The Army is equipping all U.S. states and territories that have a National Guard presence with a new communication suite so that signal units can provide commercial phone, internet access, and commercial Wi-Fi and 4G LTE to first responders during disasters.
The tool suite known as the Disaster Incident Response Emergency Communications Terminal will provide communication interoperability among military, government and non-government first responders, which can make the difference between life and death in an emergency.
“We all use different radios on different frequencies or cell phones. DIRECT allows us to bridge that gap, to tie them together to have one voice and one central hub,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Dobbs, Illinois Army National Guard senior network engineer with the G6 (communications) Tactical Branch – South. “I see this system as being a very valuable asset to the state and the National Guard, enabling us to work hand-in-hand with local responders in the event of a major disaster.”
DIRECT uses the National Guard’s organic satellite-based tactical network transport equipment, as used by the Army, to tap into the Army’s robust tactical network, enabling mission command and voice, video and data communications anywhere in the world without need of static infrastructure.
DIRECT also provides commercial Wi-Fi and 4G LTE capabilities at incident site command centers for improved disaster-relief management. It comes with a voice-bridging capability that connects disparate radios operating on different frequencies, and it interconnects military and first responder radios, cell phones and internet telephones.
“I have seen first responders or military personnel carrying three or four radios because they support different frequencies or different model numbers,” Dobbs said. “This capability allows us to have one central hub that enables you to call in from a radio, and with a few clicks of a button, reconnect to someone with a different radio or to a cell phone. Having that ability enables us to get information out faster and can help us protect the public and save lives.”
The Army plans to complete the DIRECT equipping effort in 2021 to 54 states and territories. Currently 17 states have the system, which they can deploy if needed to support disaster relief efforts or other civil missions. Upcoming pilots are planned for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.
After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, units from the Illinois Army National Guard were among the many joint forces deployed to help. Although the full DIRECT system was not available, Project Manager Tactical Network rapidly deployed 10 of its small form factor Commercial Coalition Equipment packages, known as CCE, to provide commercial phone and internet services on the island. CCE can be deployed separately to support Army units, or as part of the expanded DIRECT tool suite fielded to the National Guard.
In a disaster situation where all the cell towers go down – and we saw that in Puerto Rico where they had no source of power or way to communicate — DIRECT will enable cell phones, text messaging, and email to work,” said Cpt. Alanna Wood, commander of the Illinois Army National Guard 406th Signal Company. “These are basic forms of communication that everyone uses and takes for granted every day.”