The Department for Rescue Services of Länsi-Uusimaa in Finland is halfway through a major upgrade of its communications systems. It is rolling out handsets and technical solutions provided by Sepura and its Finnish partner Insalko.
Sepura and Insalko had to meet a number of requirements to bring the department’s equipment up to the latest standards. The main requirement was the migration to VIRVE, the Finnish national TETRA network, which meant replacing outdated communications equipment for smoke-diving and data transmissions in particular.
Several other requirements also had to be met besides fire fighting, fire prevention and rescue. The department also has responsibilities for civil defence services in the region and the provision of emergency care and ambulance services in the cities of Espoo and Kauniainen. Länsi-Uusimaa comprises 12 municipalities including the municipality of Espoo, the second largest city in Finland, located west of Helsinki.
Kimmo Markkanen, director of risk management at Länsi-Uusimaa Department for Rescue Services, says: ‘We’ve been using TETRA for six or seven years, but we needed to upgrade some of our equipment, so that firefighters only need to use one terminal and one headset to make it easy to communicate with each other. We also wanted data transmission capability.
‘Our smoke divers were using 50 old fashioned VHS terminals, but we wanted to upgrade to TETRA and they had to be able to communicate with each other within buildings, as well as with colleagues outside. So we needed new radios and we were looking for a solution with a gateway function, so we could extend the network coverage to a wider area as well as being able to communicate inside buildings,’ he says.
The procurement process began in 2009 with a call for expressions of interest in the Official Journal of the European Union. Four vendors were shortlisted, but it was Sepura and its Finnish partner Insalko that came out on top.
The contract has been designed as a framework deal, which allows the department to call off further equipment upgrades from Sepura and Insalko without having to go back out to tender for several years.
‘Sepura was the best at meeting our requirements,’ reports Markkanen. ‘We were particularly impressed with the data and gateway functionalities of the vehicle and fixed terminals. Our smoke divers, in particular, chose the radios for their size and the wide choice of DMO (direct mode operation) functions.’
He adds that the department liked the aftercare offering in terms of keeping terminals up to date, availability of automatic software upgrades (the department sometimes uses the Sepura Radio Manager, which provides remote fast programming of radios) and overall maintenance policy.
Markkanen says maintenance is shared between in-house personnel and outside partners such as Insalko. ‘We are always changing something.
It can just be a small thing or sometimes it is quite critical. It depends on how we use the terminals. As we discover new uses, we may need upgrades.
The educational side of this upgrade is important to make the most of these products.’
Sepura TETRA radios are currently used for regular fire and rescue operations: from voice communications to fleet mapping and short data messaging. Markkanen says the fixed radios have also been integrated into the Public Warning system and are used to manage the public announcements through the TETRA network.
In addition, the department uses Sepura radios for resources management and mobilisation via the professional fire station alarm system and the paging of the volunteer fire brigade. Crucially, Sepura gateway radios have extended the network capabilities into underground and woodland areas.
Sepura hand-portable radios have also been installed in the volunteer fire brigade tankers and are connected to a status terminal and navigator to pinpoint incident locations for the emergency response centre. The department uses Sepura terminals for all training and development purposes.
The department began rolling out the new radios in three waves, with the first beginning in spring 2010. ‘They’ve been using the terminals for a year now,’ says Markkanen. ‘The last area is now going through and should be complete in a couple of months.’
The move to Sepura terminals has been quite a change for a department used to Cassidian radios and interfaces. ‘There’s a big difference in the interfaces from Cassidian radios to Sepura, so it’s a big learning curve for us,’ admits Markkanen.
‘The whole department needs training as we’ve changed to gateway radios and changed the alarm system too.’
Markkanen says that the department is experimenting to find out how to get the best use out of its new equipment. ‘The talk group capability is one of the strong elements of TETRA, where you can select different groups and scan from the radio. The ability to have talk groups within the same blue light service in particular is useful when you have to deal with different incidents or situations at the same time, so you have to separate into different groups.
‘We can also connect the fire, police and ambulance services, so it’s much easier to talk to each other. That means we need less people and therefore fewer terminals,’ points out Markkanen. ‘We have a lot of learning to go through to find out how best to use this if we need more than one group talking at the same time.’
The benefits of the new equipment are already becoming apparent, says Markkanen, particularly in terms of the versatility of the terminals. The combination of gateway function, voice and data messaging in one device is a great help, he says. ‘Small things like having an in-car docking station for the radio are good too,’ he adds.
Markkanen says that it’s still too early to judge the impact of Sepura’s radios on productivity, but certain activities like upgrading look to be much easier and more cost-effective as they will not need to maintain analogue hand-portable VHS radios and frequency licences.