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Rescue 211

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Coast Guard expands wireless maritime 911 system

By Greg

December 7, 2007The Coast Guard is expanding the coverage of its Rescue 21 wireless command-and-control system for port security and enhanced direction technology for maritime search and rescue in the New York and Delaware Bay areas in January 2008.Software problems initially delayed production of the high-tech network that is deployed on radio towers that dot the coastline and inland waterways. Those glitches have been resolved, says Coast Guard Capt. Mike Christian, and Rescue 21, built by General Dynamics C4 Systems in Scottsdale, Ariz., has entered full production.Designed to replace the obsolete National Distress Response System built during the 1970s, the $735 million Rescue 21 system is being installed over the next 14 months and eventually will provide wireless communication along 95,000 miles of coastline and waterways.Christian said the most significant challenge has been finding adequate radio tower space, because both the government and commercial sectors now compete for the best locations. The Coast Guard has found that it's much cheaper to rent tower space from cell phone providers than to build its own.One of the most important features of Rescue 21 is its ability to plot the exact location of a rescue call. "It's amazing how many times we get calls from mariners who don't know where they are, or they don't have any navigation equipment, or they're lost in the fog," Christian said. Now, the Coast Guard can get a direct line of bearing on the caller and greatly speed rescue times.Rescue 21 also allows archiving of the digital calls, and since many transmissions are garbled, they then can be digitally enhanced and deciphered.While the contract requires the system to provide coverage out to 20 nautical miles and have the ability to pick up a 1-watt transmission from an antenna only 2 meters above sea level, Christian said most radios are 25-watt power and in some areas, the Coast Guard has been able to pick up calls from well over 100 miles out to sea.In addition, the old system had a single channel, which meant the Coast Guard could monitor only one emergency call at a time. The Rescue 21 system provides five VHF channels and is interoperable with UHF systems used by law enforcement and emergency first responders.The direction technology also helps the Coast Guard weed out hoaxes, which Christian said comprise 15 percent of all calls. "When they call and say they're sinking, but the direction finding says they're on shore driving around in a pickup truck," he said, the Coast Guard doesn't deploy its aircraft and boats.

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