EP 38 Radio Interoperability Solutions Made Easy
[TODD DEVOE] Hey guys, how are you doing? And thank you so much for coming and listening to EM Weekly. And today, I have from Base Camp Connect, which is a really cool product I want to kind of highlight, and I have Frank Raveneau here with me. He’s gonna talk about his company, what they do, and how their solutions make communication so much easier in a disaster setting. So Frank, welcome to the show.
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Thank you, glad to be here.
[TODD DEVOE] So Frank, tell me a little bit about yourself, and then I’d like to hear about your company, and how you got started, and what exactly you guys are doing now for communications in emergency settings.
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Yeah, so, I am VP of sales for the company, I’ve been hired about two years ago. Base Camp is a Canadian company based out of Quebec City, on the South shore of Quebec City. The company has been operating about five years, mostly with the Canadian National Defense, more on the public safety side. As you know, there’s a Canadian Reserve deploying emergencies and national catastrophes, like, I guess the most common one we see is the floods in Manitoba. So, they were looking for an alternative solution to what they had, that was quick, and they could deploy, plug-in public safety together with them. And basically, go there and have a temporary infrastructure, and be there to help out the local agencies. So, we started to work with them about five years ago, and naturally, that trickles down to public safety. And now, we sell throughout Canada, the U.S., and a little bit in Europe. And just recently, in Southeast Asia, our systems to public safety sheriff’s police and fire department’s emergency management. And also to everything that is non-military related, or military but not related to traditional military operations. What I mean by that is National Guard… National Guard, I guess, is what we would call it, in basically every country.
[TODD DEVOE] Your product, how exactly does it work?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Right. So, there’s various ways to explain, but basically, it’s kind of… from what customers are telling us, Base Camp is kind of a magic box, in the sense that it’s a roller case that we deploy, basically, anywhere. And that rapid deploy kit interconnects agencies together using their own radios, and also, it provides telephone and internet service in five-minute flights, without any training, without having IT infrastructure being around. It does all that automatically, and dramatically reduces the time of deployment when there’s an emergency, and greatly accelerates the interoperability, which is, you know, I guess a big word in emergency management nowadays. So, unlike any other system that you can see up there, the Base Camp actually works with all existing technologies. So, we could connect to anything that’s out there, in terms of telephone networks, instead of future systems coming along, like, thinking about 5G technologies that will be basically at our doorstep and that’s gonna be available in maybe 2-3 years from now. The basecamp already incorporates all that in a very simple platform, and it really eliminates complex training, and it auto manages networks. So, if you’re in an emergency based on communications with a cell carrier, and that carrier falls down, the powers are not available, or you know, in events that we saw recently, like hurricane Harvey, and a little bit further away, Katrina, Sandy, and things like that. The system will automatically reconnect to available networks, from towers, to T1 lines, to legacy systems, all the way to satellite dishes.
[TODD DEVOE] Obviously, earthquakes are one of the issues that we talk about. And we had a small little earthquake one time, and we lost communication because the cell phones and landlines were all overwhelmed with people calling up to see if they felt that earthquake. So, I can see where this comes into play.
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Yeah. And this is a little bit, you know, what you just mentioned, that’s important. A lot of LT networks or non-LT networks get clogged or become unavailable when there is… and it doesn’t even need to be a catastrophe. It could be a large event. You know, if you’re in California and you go in any city that has an NFL football team, you know, the day of the event, if you look at the network and the way that it’s being used, it’s almost in overcapacity. So, you know, it’s very difficult, if something happens during an event like that, to actually have public safety go through traditional networks, even though they’re LT networks. So, this is a little bit one of the reasons why the LT private networks, we’re starting to hear about them, you know, initiatives like FirstNet. Which, you know, the governor of Texas just said, I think it was last week, that they’re going to give the go to the project and have FirstNet available in Texas.
[TODD DEVOE] One of the things I noticed about your product is that – for anybody listening, there’s no derogatory means by this, but you fire-fighter-proof it or you cop-proof it, which means that anybody can take it, open it, and start using it, and you don’t have to worry about being an IT guy. That design is pretty instrumental, I guess, in what you guys are doing. Have you find that it’s that easy? I mean, I know you said it earlier that it’s pretty easy, but have you found that it’s that easy to deploy that anybody can grab that box and make it work?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Oh yeah. And you know, this is what got me into the industry. Because the conditions I had before, in previous companies, I thought I’d never go in a smaller company-type scenario. And when I started to do my research, when we started to talk together, and I started to do my research on what’s the other solutions out there, what we need to make them work. And it always seems like there is heavy IT involvement at the time of deployment. So, when you really need infrastructure to be there quickly, that’s where you need to have IT involvement. And basically, because everything that I’ve seen before, are using IP switches, gateways, you know, all words that for (inaudible) you need to have IT knowledge to actually make them run and troubleshoot them. So, the approach that Base Camp has is very simple; is automating all this IT configurations prior to the deployment and having safety nets all over, so that if one fails, it automatically will defer to the next, and to the next, and to the next. So you can have many… we talked about networks before, so if I take this example again, if we have six different networks pre-set within the unit, you know, chances are one of the six will be available. So, if it goes on the first one and then it becomes unavailable, then the system defers to number two, three, four, five, and six. You know, one of them is gonna be made available, and ultimately, that one will be a satellite dish, because that’s usually what we see as being deployed when there is a major emergency. So, we take care of all the complex automation. And when I mean “we”, it’s Base Camp with the customers. So, we do involve the IT departments. Sometimes, very heavily, when it’s configuration time of the unit, or reconfiguring the unit, or training them on how to do it themselves. But the basic principle remains the same: once you deploy the unit, anybody can… you know, basically anybody with a brain can plug it in to any type of power network, whether it’d be a traditional network, or what we call dirty power, like a generator. And once you can do that and switch it on, you wait five minutes, and you have your phone system, you have your ratio interoperability module, you have your internet connection. And as a user, you don’t need to know if it’s on AT&T or Verizon, or a satellite dish. If it works, it works, and that’s all you need.
[TODD DEVOE] One box that you have, how many systems can be hooked up into that one box?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Right. We have two different versions of the Base Camp. We have the small one, that we call Base Camp Lite, it’s basically a (inaudible) case that you could run (sound cuts off) between five and ten people around the unit. So, five or ten people on the telephone system and on the internet connection. But in terms of radio networks, we patch in two different radio networks together, and that is from P25 to Tetra, encrypted, non-encrypted, analog, digital. Basically, every radio that is out there, right now, I would say 99% just to be sure. But Base Camp, which is the standard Base Camp, and the first product that we came out with a while ago, that one is more scalable. So, you could have up to 45 people working around the unit with the telephone system and the internet connectivity, and the radio networks, you can have either five different networks connected together, or ten different networks. Usually, you know, by what we see with customers, the most common if five radio networks, because as an emergency manager, you don’t want to manage ten different networks. That just becomes too much when there’s an emergency, and chances are, five is pretty much, I would say, the most common that people will use. There’s not many events that will happen that you will need to have ten different agencies talking at the same time on radios, that you need to interoperate. So, between five and forty-five. And depending on which unit the customer chooses.
[TODD DEVOE] You could throw this box on a fire truck or in the back of a police command vehicle and deploy it pretty quickly. How fast can it get up and running once you pull a box out and you put the “on” button?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] You’re right. You can plug it in to a supervisor vehicle, most of the even smaller SUVs that we see on the market have power outlets, 420W or more. Our unit necessitates about 25W of running power to operate, so it’s very, very minimum. You could take, basically, any type of vehicle with a power outlet, 120 or 110V power outlet, plug it in, and within five minutes, you will be connected to networks. So, it’s very, very quick.
[TODD DEVOE] We have large-scale fires out here on the West, and we have a bunch of different companies coming in and working together. When I say companies, like fire departments and whatnot, coming in to work together. And one of the things that we would go to is the old Bendix King radios, so everybody is on the same communication. And those things are, you know, they’re old, they’re old technology. And work for what they are, but they’re not great. So, this here can replace that, and everybody can use the normal radio? Is that the concept behind it?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Well, no. Actually, and that’s a valid point. The (inaudible) itself is agnostic to technologies used and connected to it. And that is true for connectivity with cell networks, satellites, you know, anything you plug in to the LAN port, for example. It’s also true for the radios, which is an advantage, because it will work with the Bendix King. Let’s take an example, let’s trade this. The Bendix King radios are still used, and highly used, with search and rescue teams. At least they are in Canada. Most of the teams that are using the Base Camp from Toronto, Vancouver, and other cities do have the Bendix Kings. But when they deploy, they have the international mandate. So, they’re kind of like the FEMA teams in the US. When they deploy internationally, like what happened in Ecuador with earthquakes, volcanos erupting and things like that, they will tie in with the local authorities, that will probably not be on Bendix King. So, they can be on Motorola, you know, whatever radio that they have down there. The idea with Base Camp is that you will use your Bendix King radios because you need to operate in (inaudible) mode, for example, while you are abroad, because there’s no tower that’s near you, and you’re not doing your work in a city environment. And you will connect your radios, and make a common channel with the public safety radios wherever you are going out to help out. So, this necessitates to have a system that’s flexible enough and that allows you to have different types of radios, whether they are analog or digital, or trumped or conventional. HF Radios, or (inaudible) radios, or whatever you have there. It allows you to have all those communicate with each other, again, in a very simple way. And it’s an ad hoc network. So, you open the box, you plug those radios into the box, you make a connection between them, and once the event, or the scenario that you’re dealing with doesn’t necessitate to have a common channel, you just unplug the radios and you’re back to where you were. So, if you look at alternatives, they are either infrastructure alternatives, which are expensive, which are complex, and are usually capital expenditure, it’s very big projects. And everything else that we saw was either incomplete or offers a partial solution. You could have an ad hoc Wi-Fi network, but that’s not gonna tie you into different radios, right? Or you could have a radio interrupt module, that’s a stand-alone device, but that will not help you have a phone system while you are out in the field. And not everybody works on radio. So, when you’re talking about emergency and you have NGOs come in, they might be using their own personal cell phones. So, you know, you need to (inaudible) that. So, with everything that we looked at, it was very important for us to have a unit that was agnostic to the radio technology, so we could plug everything in to the satellite technologies, so we could plug everything in depending on what the customers had. And the basic principle is, we’re going to connect to what people already have in their hands, and not make them buy other types of radios, and so on and so forth. So that we can keep a decent price and have them by using their own equipment.
[TODD DEVOE] We’ve run into that problem a couple of times, and I know we can’t trunk other people in. A good example was that there was an event in Orange County where police officers from LA County came in to assist, and it took a little bit for them to be able to get up to our communications level because of (inaudible) systems. We’re encrypted 800MHz, they’re not encrypted, whatever they’re using in LA County. And so, that made it a little bit difficult for us to talk to each other for a little bit. When something like what you were talking about would really help out a lot, especially if it could be done in the field level, instead of having to have to go back to dispatch and have an IT in dispatch trying to figure out what’s going on.
[FRANK RAVENEAU] If you look at the things that are going on with the counties, like Riverside and St Bernardino, they will have, from time to time, you know, collaborative work, let’s put it that way. It’s not something that they’re gonna do on a day-to-day basis, it’s not something that’s regularly done. However, you know, they will need to have, at one point, some interoperability. But it doesn’t make sense for them to do it at the infrastructure level and to spend, you know, a quarter-million dollar for that single event that they’re gonna need it. So, this is why something that is very flexible, you know, a solution like Base Camp, would help them when they have a cross-border communication need, to have an ad hoc network, and then to unplug everyone once they go back to their normal work.
[TODD DEVOE] What about bringing in other disciplines? So, for instance, fire. Although, we’ve seen fire go to 800MHz encrypted as well, but say like, EMS, where they’re on a whole completely different radio system, as far as… I think it’s just basically a two-way radio that they have, I don’t believe it’s encrypted, and I don’t think it’s at the same level as the county. These are private ambulance companies, like American Medical Response, for instance, that actually responded to the active shooter that occurred today… yesterday, I should say, in Las Vegas. How are they communicating with each other? Does this system fix that issue as well?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] It can, yes. Although, most of the work that we do, and most of the demands are coming from either police departments, sheriff departments, search and rescue, and fire; which, of course, search and rescue is part of, normally. We do have ambulance services who also want to be tied in. Normally, you would have, you know, the police and sheriff departments, and the fire departments, call in EMS. So, we don’t see them as much, but they could be as well working with our system. You know, especially if you’re looking at the large events, and you know, we mentioned Vegas, what just happened there, just the Vegas department will not be enough for the needs that they had that day. So, if you have, you know, five, six, seven different companies coming in from different counties to help out, you know, it will still help them out by using Base Camp and having exactly the same type of features and, you know, yeah. The same type of features that you will find with the ones that are used by police and fire.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I mean, that becomes critical. I mean, let’s talk about Vegas for a minute, and there’s not enough data right now to see what the lessons learned are. But, you know, 500 and something are transported, there’s a lot more than just the Vegas Metro fire department transporting people on. So, that is key. I don’t know, I don’t know how far away they’re calling rigs in from, but my experience with EMS is, you know, if you’re talking three people per rig, I mean, how many rigs do you need at that point if you do the math really quick? You know what I mean?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Yeah, yeah.
[TODD DEVOE] So, there’s going to definitely… and then the ready net, specifically, that we have here in California, that will tell us which hospitals to go to. I’m not sure how they work in Vegas, but I’m sure there had to be some coordination of letting them know what hospitals and so, bringing the hospital communication on board would be key as well. There’s a huge need for your system, that’s really…
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Yes. And one thing that’s important as far as the hospitals are concerned, what they are looking at, when they look at the Base Camp, they’re looking at business continuity. So, if their main system goes down, what do they do? It’s a little bit like what an EOC replacement would do. If they need to move the EOC for a different location for whatever reason. An earthquake would be a good one. Then, where do we go? What do we do? And that’s our capacity? And the Base Camp helps on a temporary basis to relocate and have almost the same capacity that they would have normally. The same goes for the hospitals, if we look at events like Katrina, they were basically blocked out from the rest of the world. Having a unit like a Base Camp there, with the satellite dish, it would have allowed them to coordinate their work a lot quicker with the authorities. You know, we always need to keep in mind that it’s not only the hospitals, the type of work that they are doing with people coming in, but sometimes there’s a need for evacuation. And the need for evacuation is usually happening when there’s a failure of all systems; communications and others. And they need to evacuate to make sure that they keep people safe. So, that is also a need that is considered when they’re looking at it at a business continuity perspective.
[TODD DEVOE] Look at Oklahoma, where the entire hospital for that city was gone. I mean, literally, it was in pieces. And then also down in Florida, when they evacuated the hospitals just during Irma. So, I do see it, again, another piece for that. The biggest frustration I’ve ever had when I’ve ran calls is that communication piece of trying to get a hold of… who do you need to get a hold of to give the information, or you need the ETA, and sometimes, you know, the systems fail. A responder frustration is there, I could imagine what it is for the frustration for the hospitals, now knowing how many people are coming in, and what the conditions of patients are so they can be prepared for them on a mass casualty type situation, if the communication goes down.
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Yeah.
[TODD DEVOE] So, what does the future look for you guys, as far as the technology coming out? I mean, how are you guys expanding and what’s your market reach?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Well, of course, you know, we keep a close eye on everything that’s being put out, we talked about FirstNet. You know, as I said before, the governor of Texas, after the recent events, said that they’re gonna go ahead and fund the necessary resources to have FirstNet available. The Base Camp is ready for FirstNet. So even if somebody buys it now and goes on FirstNet in two, three, four years from now, they will be able to operate their Base Camp with FirstNet. So, that’s something that’s pretty important. We’re looking at, you know, all sorts of technologies. We go to the IWEC show every year to see what else is out there and what are the developments. We pair up with companies, even with radio companies that have their radio interoperability modules, to integrate that within our systems. So, we are looking, you know, the basic idea where the Base Camp is agnostic to technology, again. So, we’re trying very hard to make sure that, as we go down the road, if there’s, you know, switches and technology, it is not difficult for our customers to switch to that without replacing everything from the Base Camp. And one of the biggest examples I think it’s 5G or next-gen LT, or whatever they’re gonna call it. Should they switch to next generation LTE, it will be very simple for our customers to maybe change one or two units within the Base Camp, and keep on operating the system, you know, without the need of changing everything.
[TODD DEVOE] Well, that’s really cool.
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Yeah. And in terms of networks, that applies to, you know, where we’re going in the future. You know, search and rescue, by the nature of their work, is very important for us. Whether they’d be FEMA teams, or type-2 teams, or type-3 teams, we are in close contact with these people to let them know that we exist, that we do, we, as I said, we’re a Canadian company, we have basically all of the search and rescue teams in Canada, the large type search and rescue teams are using the Base Camp already. So, it’s already been proven in the field. We also reach out to fire, police, and sheriff departments throughout the States. And of course, we need to prioritize, and of course, California is one of our priorities. Where, you know, there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of hazards. And there’s a lot of needs. So, we basically cover California all the way to Florida, and right up to the East Coast. That’s where we concentrate our efforts, let’s say, for the coming year. And then we also have agreements, of course, with people who work in the Midwest and on the Northeast and the Northwest. And we sell through either partnerships or direct, they’re two. But we definitely concentrate on some niche markets where the FEMA teams are located, for example. And that will drive our business for the next year or so. And then, if we’re talking, you know, have this same conversation maybe in two or three years from now, we’re gonna have expansion in Europe, we’re gonna have expansions in Southeast Asia, and in other countries that don’t have the same infrastructure that we have, that don’t have the same initiatives that we have, like FirstNet, but that have crying needs for something that works in the field. So, we are looking at that very closely to develop in the next couple of years.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I’ve been to parts of the world where if you don’t have a satellite phone, you’re not gonna get any connection. So, something like the Base Camp is really important. Ok, so, if somebody wanted to get a hold of you guys, and to have a demo or see what you guys do, how can they find you?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] So, it’s very simple. Basecampconnect.com is our website. We want to put as much information in the hands of people, so they can decide for themselves if they want to pursue it or not. So, there’s a lot of videos that are on the website, there’s explanations on what the system does, and its capacity. And if they are interested, they can either click on one of the buttons that will ask them, you know, “I wanna know more, please contact me,” “I want to schedule a live demo to understand better how it works,” or “I understand what this is doing, I want a quote.” So, you could do all three, request a quote, request a demo online, or request us to call you to have more information, directly from the website. There’s also (inaudible) that are out there. Email, very simple, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org, and the phone number is there too, it’s a toll-free number, 855-900-3539. And my extension is 2004. So, any way that people want to reach us, it’s pretty simple to do that, and we usually respond within the hour.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s great. For those of you guys that don’t have a pencil on your hand, if you’re driving on the road, all the information will be down in the show notes. So, don’t fret, you can still get that information. All right, Frank. Toughest question of the day, are you ready for it?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] I think so.
[TODD DEVOE] Ok. What book would you recommend to somebody who is in this field?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Yeah, toughest question of the day, definitely. Well, you know, if it’s in regards to the products and guidelines and what to do, and I don’t want to necessarily sell what we’re doing here, but we have eBooks that are more general than just product specific on what to think of when you buy a mobile command vehicle, for example. And you know, of course, communications are included in there. I’d have to say that, it’s not a book, but one of the people that I really like to follow on LinkedIn is Craig Fugate, and Craig Fugate is an ex-FEMA director. He’s very active on LinkedIn, posts a lot of stuff in there, and some of them are do’s and don’ts, and why things are working or not. And it’s not necessarily technology, you’re gonna see sometimes that it’s gonna be procedures, and it can also be about policies. You know, he wrote an article on how to mitigate floods in areas that, I’d say, urban areas have kind of stepped over natural flood-prone, maybe flood-prone areas, but that nature itself repairs much quicker than we do, it overfloods. So, interesting articles on how to re-think sometimes urban development, all the way to what to do to avoid losing your goods when a hurricane hits. And then, of course, it goes all the way to policies and all that stuff. So, very interesting person to follow.
[TODD DEVOE] All right, Frank. Well, is there anything else you’d like to add before we let you go?
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Well, I think we’ve covered a lot in the short 25-30 minutes that we talked. I’d say that usually our system and what we just talked about today, spurs a lot of questions. You know, is this thing going to work with what I have? Does it work in the area that I have? What does it cost? And all sort of (inaudible). So, I would encourage people to just reach out and ask whatever questions they have, and we’d be more than happy to answer them.
[TODD DEVOE] Awesome. Well sir, thank you so much for being here, I can’t wait to see your product out there in the field doing what it’s supposed to be doing.
[FRANK RAVENEAU] Thank you for having me on the air, I really appreciate it. I look forward to hearing back from our and everybody who listens to the podcast.