General Dynamics to Build Nationwide Integrated Radio System

April 30, 2007

General Dynamics of Falls Church has won a 15-year, multibillion-dollar contract to build a nationwide interoperable voice and data radio network for federal law enforcement agencies.

The Integrated Wireless Network program, run by the Justice Department with the participation of the Homeland Security and Treasury departments, is intended to provide compatible radio systems to federal police agencies, partly so they can cooperate effectively during terrorist attacks and natural disasters. It will also help the federal police link to state, local and tribal law enforcement networks.

The ceiling value of the IWN project is $10 billion. While the government doesn’t expect to spend quite that much on the work, it set the ceiling at $10 billion “to facilitate use of the contract by other federal agencies that choose to participate in the IWN program,” said Elizabeth Clarke, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

The core IWN radio systems that the program will provide to participating agencies will rely on the Internet Protocol Version 6 standard, the same type of next-generation Internet technology that increasingly will drive the operations of the World Wide Web.

“The federal government study contractor [for the IWN program] recommended an Internet protocol-based solution,” said Jeff Osman, General Dynamics’ executive program manager for IWN. “It opens up the ability to tie together multiple types of radio systems.”

Osman said the IWN project would use various types of gateway systems to mix and match the modern digital radio systems with the old-style analog systems that are still used by many police departments nationwide.

Osman added that the IWN program will benefit from recent advances in both Internet Protocol and trunking technology. Trunked radio allows several simultaneous voice conversations to occur across what formerly was an open circuit dedicated to a single transmission.

Taken together, the new technologies will more than double the number of separate conversations that IWN will be able to carry over a given chunk of bandwidth, according to communications experts.

The IWN infrastructure also can support the transmission of full-motion streaming video to police officers in their patrol cars or on foot.

Osman cautioned that deploying real-time video to individual police officers would require the use of costly bandwidth. “When you consider the options for end users’ devices to be used by the officer in a car, or on foot or at a tactical point, you have to ask, how much information do you want to throw at a person,” he said.

General Dynamics C4 Systems is the company’s business unit that will lead the IWN project. The Scottsdale, Ariz., division is leading an IWN team that includes General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems of Arlington; General Dynamics Information Technology of Fairfax; International Business Machines of Armonk, N.Y.; M/A-Com of Lowell, Mass.; Nortel Government Solutions of Fairfax, and Verizon Wireless of Basking Ridge, N.J.

Source: Washington Post, April 30, 2007

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Funds Sought to Help L.A. County First Responders

April 29, 2007

Worried that first responders cannot connect with one another during a major disaster, local officials pushed federal lawmakers and the White House this week to fund upgrades to the patchwork of emergency communications systems across Los Angeles County.

Sheriff Lee Baca and L.A. County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman lobbied for a $100-million slice of a $1-billion federal public safety communications grant, arguing that the county’s vast area, huge population, natural disasters and high-level terrorist targets require sophisticated emergency tools.

Roughly 100 law enforcement agencies and fire departments work across Los Angeles County but often use separate, incompatible or obsolete frequencies and equipment to share information.

“Being the largest county in America, having to deal with flood, fire, earthquake, riots and things over the years, [emergency communications have] been the weak point,” said Supervisor Don Knabe, a member of the State and Local Officials Senior Advisory Committee of the President’s Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Local leaders stress that in such catastrophes as the 2005 Metrolink commuter train crash or the 1994 Northridge earthquake, emergency personnel were not able to coordinate their efforts as quickly as they might have with shared technology.

Even during fast-moving brush fires, officers evacuating residents while firefighters battle flames must swap information in person at a command post, said Freeman.

“In a critical situation it could really mean the difference between life and death,” Freeman said.

Over the last two years, public safety agencies across the area have united to develop a regional voice and data transmission system, said county Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen.

Municipal governments around the county already have committed more than $200 million to the five-year, $600-million technological overhaul, Knabe said. Agencies, including airport police and the Los Angeles Unified School District, have agreed upon a radio platform and a shared frequency, Janssen said.

“To have this kind of collaboration taking place regionwide is” remarkable, Janssen said.

Local safety officials want $100 million this year to design the regional system, which would be governed by a new joint powers authority, Freeman said. County officials are urging federal lawmakers to divvy up funds based on an area’s risk and need, Freeman said.

Federal officials are planning to release guidelines for the competitive grant application process in the next few months, said Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. The money is to be distributed around September.

“On 9/11 we learned just how devastating it can be for first responders to lack interoperable communications, and that is a very hard, tough lesson,” Knocke said. “It’s one that as a nation we should not repeat.”

The department has spent about $3 billion on state and local emergency communications grants since 2003, Knocke said.

Baca described the reception this week on Capitol Hill, as well as in a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, as supportive.

California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein expressed enthusiasm for the project. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) suggested that garnering support for the plan from Democratic heavyweights such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would help get federal dollars.

“Interoperability has been, since 9/11, one of my highest priorities,” Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) told county supervisors in a meeting this week.

An integrated regional communication system could affect as many as 30,000 emergency responders, Baca said.

Los Angeles public safety agencies “make decisions in a collaborative manner, but we don’t have a collaborative communications system,” Baca said.

Source: Susannah Rosenblatt, Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2007


KTLA Launches HD News Chopper

April 25, 2007

Those of us that monitor the News Media frequencies like to know what the latest happenings are in that industry. The following two articles might be of interest to show what is going on behind the scenes in the television news business. First, KTLA Channel 5 is now using a high definition camera in their helicopter. The second article describes the camera and shows just how good it is.

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KTLA-TV in Los Angeles became the latest station in the country to provide airborne HD news coverage last week when it launched an HD-equipped helicopter to cover the nation’s second largest TV market.

The Helinet Group is providing the HD news chopper, which uses the Cineflex V14 gimbal, gyro-stabilized camera system, Helinet’s turnkey solution that allows the KTLA HD helicopter to broadcast live, HD images from high above the city. The Cineflex V14 allows KTLA to bring viewers closer to the news than ever before.

The multiyear deal for the HD helicopter is the latest chapter in a 20-year partnership between Helinet and the station.

With the new Cineflex camera system, KTLA-TV joins a handful of broadcasters equipped for HD ENG operations. Currently, Helinet provides more than 30 stations with ENG helicopter services in cities that include New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

With images three times more detailed than standard broadcast, the Cineflex V14 allows KTLA to bring viewers closer to the news than ever before. The multi-year deal marks the twentieth year of partnership between Helinet and KTLA, launched when Helinet created the industry’s first comprehensive ENG solution for KTLA in 1990. In what became the industry standard, Helinet’s package of helicopter, pilot, Cineflex system and operator allowed the station to focus solely on newsgathering without the administration entailed in operating a news helicopter.

“Having a superior ENG capability is a fundamental element for success in the Los Angeles market and our new KTLA HD Telecopter ship gives us the ability to offer our viewers stunning images from above the stories that affect them most,” said Jeff Wald, news director at KTLA. “In our almost twenty years working with Helinet we have covered all of the iconic Southern California news stories and consider the company a vital partner in our daily operations.”

“As Helinet’s first ENG contract, KTLA has been a key customer since our company’s inception and we are extremely pleased to be delivering this new, fully HD ship to them,” said Alan Purwin, founder of Helinet. “With the increasing penetration of high definition television, the ability to deliver HD aerial news allows broadcasters to offer viewers an immersive experience that puts them in the center of the action. We believe KTLA’s viewers will love these amazing new images.”

For more information, visit www.ktla.com, www.cineflex.com and www.helinet.com.

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From the Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2007:

“Planet Earth” Viewers get Close to Nature

The 11-part hi-def epic was filmed with a camera system that provides startling high-quality perspectives.

By David Sarno, Times Staff Writer

A thousand feet above Van Nuys, J.T. Alpaugh sat in the rear seat of a news copter, joystick in hand, ready to show off the high-definition video camera that hung orb-like from the front of the aircraft.

“OK, see that car up there?” Alpaugh asked. “Next to the white truck?”

Two miles down Ventura Boulevard, a white speck crept across an intersection. Next to it was another, smaller white speck.

“Sort of,” said a reporter along for the ride.

“Right. Now watch the monitor,” said Alpaugh.

The helicopter’s high-definition video screen showed the same unremarkable view of Tarzana that could be seen outside the windshield. The long ribbon of Ventura Boulevard stretched into the distance, and the two white specks inched along. But as Alpaugh pressed a switch on his controller, the specks began to grow. And grow. And grow, until the smaller one had bloomed into an obviously alabaster white Mercedes E-class, featuring a blue California license plate whose letters and numbers were so vivid that both passengers read it aloud.

This camera system — called the Cineflex V14 — was designed by engineers at Cineflex, LLC, a division of the Van Nuys-based Helinet Group. The Cineflex takes a $90,000 high-definition camera and fits it with a telephoto lens capable of magnifying images to 84 times their actual size. But more than resolution or zoom length, what defines the Cineflex is its preternatural stability. The lens and sensor float inside a kind of gyro-stabilized bubble that does not move, no matter what the helicopter does. So even if the pilot drops into a steep turn through bumpy, stormy air, the image of that license plate won’t so much as flitter.

One of the first filmmakers to see the Cineflex’s potential was BBC nature producer Alistair Fothergill, the man behind “Planet Earth,” the 11-part, hi-def nature epic that premiered Sunday on the Discovery Channel. Fothergill saw that Cineflex’s tremendous range, resolution and stability could allow aerial teams to capture gorgeous, high-quality close-ups of animals without disturbing them. Moreover, using high-definition video meant air crews could finally ditch burdensome film cameras. No longer would helicopters have to land and reload every time a 10-minute film magazine ran out; now crews could stay aloft for hours, filming continuously.

“We suddenly saw, hang on, there are a series of animal behaviors out there which have not been filmable because [the old] cameras cannot keep up,” said Fothergill. But Cineflex could. “And that was clearly going to be revolutionary.”

The first episode of “Planet Earth” featured an extended hunting sequence in northern Canada. Helinet cinematographer Michael Kelem and his crew used a Cineflex to track wolves as they stalked migrating caribou. “As soon as they start running, you’re on them,” said Kelem, “You’re like a police helicopter in a car chase.”

Kelem was able to capture four wolf hunts in his first two hours, including one that ended in a prized “pull-down” — or kill. “The [camera] guys on the ground were going, ‘That’s better than we can do in two weeks!’ ”

Although filming wolf kills is a blast, it turns out not to pay much. So Helinet does a lot of work in Hollywood. Founder Alan Purwin — who for a while in the ’80s was the guy who flew “Airwolf” — is a respected aerial coordinator who enjoys fruitful relationships with directors like Steven Spielberg, Tony Scott and Michael Bay. Cineflex-equipped copters are a filmmaker favorite because at some level, they can do just about anything. Helinet pilots can “park” in midair for static shots — Cineflex’s stability makes it look like the shot is taken from a steel crane — and perform dangerous and intricate stunt sequences, like the one Purwin did for the upcoming movie “Transformers” that involved flying four helicopters in tandem under the bridge on Cesar Chavez Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Back up above Tarzana, Alpaugh trained the camera on a poor sap speeding down the Ventura Freeway in an F-150 pickup.

“He has no idea we’re looking at him,” said Alpaugh, offering a comment on Cineflex’s other, more ominous application: surveillance. In the monitor, the driver’s face was so well defined you could tell he didn’t shave that morning.

It’s clear that aerial photography has come a long way since the days of the white Ford Bronco, when a momentary glimpse of shoulder was enough to keep viewers watching.

Law enforcement is a growing market. Helinet has partnerships with federal, state and local authorities as well as the work it’s done with “three-letter agencies.”

When it comes to Cineflex’s potential as a law-enforcement tool, though, Alpaugh and Purwin prefer to accentuate the positive. “Let’s say there’s an event with a lot of crowds,” explained Alpaugh. “An event that may be attractive as a terrorist target.”

Law-enforcement officials can then “look at people, look at expressions, look at clothing, look at backpacks — things you would normally look at if you were on the ground walking among these people.”

Kelem, the Helinet cinematographer who shot the wolf hunt, has an idea for a documentary: “I’d like to cut a tape where it’s animals chasing animals and police chasing criminals,” he said. “It’s like the same.”

Which is either amusing or insensitive — depending on your angle.


FCC Testing Web-Over-Airwaves Device

March 27, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission is expected to release findings this summer on whether a new device can deliver high-speed Internet service over unused airwaves without disrupting television programming.

Scott Blake Harris, the attorney for a coalition of technology companies that developed the device, said Tuesday the FCC is expected to issue its test results by July.

He said the regulatory agency could then adopt final rules by October.

The FCC did not confirm the timetable.

The coalition, which includes Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Dell Inc. and others, wants the agency to open up unlicensed and unused TV spectrum, also known as “white spaces,” for broadband Internet service.

However, TV broadcasters are unconvinced the device will work and said if the new technology is approved it could also cause problems with their federally mandated transition from analog to digital signals in early 2009.

If the device passes muster and rules are adopted for spectrum usage, Harris said the agency could start certifying similar devices in December. That means manufacturers of the devices must show their technology conforms to the agency’s rule.

However, such devices would not go on sale until February 2009, he added.

The coalition, which submitted the prototype about two weeks ago, said using the white spaces would spur technological innovation and help provide affordable broadband service to millions of Americans, especially in rural communities.


Texas Photographer Faces Charges Over Crash Pics

March 27, 2007

WHARTON,Texas– As a prize-winning freelance photographer who has shot numerous accidents and fires for the local fire department, Elmer Cavender likes to work close to the action.

“Elmer pushed the envelope. He felt the heat. If we’d have given him bunker gear, he would have been inside the (burning) buildings,” said Fire Chief Anthony Abbott.

And on Jan. 19, when Cavender’s portable radio scanner alerted him to a major accident just east of town, he quickly rolled to the scene in his old gray Buick.

But this accident would soon prove very different from the hundreds of other wrecks and fires that Cavender has covered with a peculiar zeal over the past decade.

It would lead to the loss of his film and negatives and to him being charged with a felony offense, making him the reluctant subject of a First Amendment debate.

On April 2, his 64th birthday, Cavender is set to go to trial in Wharton County on a charge of misuse of official information. He is accused of selling accident photos that were taken in his capacity as a volunteer firefighter.

“I was never a volunteer fireman. They gave me a vest that said “Fire Photographer,” a flashlight and an ID, but I wasn’t allowed to ride on any vehicle,” Cavender said.

Had the victim in the Jan. 19 accident not been a respected local police chief, it’s likely that none of the high drama would have followed.

“It didn’t take me long to get there. I had already heard on the scanner it was too late, so I knew there would not be any rescue attempt,” said Cavender, a former local sheriff’s deputy.

It was a fatal head-on collision between a police car and a pickup. After snapping a couple of dozen frames of film, Cavender said, he left the scene just as state troopers were pulling in.

Ernest Mendoza’s death — allegedly caused by a drunken driver who was charged with murder, rather than intoxication manslaughter — left feelings raw among his fellow lawmen. With some, it also seems to have aggravated old frictions with Cavender.

He said that on Jan. 21, after his accident photos had run in several area papers and he had shown them to some local police and firefighters, he was confronted by a Department of Public Safety sergeant.

“He started telling me how I’ve got every law enforcement officer in the county upset,” Cavender said of Sgt. Dan Terronez, with whom he’d butted heads with in the past.

“He said, ‘I could arrest you right now for interfering with a felony murder investigation and for taking pictures of law enforcement officers on duty without their permission.”‘

“He said, ‘We need your pictures and negatives.’ My impression was that if I didn’t give them up, I was fixing to go to jail,” said Cavender, who quickly turned over the goods.

Contacted in Wharton, Terronez declined to comment.

A DPS spokesman in Austin offered only a brief remark.

“The photos were surrendered voluntarily,” said Tom Vinger, who declined to say if that came after any implicit or explicit threat of arrest.

DPS has refused to return the photos to the editor of the Wharton Journal-Spectator, who says they belong to him.

“I buy the film. I pay for the development. I own the photos,” said Ron Sanders, who defended Cavender’s conduct and scoffed at the notion that he is a public official.

“Remember ‘Animal Farm’? We’re all equal, but some are more equal than others. The deceased was a police officer, so things change.”

The loss of the photos was just the beginning of Cavender’s troubles.

In early February, he was indicted on a third-degree felony charge for selling the accident pictures for $50 to the Houston Chronicle and the Victoria Advocate. The only grand jury witness listed is Terronez.

Wharton city officials and Abbott, the fire chief, say Cavender was never a volunteer fireman and that his role was honorary. Since the accident, the department has severed ties with him.

“He was dismissed because I was getting heat from the DPS and all local law enforcement. They felt he got in the way,” said Abbott, who said he was also unhappy Cavender had displayed the sensitive photos in public.

Wharton County District Attorney Josh McCown could not be reached for comment. His assistant, Becky Ivy, said the case is ready to go to trial.

“We took it to the grand jury, and that’s what they indicted on. We stand behind the evidence we have that he is a public servant,” Ivy said.

But Cavender’s lawyer said the case is flawed.

“If he’s not a volunteer fireman, how could he be acting in an official capacity? I don’t think any jury would find him to be a public servant,” said Richard Manske of nearby El Campo.

He said the district attorney has already put out feelers about resolving the case with a misdemeanor plea, but Cavender says he will not plead to anything.

Manske said, “I think they’ll drop the charge.”

Meanwhile, First Amendment watchdogs and freelance photographers in Texas are viewing the case with incredulity.

“It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything quite as bogus in my life,” said Joel White, former president of the Freedom of Information Foundation in Austin.

“He’s a journalist. He’s not out there as a firefighter. Confiscating his film was blatantly unconstitutional,” he said.

In San Antonio, Alicia Wagner Calzada, past president of the National Press Photographers Association, said the case will get national attention if it goes to trial.

She said it already serves as a clear warning against photographers getting too closely affiliated with police and fire departments.

“There’s a reason we avoid conflicts of interest. In this case it’s come back to haunt him,” said Calzada, who includes the San Antonio Express-News among her clients.

“The saddest thing is that they have indicted a photographer for doing his job.”

In Wharton, some feel Cavender is being bullied because he is a freelancer with few resources.

“I think they’re just beating up on a guy who they didn’t feel could fight back,” said Nat Galloway, 62, a longtime friend.

Cavender, who says he shoots photographs as a community service and barely makes ends meet between that and his part-time convenience store job, has no plans to change his style.

“It hasn’t slowed me down. There’s been a couple of accidents since then where I got out there and got the pictures real quick, just to avoid a confrontation with the DPS sergeant,” he said.

“I’ve never disobeyed a police order. I know how to take pictures of an accident scene, and I know what not to do. And if there’s action at the scene, that’s what the public wants to see.”

Source: San Antonio Express-News


Talks on Countywide Radio System Continue

March 27, 2007

ICIS Logo

Burbank City and Los Angeles County officials are no closer to an agreement over how to make a plan for a county-wide emergency response compatible with a six-city system that is already in place in the region.

County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Burbank city officials and Burbank police and fire department leaders met Friday with county officials in an attempt to resolve some of the city’s concerns that the county’s plans could eclipse the existing Interagency Communications Interoperability System, known as ICIS.

Burbank adopted the system, which Glendale officials spearheaded, in November 2003. The system enables public safety officials in the six participating cities to communicate on a single radio channel.

But as the county pursues a study into the interoperability needs of the entire county, participants in the existing collaborative are worried about the future of the existing system — especially if county officials opt to build a new system from the ground up without including technology that is already active.

“Why would I give up something I already have for the promise of something that may or may not be better 10 years from now,” said Ron Davis, general manager of Burbank Water and Power.

As the county lobbies for federal grants to research county-wide interoperability needs, U.S. legislators are baffled by the apparently competing paths of the county and the six cities already participating in a joint powers agreement.

“It’s pretty awkward to explain to a senator’s staff,” Davis said. “Understandably, they look at both of us and say, ‘You people need to work this out.'”

County officials are responding to what they see as legitimate concerns from interoperability system participants who want to assure that any proposed system will fully meet their needs and the same levels of service they now have, said Anna Pembedjian, Antonovich’s justice deputy.

“Supervisor Antonovich was very receptive in hearing the city’s concerns … and asked sheriff’s personnel to respond to those concerns in writing, which we have since received and shared with the city,” she said. “And we hope for answers and a resolution that meets everyone’s satisfaction.”

In the meantime, Burbank officials will continue to cooperate with the county’s Regional Interoperability Steering Committee, which is leading the county’s efforts, Davis said. But there are no plans to abandon the existing system.

“We are going to continue ICIS until they either join ICIS or show us how to continue the system while pursuing what they want,” he said.

The existing system, which already reaches 80% of the county, could be built out to reach the county for about the same cost as the county’s impending study, Davis added.

“They’re lobbying [the federal government] … to get a couple million for a study,” Davis said. “But Glendale has an open infrastructure, so the county could join us any day for free.”

Source: Burbank Leader March 21, 2007.

LINK TO ICIS FREQUENCIES AND TALKGROUPS

LINK TO ICIS WEB SITE


City of Los Angeles Mobile Command Vehicles Rely on MRC Microwave Technology

March 27, 2007

Microwave Radio Communications (MRC) announced that a microwave communications system has been installed and is in use by the City of Los Angeles (LA) for public safety inter-departmental communications. The system allows LA law enforcement and public safety personnel to move video, voice, and data between mobile command vehicles and the City’s infrastructure through use of a fixed central site.

Mobile Command Vehicle

Portable communication systems can be deployed as repeaters, or in locations not readily accessible to their vehicles. This type of communications solution enables Public Safety personnel to establish necessary communications in the event of a catastrophic event, such as an earthquake or terrorism response. Other potential uses include security at major events including demonstrations, sporting events, concerts, and public gatherings where the public’s safety is of critical concern.

“The City of LA System provides an on demand self sufficient network that does not require existing infrastructure, such as power grid or communication network,” states Tony Finizio, President of MRC.  “It’s a system that will allow LA to keep transmitting in the event of a disaster when land lines are lost similar to that experienced during Katrina.  This system will allow LA public safety personnel to remain informed and in control,” he said. 

MRC faced major challenges in custom tailoring this system.  It was tasked with enabling the City to transmit and receive video, voice and data over the allocated 4.9 GHz Band in which Public Safety agencies are allotted 50 MHz of Bandwidth.  This limited amount of bandwidth meant MRC had to design an efficient system that would allow video, voice, and data to be simultaneously transmitted and received while granting the user the flexibility of switching across multiple channels within the band to avoid interference.

MRC met the City’s requirements by setting up a bandwidth-efficient system which transports four T1 lines over microwave using only 7 MHz of bandwidth. It also allows the City flexibility to change channels to accommodate other transmissions, for instance live video from an airborne unit can be accommodated by moving the 7 MHz of T1 transmission anywhere within the 50 MHz Bandwidth.

“MRC was a logical choice for us,” states Raul Velasco, Communications Engineer. “The City has a significant investment in MRC systems, and they have proven to be very reliable. Our maintenance staff has significant experience on systems built with MRC equipment. In addition, MRC’s diverse product line gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility. This latest system was tailored to meet our communications requirements today, but the same MRC equipment can be reconfigured as needed to meet our communications requirements tomorrow.”

“The system is performing as expected and has already proved its value on several occasions,” said Raul. “Most recently, the MRC systems were deployed to support Incident Command Posts for the 2007 LA Marathon and the Academy Awards,” he said.

“How can we best utilize this 50 MHz band? What can we do with it? These are the questions that public safety departments are asking,” said Mike Payne, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at MRC. “Well, we can do a lot with it,” he said. “In any emergency scenario, a video feed mounted on the van can be transmitted over to headquarters. From there the video can be put out over their network and made available to all law enforcement agencies in LA.”

In addition to mobile vehicles, portable transport units were also used and designed with the same capabilities as the mobile command vehicles. These portable units will allow the City the flexibility to set up communications in areas where a mobile command vehicle may not be able to access, or in some cases to expand the communications infrastructure by providing additional inter-communication services.

For more information visit the MRC web site at: http://www.mrcbroadcast.com/index.html