Mobile Dispatch Terminal mounted in police vehicle showing calls received and asset locations. (photo courtesy Fort Bliss Directorate of Emergency Service

Army, DISA partner to enable mobility for emergency service vehicles

By Kashia Simmons and Cindy Coogan, Defense Information Systems Agency, Office of Strategic Communication and Public Affairs

U.S. Army Fort Bliss Department of Emergency Services is set to be the first in the Army to deploy its emergency vehicles with Apple iPad devices integrated with computer-aided dispatch software.

Fort Bliss DES configured 45 devices, which included equipping 30 police and fire vehicles with Department of Defense Mobility Unclassified Capability iPads. These lightweight mobile devices will allow emergency services to track its police and fire department vehicles, and enable officers to update the status and progress of incidents while on location – a capability they did not have until now.

“We originally started working this project with the former director who wanted a way to track our police vehicles using our computer-aided dispatch software,” said Sean Farrell, systems administrator, Fort Bliss DES.

After ruling out several other options due to compatibility or space concerns, the directorate decided on iPads and reached out to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s DMUC program for assistance, Farrell said.

DISA is the lead for the Department of the DoD Mobility Program, which includes unclassified, secret and top secret mobile offerings. DMUC manages more than 95,000 mobile devices for the Army alone.

DISA is also the lead for DoD public safety communications -- a topic which has gained more high-level attention in recent months with the release of the DoD C3 Strategy in September.

"The DoD C3 Strategy, turned public safety communications into a command and control system, and elevated it to a mission-critical priority. This means, in the future PSC will not be tethered to a building anymore,” said Dr. James Travis, agency lead, DoD public safety communications. “This moves us forward to accomplishing the mission to protect the American people, and the diverse community of personnel that live and work on our bases. These include -- Soldiers, civilians, contractors and others."

Despite inherent challenges with the project, the DMUC team was eager to support.

“When we were contacted with the unique requirements to support Fort Bliss police and firefighters we were honored, and ‘no’ was not an option,” said Al Smith, DMUC program manager.

Smith’s team met with Farrell in March and outlined a way forward.

Because the iPads would not be assigned to specific users, DMUC set up the iPads as non-person entity devices. Fort Bliss DES devised a policy that met requirements from the Department of the Army and implemented new device restrictions (e.g., settings, configuration, applications) to meet the Criminal Justice Information Services security policies. These then had to be approved by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“There were several wickets to check to get to the solution, and there was quite a bit of work we needed to do our end, but we were ready to execute with DISA by the August/September timeframe,” Farrell said.

ipad3.jpgBy the end of October, the team had laid the groundwork and finalized configurations for the effort. They created a new Army Fort Bliss DES space on DMUC servers, established Fort Bliss DES tier I service desk administrator access, and provided real-time tier I administrator training. With the technical integration process complete, Fort Bliss DES conducted its first train-the-trainer course for using the capability, Nov. 12-13.

“This is an example of the Army and DISA collaborating to bring about capabilities that weren't there before. My goal is to continue this kind of partnering and extend DISA services to a great number of users across the Army. The more we understand about the capabilities that DISA offers, the more we can share those services across the Army,” said Rick Walsh, program manager, Army Mobile.

According to Travis, this effort not only meant additional capabilities for Fort Bliss, but also serves as a case for modernizing public safety communications.

He said, "These types of efforts will allow us to begin assessing how well this works and as we learn what is reliable, we'll want to roll it out to the entire DoD."