The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s First Responders Group’s (FRG) Datacasting Project transmits encrypted live video and data over existing broadcast television signals to a targeted audience within public safety. Users can download data in the field, improving interoperability at minimal cost and effort in the furtherance of public safety. This project is part of FRG's ongoing efforts to ensure first responders have the tools, technologies, and knowledge they need to save lives and protect property while staying safe.
“Datacasting is a broadcasting mechanism capable of one-to-many content delivery which reduces congestion on public safety agencies’ networks,” said FRG Program Manager Cuong Luu. “This vastly impacts how video and data is currently shared by responders, providing better collaboration, and continuing to leverage current infrastructure costs of the public broadcast television stations.”
When broadcast television transitioned from analog to digital broadcast transmissions, it created the opportunity to allocate television spectrum in new ways. Datacasting takes advantage of a portion of the public broadcasting station’s bandwidth normally used for television programming, resulting in this technology being available to public safety at a very low cost.
Last year, FRG joined Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, SpectraRep, and several Public Broadcasting Service television stations in two successful pilots in Houston, Texas and in Chicago, Illinois. These pilots demonstrated the ability of datacasting to support public safety communications in an operational environment, expanded on current datacasting uses, and determined benefits and limitations.
During the pilot, recipients successfully received all transmissions including alerts, images, files, and live video streams. Participants touted the installation and operation of the system as user-friendly and asked to keep the systems after the pilot exercises concluded. One officer even described datacasting as “a potentially life-saving tool.”
“We have folks that are watching cameras 24-hours a day. So when something happens, they report to the officers what they are seeing. But something always gets lost in translation. The advantage to this is we can send video directly to the officers (and,) they can look at an image and know exactly what they are looking at,” said Chief of Staff for the University of Houston Police Department LT. Bret Collier.
The Houston pilot’s success was publically recognized among top innovators in the security industry as the Grand Platinum winner at the 2015 Secured Cities Exclusive Security Innovation Awards luncheon on November 12, 2015. The pilot was unanimously selected as the top overall security project of the year due to its unique scope and application.
With the completion of these pilots, after action reports with information on the capabilities and potential limitations of the technology have been produced. The Houston and Chicago reports are now available.
FRG is working with Houston so they may keep the equipment in place and continue using it in their daily operations. FRG provides funding and equipment to partners so they can test and use this technology for their public safety needs, but does not collect or store any of the data.
S&T is currently looking to identify other potential public safety partners and pilot locations for 2016 to test additional capabilities. Interested responders should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.