Firefighters put out network not-spots with SD-WAN

30 August 2018

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) is one of the UK’s largest fire and rescue organisations, employing around 1,295 firefighters on constant standby to deal with fires, accidents, explosions, severe weather and other hazards. It also employs some 46 control personnel and 266 support staff across its central service headquarters at Kelvedon in Braintree, six other administrative sites, and 51 fire stations.

ECFRS is said to be very forward-thinking in its use of new technology, and last year it made the decision to install a state-of-the-art mobilising system for its new control room. At any one time, the service has around 350 concurrent users based across more than 50 sites, and its computer systems are heavily virtualised. Microsoft servers with an MPLS network connect all locations to the new purpose-built call centre at Kelvedon.

ECFRS has two Incident Command Units (ICU) based at Basildon and Clacton. In the event of a major incident, these can be sent to the location of the emergency to provide communications for the officers in charge to coordinate the rescue efforts. The vehicles are equipped with all the technology required to manage communications for a major incident and need to provide 100 per cent uptime.

A Vector Command Support System with a server is used in each ICU linking to a server back at headquarters. The two units each carry a 3G modem on board, plus a satellite modem and a Wi-Fi connection, as well as the relay switches between these different networks. However, 3G coverage can be patchy at best, and for many incidents there is no 3G connection at all.

ECFRS’ IT team therefore started to look at SD-WAN as a possible way forward to overcome these problems. John White, the organisation’s ICT communications manager, said: “Having heard about Talari through a conversation with the sales manager from our systems integrator Teneo, I became curious to learn how SD-WAN appliances would work in the mobile ICUs.”

White says that after realising Talari’s system might be able to find the fastest route across the network and increase the bandwidth available, he decided to test whether the connections to the ICUs would be better with the vendor’s SD-WAN Adaptive Private Networkingappliances on board.

Testing began with the installation of the vendor’s SD-WAN platform in a vehicle together with four 3G modems, one on each of the Vodafone, O2, Three and EE networks. The ICU was then driven around the countryside, and White’s team discovered a marked improvement.

After the Talari appliances were purchased and installed in both units, along with extra 3G modems, the links became far more reliable, and significantly faster.