How Cities Can Share Crucial Information During Emergencies

No comments

Critical information – such as encrypted live videos, files, alerts, and other data – can be sent securely, in real time via public television broadcast spectrum to unlimited numbers of public safety recipients.

Drew Coffman / unsplash
Drew Coffman / unsplash

This is a guest post by Kate Riley and Stacey Karp.

When severe storms caused serious flooding in the City of Houston this past April, first responders relied on an expert in communications – Houston Public Media, KUHT and TV8 – for new, critical information sharing capabilities.

The Houston Fire Department and Houston Police Department used Houston Public Media datacasting technology to deliver live video of the flooding on the ground from a mobile phone in a helicopter to the Emergency Operations Center and city leaders on the ground. They used a mobile app called GoCoder, which sent live images from a mobile device to Houston Public Media’s encoder, which delivered the video to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department command vehicle and other city officials over the public television broadcast spectrum. This technology allowed first responders and emergency management agencies to communicate with each other to assess the damage to the city and determine the best response to the emergency situation.

“Datacasting made it possible in less than an hour to stream live video from a helicopter that did not have that capability, into the EOC and then into a conference room that was without a video workstation or any other connection capability,” said Jack Hanagriff, City of Houston, Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security. “This software is giving us the ability to accommodate needs and fill capability gaps in ways we never thought possible.”

What is datacasting?

Datacasting is the process of delivering internet protocol (IP) data over a traditional broadcast television signal. Critical information – such as encrypted live videos, files, alerts, and other data – can be sent securely, in real time via public television broadcast spectrum to unlimited numbers of public safety recipients to enhance preparedness and response efforts and help keep Americans safe during emergencies.

This capability essentially turns public television stations into a new wireless data network. The data is invisible to traditional television viewers. And additionally, all datacasting content is encrypted so that access is restricted to authorized users.

Television’s native one-to-many delivery architecture uses bandwidth very efficiently. The same spectrum that delivers public television service to millions of Americans every day also allows a large number of public safety users to be served with a small amount of bandwidth. One Megabit per second (1/20th of a station’s capacity) can deliver multiple live video streams, large files, alerts and other data to an unlimited number of users.

Public Television: Partners in Public Safety

For decades, public broadcasters have quietly embraced their public safety mission and their commitment to using their broadcasting spectrum for the public good. This work has been most visible in broadcasters’ efforts to keep the public informed during emergencies.

However, across the country, public television stations like Houston Public Media are partnering with local law enforcement and emergency management organizations, connecting first responders to one another and providing enhanced communications and data-sharing capabilities via the public television broadcast spectrum and datacasting. And America’s Public Television Stations have already committed 1 Mbps of their spectrum for eventual use in the federal FirstNet public safety network.

“Public Media’s mission is to serve the community,” said Joshua B. Adams, Executive Director of Operations, Houston Public Media, KUHT and TV8. “In our case, the greater Houston community. If we can leverage our technology to make the community safer… it’s our duty to do it. We consider that part of our mission focus.”

America’s Public Television Stations is working to make datacasting available to first responders across the country. To explore how your local public television station can help provide your city with datacasting capabilities contact Kate Riley at America’s Public Television Stations.

To learn more about datacasting in Houston contact Joshua B. Adams at Houston Public Media.

About the Authors:

20151214 APTS_0026Kate Riley is Vice President,
Government and Public Affairs at America’s Public Television Stations (APTS). APTS is a nonprofit membership organization established in 1979 to conduct – in concert with member stations – strategic planning, research, communications, advocacy and other activities that foster a strong and financially sound public television system providing essential public services to all Americans. Kate manages congressional relations, state government liaison, the organization’s work with federal departments and agencies, communications, grassroots and grasstops advocacy, and strategic partnerships.

Stacey Karp is Director of Communications at America’s Public Television Stations (APTS). Stacey manages a wide range of communications, public relations and online media activities that advance public television’s legislative and regulatory objectives.