to move any EOC telecommunications equipment out of the basement to a higher floor or to another location.

Section 3 - General Information

This section provides further details on the various ideas and options (i.e. equipment, services, software, methods) presented in Sections 1 and 2 of this document.

This section will cover the following areas:

• Telephones

• Telephone systems

• Cellular phones

• Cellular phone service

• Two-way radios

• Satellite phones

• Computers (and related hardware)

• ARES

• Software

• Cable Television Service

It should be noted that, in general, it is important to have pre-established back-up procedures in place for the various aspects of your EOC’s telecommunications systems. The larger the systems, the more complex the back-up procedures may be.

3.1 Telephones

Every EOC should have a telephone(s), but the type of telephone you choose, is dependent on a number of factors. For instance, if it is expected that the EOC will be loud and busy, you may want to consider limiting ring-tones to reduce confusion and stress by choosing phones with a signal light system. Tension can rise in a room with many phones ringing at once, especially if all the phones sound the same. To avoid this confusion, choose phones that can light up or have different ring-tones. You may also wish to consider acquiring headsets for phones to help reduce the noise level in the EOC.

If it is expected that the supporting agencies in the EOC will be receiving many calls during an emergency, then it would be wise to choose phones that have features such as call-waiting, call-answer, in-coming call notification, call-transfer, speaker phone, mute, and multiple line capabilities. As well phones set up with a “zero out2” option for in-coming calls will prove useful. Furthermore, ease of use should be considered when deciding which phone(s) to use. If someone is unfamiliar with a device they are less likely to use it to its full potential, which could then lead to miscommunications.

The greater the number of features that are available with the phones the higher the price will be. Should you be deciding on phones for an EOC with a very limited budget you will have to prioritize which features you must have and which features you can do without.

Consideration should also be given to the fact that some telephones require an electrical outlet which may not work during a power outage. Therefore back-up power will have to be acquired or telephones that do not require an electrical outlet will need to be used as a back-up. Telephones such as these have limitations as to the services they can provide.

Another consideration regarding telephones would be to ensure that accommodations are made if it is expected that someone with a disability will be working in the EOC. It is important to ask: can the person hear, see, or reach the telephone? Consideration should be given to accommodate any issues or concerns regarding accessibility.

3.2 Telephone Systems

There are two basic types of telephone systems that an EOC can use: Landline (similar to a home phone line) or Private Branch Exchange (PBX).

Landline systems are those in which there is a dedicated line from the telephone switching station to the telephone being used. Landline systems are generally used when few telephone numbers are required.

Alternately, a PBX system is generally used when several telephone numbers are required in a room, floor, or building. A PBX system has one (sometimes more) dedicated line from the telephone switching station to the building where it is then “split” into multiple lines, each with different numbers. A PBX telephone system is used within an organization so the users of the PBX can share a defined number of outside lines for making external telephone calls. Organizations also use a PBX as it can be less expensive than connecting an external telephone line to every telephone in the organization. In addition, it's easier to call someone within the organization because the number to dial is typically just 3 or 4 digits. A PBX differs from simply using a telephone with multiple lines in that the lines used can be accessible from a select few or all telephones within the organization, and PBX systems will often provide additional features related to call handling, such as; centralized call answer (receptionist(s)), voice mail, call forwarding, common speed dial numbers, conferencing, desk-to-desk calling and transferring. A PBX can be simple or rich in features depending on user requirements. PBX systems allow organizations to have the flexibility intended to meet specific needs and can be also be adapted as user requirements change. An easy way to determine if your system is on a PBX system is if you need to “dial 9” to make a phone call; if this is the case then you are likely on a PBX system.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. Arguably the biggest advantage of Landline systems is they can continue to work during a power outage (assuming that the actual telephone itself is still working). Unfortunately, PBX systems may fail in a power outage unless there is a back-up power supply.

A disadvantage to the Landline system is the cost involved in having the direct lines and it is limited to one telephone per line, while PBX systems can have multiple telephones off one line. Therefore, when a PBX system fails you may lose all your lines, but when a Landline system fails you are likely to lose only one line.

You may consider making pre-arrangements with your service provider to have phone lines installed so that when your EOC needs to be activated, you can contact your service provider to connect the lines, and then deactivate them when you are done. The municipality will be charged per phone jack and once the municipality places a call to reactivate the line, they will have to pay both a re-connection fee and a monthly fee. The flexibility to activate and deactivate as required exists, but some pre-arrangements must be made. Furthermore, if the line is active at all times, then the numbers may be provided to EOC members and agencies; however, if the line is not always active, then there is a chance that you may not be able to get the same number back.

In addition to the point above, pay phones are recognized as emergency phones. When telephone service is disrupted, pay phones will often be the first to have their service restored.

Municipalities may wish to secure teleconferencing capabilities through a service provider in order to coordinate response options with multiple partners. Simple teleconferencing can be accomplished with a speaker phone; however, when multiple off site participants are involved a teleconferencing system would be beneficial.

3.3 Cellular Phones

Cellular phones can be a good choice as either a primary or alternate means of communication in an EOC as long as the advantages and disadvantages are realized and considered.

Some advantages of using cell phones in EOCs are as follows:

• Widely present

• Since most people have a cell phone, municipalities may be able to draw upon that resource and use personal cell phones during an emergency

• Easy to purchase

• Cell phones can be found in many stores in most municipalities

• Plan options

• Several plan options exist for cell phones, such as:

• Pay as you go

• By the minute

• Pre-paid calling cards

• Monthly packages

• Usable during power outages

• Cell phones are capable of making and receiving calls during power outages until the cell phone battery dies or the cell tower batteries die

• Built-in back-up system

• If a cell phone cannot make a call it may still able to send and receive text messages or PIN to PIN

• Numerous types

• A variety of phone types means there is a strong likelihood that there is one that meets your needs.

• Multi-featured

• Cell phones may send and receive e-mails and text messages and take photos and videos, all of which may be useful during an emergency.

• Most cell phones also have speaker phone capabilities for group meetings.

• Many cell phone service providers offer data plans to allow users to access the internet, which can be used to help find information.

• There may be a “Push to Talk” (PTT) option whereby the cell phone can be used similar to a two-way radio

• Each Blackberry device is assigned a unique eight-digit number called a personal identification number (PIN). This system allows Blackberry users to contact one another even if e-mail and Internet services are down, because PIN messages aren't routed through e-mail accounts, so they may not be affected by problems such as power outages. A PIN uniquely identifies Blackberry devices on the wireless network and if you have contacts that use a Blackberry device you can send them PIN messages.

• PIN to PIN messages are not encrypted and transmit in plain text, allowing anyone who intercepts them to read them. While this is a remote possibility, you should keep this in mind and not send sensitive information in a PIN to PIN message.

• It is recommended that:

• Users know how to find the PIN on their Blackberry devices and are familiar with using PIN to PIN messaging.

• PIN to PIN messaging is used in exercises.

• PINs and e-mail addresses are added to signature blocks.

Some disadvantages of using cell phones in EOCs are as follows:

• Contracts/potential on-going costs of cell phone plans - it is important to be aware of any additional charges that may be applicable in case your usage is over and above the limit (ie. minutes, text messages, browsing, etc.)

• The phone number may be cancelled if the cell phone is not used on a regular basis.

• Some “pay as you go” or “pre-paid card” services terminate the number if the phone is not used at least once every three months.

• Numerous electrical outlets will be required in the EOC to enable charging of cell phones.

• Cell phones are small and can be misplaced easily.

• If dialling 9-1-1 on a cell phone, there is a high possibility that responders will not be able to locate you. Therefore, it is important to be aware of where you are and your surroundings at all time.

• There may be some unfamiliarity with cell phones.

• Someone using a new cell phone may not know how to use it properly, which could lead to miscommunications.

• Connectivity inside buildings

• Some cell phones may not work as well inside certain buildings as other phones. Things like metal roofing, neighbouring buildings, and basements all affect the performance of cell phones.

• Geography

• In areas characterized by hills, some cell phones may not work well due to the fact that the line of sight with the cell tower is restricted by different elevations of the terrain.

3.4 Cell Phone Service

There are many cell phone service providers available to choose from, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. Listed below are some things that should be considered when choosing a cell phone service provider:

• Coverage area

• Ensure that the cell service provider has a robust coverage area within your municipality. You may want to consider talking to people who use that cell service provider to see if coverage is adequate.

• Number of towers in the area

• The more towers the better. Each tower is equipped with a certain number of nodes and each node can handle a certain number of cell phone calls. This is important because when the landline telephone system fails the cell phone system may be overwhelmed. Therefore more towers mean more calls handled by the cell system.

• Emergency Repair

• Inquire about the cell service provider’s ability to conduct emergency repairs, 24/7. Some service providers have this capability and some do not. Also ask if they have an emergency repair hotline to report problems and seek restoration information.

• Back-up Batteries

• Consider how long the cell service provider’s batteries will last and how many batteries they have.

• Consider whether the cell phone service provider has a plan to get a generator(s) to its cell towers to re-charge the batteries if necessary.

• Business Continuity Plan (BCP)

• Does the cell phone service provider have a Business Continuity Plan in case they are affected by an event? Can they continue to provide their services if affected?

• Track Record

• Is the service provider a proven company that has experience or is it a new company that is still growing and expanding service? Sometimes companies promise that technology will be implemented in an area by a certain date. However that date is missed because of various factors and the service you were expecting is not available.

If the cell phone signal in your municipality is weak you may want to invest in a cell phone booster. Boosters increase signal strength in the immediate area the booster is in. Some boosters will only increase signal strength in a 3 foot radius around the booster itself, while other boosters will increase signal strength in a larger radius around the booster itself. The bigger the radius of signal strength increase, the more costly the booster will be.

Or you may want to speak to your cell phone service provider who may be able to increase signal strength for you in a certain area, for a given timeframe. But this may come at a cost to you.

If the general public are relying on cell phones for communications an EOC should not. Cell phone sites can easily become congested and the call drop rate increases.

Also you should figure out if there any zones of no cell service in your municipality and then plot this on a map. Then if an emergency is happening in this area you will know in advance that cell phones may not work and an alternate means of communications may be needed.

It is strongly encouraged that you communicate with your service provider to be aware of and remain up to date on the limits of the services that are being provided to you, as well as on the potential for any additional features that may be offered.

3.5 Two-way Radios

Two-way radios are a viable option in EOCs in order to communicate with the site. When deciding on whether or not to use two-way radios the following ideas should be considered:

• Is there a municipal radio system (or multiple systems) in place already?

  • If so, how easy is it to add radios to the existing system?
  • Which system will be used in the EOC if there are multiple systems in place?
  • Are the different systems compatible – can they work together?
  • Is licensing required to operate radios?
  • Are the radios user-friendly or will training be required?
  • Will only one channel be required or will multiple channels be needed? If so who gets what channel(s)?
  • Will charging stations be needed? If so, where will the radios be charged?
  • Who will be responsible for maintenance of the radios?
  • Will new radios be able to work off of any existing repeater systems?

• If there is no municipal radio system in place:

• How many radios will be needed? Based on your hazards, how many agencies can you expect to be involved in an emergency that require two-radio communications?

• Will stand-alone radios be sufficient or will a system with towers and a booster be required?

• Will multiple channels be required or is only one channel needed?

• Will some agencies (Police, Fire, EMS) already have radios?

• Will the new radios be compatible with existing radios?

• Will the radios have enough range to cover your municipality or will a repeater system be needed?

• Ensure that signals do not interfere with any existing radios

• Are the radios user friendly or will training be required?

Also, a prudent planning decision would be to locate any radio “dead zones” in your municipality and plot these areas on a map. Then, if an emergency occurs in one of these areas you will be aware of the fact that another means of communication will be required.

3.6 Satellite Phones

Satellite phones can be a reliable alternative option for communicating during an emergency. However, there are disadvantages that must be understood and considered. Some disadvantages are listed below:

• Location

• Satellite phones can only be used outdoors, away from tall buildings, trees, etc., preferably during sunny periods. If you need use of a satellite phone indoors, extra equipment will need to be purchased, such as an external antenna and cabling.

• Use

• Satellite phones are not as user-friendly as a landline or cell phone. Users may need training on how to dial from a satellite phone and/or to a satellite phone. Country codes are required along with other digits, depending on whether the call is going to or coming from the satellite phone.

• Cost

• Satellite phones are considerably more costly than landline or cell phones. Charges are made for incoming and outgoing calls, and so the costs can add up quickly. As well, there are on-going monthly costs in order to maintain service. Altogether, it can be quite expensive for a satellite phone that may never be used.

3.7 Computers (and related hardware)

As described in Section 1, at least one computer should be available in every EOC. Some points of interest to consider regarding computers in EOCs are as follows:

• Where will the computer be located?

• If you have only one computer in your EOC, is it accessible to everyone? Should everyone have access to it? If it is outside the EOC during regular business, can it be moved into the EOC easily during an emergency? Will any extra cables or peripherals be required if it is moved? If the computer is moved, will it still have internet and e-mail capabilities? If not, would it be better to leave the computer where it does have access to internet and e-mail?

• Number of computers

• If your EOC will only have one computer, you may want to invest in a larger screen so you can use it to display information and more people can see it. Also, with only one computer, it will likely have to perform many functions (i.e. not only internet and e-mail, but it may also need to be capable of projecting information, playing videos, showing pictures, etc.).

• If your EOC will have multiple computers, decisions as to whether all of them will need internet and e-mail capabilities, which ones will project information, etc. will need to be made.

• Internet service

• What internet service provider should you use? Is more than one service provider available in the municipality? How reliable is the internet service?

• You may wish to back-up your primary service provider with an agreement with a second vendor for one computer in the EOC, so if one service is unavailable, another may be accessible.

3.8 Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES)

A general discussion of Amateur Radio capabilities and its utility in emergency operations can be found in Annex B.

3.9 EOC Management Software

There are many software packages available for EOCs that are adequately budgeted and that require specific software. While not all EOCs will require sophisticated EOC software in order for them to function effectively, other EOCs would be wise to use some of the software that is available.

Some considerations to take into account when deciding on software are as follows:

• Cost

• Some of these software packages can be extremely expensive ($100,000+). It is important to consider whether your municipality will be able to justify budgeting for software of this cost that may get used very infrequently.

• Training and Maintenance

• These software packages will require training for the users and for staff that are proficient with installing software, populating the software with appropriate data, and maintaining the software so that it is appropriately up to date when required. As with any software, day to day use and regular training is necessary to succeed when needed.

• Sharing Software

• Some software packages can be shared amongst municipalities. Therefore costs can be shared, as well as maintenance, and training. As well some software can be used for more than emergency management purposes. Geographic Information System (GIS) software has many applications outside of emergency management. Many municipalities, both large and small, already have access to GIS software, which is likely able to be used for emergency management purposes.

As with any large purchase, a municipality would be prudent to research all software before purchasing. It may be helpful to talk to other communities who purchased similar software and ask for feedback. Also, it may be helpful to speak with other communities that decided not to purchase software, and find out why.

Software demonstrations and trial periods should also be provided by the software manufacturer, along with training for users.

3.10 Cable Television Service

When selecting a cable television service provider for your EOC you may wish to consider whether there is more than one service provider in your municipality, the reliability of service providers, or if possible, contracting one service provider to be the primary and another to be the back-up. Satellite television service is another option and may be used as a redundancy to cable. Since cable service is not available everywhere and can be disrupted by lines being cut and power outages, satellite cable service may be a better option.

Annex A: EOC Telecommunications Systems – Options Table

EOC Telecommunications Systems: Options Table
Item
Land Line
Cell Phone
Phone System
VOIP
Satellite
Comments
Requires building power for operation
No
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Requires backup source of power
No
* Yes
Yes
Yes
* Yes
* Requires power source to recharge batteries.
Ease of use
Very easy
Easy
*Easy
* Easy
*Fairly Easy
* Depending on familiarity users may require some training on use of the equipment.
Transportable
*No
Yes
* No
* No
Yes
* Dependent on use of a wireless handset and has very limited range.
911 availability
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
911 locating
Yes
* No
Yes
** No
No
* Because wireless phones are mobile they are not associated with one fixed location or address. Location information is not always specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance to the caller in an efficient manner.
** VOIP calling services are not always directly in sync with city or county 911 locator systems. This results in emergency operators being unable to see home addresses if users make an emergency call for assistance and are unable to talk or for some reason become disconnected.
Affected by adverse weather conditions
No
Yes
No
No
Yes
 
Signal transmission interference
No
* Yes
* No
No
* Yes
* Signal can be affected by items such as building structure, line of sight, distance from tower and terrain etc.
Can be operated inside a building
Yes
* Yes
Yes
Yes
** Yes
* Signal can degrade inside a building.
** Requires additional equipment and will have limited mobility.
Can be operated outside a building
No
Yes
No
No
Yes
 
Quality of voice service
Excellent
Good
* Excellent
Good
Fair
* Dependent on carrier selected to carry voice signal.
Connects to a fax machine
* Yes
** Yes
* Yes
* Yes
** Yes
* Plug and play.
** Can be difficult to use, requires peripheral cables and connectors, not always mobile. User needs to ensure that fax machine and phone source are compatible.
Connects to a modem
* Yes
** Yes
* Yes
* Yes
** Yes
* Plug and play.
** Can be difficult to use, requires peripheral cables and connectors, not always mobile. User needs to ensure that modem and phone source are compatible.
Connects to a conference phone
* Yes
No
* Yes
* Yes
No
* Plug and play.
Hands free operation
* Yes
* Yes
* Yes
* Yes
* Yes
* Dependent on style of handset used
Voicemail
* Yes
* Yes
* Yes
* Yes
* Yes
* Dependent on service provider, contract terms and compatible equipment.
Handset replacement cost
Minimal
Depends on users contract
Can be expensive with limited replacement options
Minimal
Expensive
Users are advised to check with their service provider for accurate replacement costs.

EOC Telecommunications Systems: Options Table

Annex B: ARES Telecommunications Services and Planning Considerations

Introduction

The purpose of this Annex is to provide emergency managers advice on how best to exploit the full potential of this telecommunications resource.

What distinguishes Amateur radio, and gives it great utility in emergency operations, is twofold:

• The Amateur Radio Service is authorized to operate within a number of assigned bands of frequency allocations and is generally unconstrained with respect to choice of frequency, communication mode, antenna structure, etc. Land Mobile users (first responders and municipal agencies) are confined to the specific frequency and mode authorized in their Industry Canada radio license.

• A holder of an Amateur radio Certificate of Proficiency is authorized to construct and repair Amateur radio equipment (commercial radios must be serviced by a licensed technician) and antenna systems. This provides the emergency manager with:

• A ready source of knowledge, experience, and technical advice on telecommunication technologies that will aid in planning EOC telecommunication service and

• A pool of expertise to diagnose and if necessary bypass, or compensate for, EOC telecommunication failures – under emergency operating conditions.

It is these two aspects that is the strength of Amateur radio in an emergency situation.

What is ARES?

There are many Amateur radio clubs, associations and groups that provide communication services as a public service, in support of community events such as parades, marathons, and charity fund raisers. There are also Amateur radio associations or groups who provide communication services to community-based volunteer organizations such as provincial ground search and rescue teams. At the next level are Amateur teams that are components of international non-governmental organizations (NGO) and specialize in their client’s specific communication requirements; the Salvation Army Team Emergency Network (SATERN) is one example. ARES is the component of Radio Amateurs of Canada, Inc whose mandate is to provide trained radio operators who:

• Specialize in the efficient transmission of message traffic under emergency conditions,

• Strive to maintain their radio stations in a condition such that equipment can be quickly transported and reassembled at a deployment site, and

• Are capable of operating both client-owned Land Mobile or Amateur radio stations permanently installed within EOC’s.

The role of ARES is to augment the client’s existing telecommunication capabilities when they overload, are disrupted, or fail for reasons beyond the control of the EOC staff.

ARES is not a replacement or substitute for Land Mobile radio service, especially with regard to the first response organizations (fire, police, EMS). ARES does not train its operators as dispatchers. ARES can augment these services with additional telecommunications capacity to offload lower priority administrative message traffic, or create alternative radio circuits if required, but the ARES operator is always under the control and direction of the staff supervisor.

ARES in Ontario

ARES Districts parallel Emergency Management Ontario sectors, and respects municipal boundaries, to facilitate consultation between the Community Emergency Management Coordinator (CEMC) and the local ARES Group Coordinator. The local Group Coordinator is responsible for service delivery.

As a provider of an auxiliary telecommunication service, the principle management relationship should be between the CEMC and the local ARES Group Coordinator. All joint administrative, training, and exercise coordination functions should take place within this relationship. In large municipalities a Group Coordinator may appoint assistants to function in specific roles such as maintaining a municipality’s EOC Amateur radio infrastructure, or a training coordinator to book station training and exercise time, but these functions will always be under the supervision of the Group Coordinator and with CEMC concurrence.

A hallmark of ARES is that Groups do not self-deploy (the Group Coordinator may liaise in response to external factors such as weather forecasts, media announcements, etc. to determine if the Group should be put on standby). An ARES Group should respond only to a callout from a designated municipal official(s), in accordance with the policy established between the municipality and the Group Coordinator. These procedures can be codified in the form of an Memorandum of Understanding, an annex to the Emergency Plan, or some other formal agreement. The operating location(s) and municipal/Group expectations of each other should be laid out in the same document.

Once activated, the ARES Team Leader or senior operator becomes responsible to the client’s telecommunications supervisor, or other designated EOC official. Normally the Group Coordinator would function in an advisory role to the CEMC or EOC staff, and be available for specialist advice during options analyses. The Group Coordinator will also have internal ARES responsibilities such as coordinating relief radio operators from adjacent ARES Groups.

ARES Groups will have many types of telecommunication services and capabilities, such as:

• VHF/UHF (Voice) Radios,

• High Frequency (HF Voice) Radios,

• Data Transmission Capabilities, and

• Amateur Position Reporting System (APRS)

For more information on these and other capabilities, contact your local ARES office/coordinator.

Planning Considerations for the Use of ARES

Some care should be given to the placement of the ARES operating position. Ideally it should be outside the EOC itself (but adjacent to the EOC and Document Control) to minimize noise levels and interruption to internal EOC operations. If the ARES facility is permanent, consideration should be given to providing a separate access to minimize disruption to normal daily activities.

Ideally, the operating position should be supplied with a dedicated electrical output (2x20 amp outlets) to minimize the possibility of radio-frequency interference to other EOC devices or radios, a power distribution bar, a connection to the building ground system separate from the electrical system (radio grounding), a phone line for message taking, an open external Internet connection for computer maintenance, and if at all possible fixed computer equipment. Set-up disruptions to the EOC staff can be minimized by pre-installing a basic set of antennas. If permanent antennas are not feasible, an access portal to the exterior of the building located near the station will avoid leaving windows or doors ajar and open to the weather. The ultimate in preparations is permanently installed radios, some of which may be operational 24/7 in support of data (email) communications. For information contact your local ARES office/coordinator.

Deployment of ARES

ARES Groups make every attempt to arrive and set up their equipment with the minimum of disruption. The disruption can be further minimized by putting the ARES Group on standby immediately in the case that the municipality raises its level of readiness or begins to prepare the EOC. This provides the ARES operators time:

  • To check and prepare their radio equipment for transport,
  • To put up antennas and to set up radio equipment in the EOC, and
  • To clear their personal calendars as appropriate to maximize their availability.

Lastly, The ARES operator will keep a log of station activities and informal message traffic. There should be guidance in the EOC or Mobile Command Post procedures document outlining where in the EOC document control process the message traffic is to be delivered, and in what form (verbal or written). It is good practice to have formal message traffic in writing and authorized by a responsible EOC authority. The radio operator will record in the station log, and on the message form, the time of message transmission/receipt and the station that sent or received the message.

The ARES operator may request a copy of the station log for retention to be in conformance with Industry Canada regulations. If for information security or personal privacy reasons this is deemed inappropriate, the CEMC should make arrangements to store copy of ARES station documentation for Industry Canada inspection, for a reasonable length of time.

Training and Exercises

ARES Coordinators will look to the CEMC for seats on municipal training courses such as the EM-200. In addition they will anticipate, from the CEMC, orientation training related to the community’s response organization.

One of the best training approaches is to utilize the ARES Group as part of the exercise direction or control group. In low level training they can simulate the primary first response telecommunication systems which must remain committed to real-world operations. In advanced and live exercises, supporting the directing staff by inserting the exercise inputs via Amateur radio provides a level of realism that is not achievable during internal ARES exercises. In the majority of cases it also improves the “quality of play” for the primary exercise participants.

1 PBX telephone system is used so that users can share a defined number of outside lines for making external telephone calls. For more information on PBX systems please see Section 3.

2 Zero-out means that when you receive an automated response to your call instructing you to press a certain number for access to other options, you may press zero and have your call redirected to a person.