Living on borrowed time: Oregonís 1960s era public safety radio nets ready for upgrades

We all get so focused on technology – bytes, algorithms, signal processing, and EDA tools – that we sometimes forget that all this is actually used by someone, somewhere.

We all get so focused on technology – bytes, algorithms, signal processing, and Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools – that we sometimes forget that all this is actually used by someone, somewhere. And in many cases, lives depend on it. As we went to press, the Pacific Northwest was battered with record rainfall and flooding throughout the Oregon Coast and Western Washington – a mere 40 miles from where I’m writing this. Lives were lost; homes and businesses were destroyed. First responders reported “Hurricane Katrina-like rescues,” requiring state and federal agencies including police, fire, and the Coast Guard to stretch their radio communications systems to the limit.

Ironically, we recently got a chance to chat briefly with Mike Zanon, program manager of the Oregon Wireless Interoperability Network. When the Oregon State Legislature returns in February 2008 for its biannual session, legislators will be considering the first phases of a massive geographical public safety upgrade estimated to cost $665 million to replace a set of four separate, mostly analog 40-year-old networks. Technologies under consideration include cognitive radio, radio-over-IP, WiMAX, and digital microwave backhauls. The most important criteria? Interoperability, pay-as-you-go incremental upgrades, and of course, mission criticality to save lives. Edited and excerpted remarks follow.

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