Android Push-to-Talk App to Aid Alabama First Responders

First responders and public safety officers will merge broadband with narrowband by using the Harris BeOn Android push-to-talk platform.

Mobile County, Ala., has found a way for emergency responders and public safety officers to bridge the communications of land mobile radio and cellular connectivity on an Android device.

Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications' BeOn Android application will allow public safety officers to communicate with a 700MHz Project 25 (P25) system over AT&T's network. P25 is a standard for designing and manufacturing interoperable digital two-way wireless devices.

The county has conducted a pilot using Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications' BeOn application to allow county officials and administrative teams to communicate with their teams in the field using integrated LTE broadband communications. BeOn will add an additional layer of communications to first responders' traditional radio network, which consists of an 800MHz Enhanced Digital Access communications system (EDACS), Eric Linsley, director of public safety communications for Mobile County, Ala., told eWEEK.

Harris offers a Voice, Interoperability, Data and Access (VIDA) network that uses IT technology to run communications apps for public safety personnel.

Without LTE broadband, push-to-talk communications for emergency personnel would be limited to the same geographic area, according to Harris.

Among 25 county workers participating in the BeOn pilot are EMS, the sheriff's department, as well as the fire, engineering and police departments.

Linsley tested the BeOn app at a recent public Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference in Minneapolis and was able to communicate with his staff in Mobile County using an Android device.

"I was on the showroom floor and was able to talk back to my radio shop on my BeOn device," Linsley said. "It actually allows us to leverage the power of an LTE network down to our legacy radio systems."

Using BeOn, public safety officials can communicate from one Android phone to another using push-to-talk capabilities. The push-to-talk feature takes over the volume controls on the phone, Linsley noted.

The mapping features of BeOn will be important, according to Linsley.

"You can imagine being a doctor or administrator of a health care facility or campus wanting to know where your assets are and how to get from point A to point B," Linsley said.

Although Mobile County lacks enough radios for first responders to use currently, it plans to transition to BeOn once the county migrates to the P25 system.

Mobile County is working with the Harris engineers to work out bugs, implement software updates and give feedback, Linsley said.

It has a countywide EDACS and is in the process of transitioning to P25.

"I can actually see a big benefit for emergency doctors and such that need to connect to first responders over in what we call 'radio land,'" Linsley said.

When a disaster such as an explosion or chemical spill occurs, emergency medics could use the BeOn Android app to see if hospitals have beds open, Linsley said.

"BeOn allows first responders to take their group communications capabilities seamlessly between broadband and narrowband," Greg Henderson, director of product management for Harris, told eWEEK in an email.

When doctors and emergency response teams travel outside a hospital's campuswide land mobile radio network, they'll be able to remain connected with dispatchers and hospital staff and maintain location and situational awareness, according to Henderson.

The BeOn app could allow them to respond quicker and more efficiently to emergencies, he said.

"Hospitals that have small campus radio networks find BeOn a very valuable tool to allow a wide area extension of their radio network throughout a metropolitan area," Henderson added. "Broadband wireless provides great utility to emergency first responders—allowing them to get more rapid information from the doctor to the EMT, and vice versa. BeOn is a tool in this basket to allow for more efficient group communications and situational awareness."