Even among the largest state-wide systems, network monitoring practices vary from strict, structured 24/7 internal operations to a reactive approach – responding only to complaints from system users.
Why are relatively few Public Safety systems proactively monitored? Back in the days of software-free radio systems, not much could go wrong. As long as there was power at the sites, power amplifiers did not burn, and antennas were not damaged by lightning, your system was probably in good shape. Should anything go wrong, your subscribers would quickly tell you that their channel was not working. As a result, many people in charge of digital radio systems do not give monitoring a sufficiently high priority.
Dedicated 24/7 resource can be expensive, but your network should be monitored, regardless of size, using the approaches matching your needs and capabilities. Alternative methods to 24/7 Network Operations Centers (NOCs) include:
- system monitoring terminals at dispatch centers,
- automatic page or text messages to technical or administrative personnel in case of an alarm,
- ad hoc monitoring by local service providers (internal or external).
So while you don’t need 24/7 staffing if you have a good alternative system in place, simply maintaining the status quo for the many under-monitored systems is no longer viable. Software-dependent digital networks are subject to glitches, viruses and compatibility issues. They are heavily dependent on correct operation of complex subsystems such as fiber backhaul (often provided by a telco), and are subject to frequent software upgrades. So they are much more vulnerable than analog systems.
As networks become more complex and interconnected, a virus brought into a dispatch console (perhaps doubling as a gaming PC during the slow hours) can cause serious issues for your entire network.
Your P25 network should be monitored regardless of its size, with management methods and resources that match your organization’s needs and capabilities.
At RF sites/equipment rooms:
- Copper theft,
- Power loss,
- Antenna system failures
- Environmental issues
- Lightning strikes
At dispatch centers:
- Backhaul failures
- Fiber – operator errors
- Microwave – weather
- Theft and misuse
- Too many to list!
Maintenance and administrative equipment:
- People accessing the terminal and changing parameters haphazardly without reporting it to anyone
Who should monitor your network?
The technical tools for monitoring P25 networks are well known and widely available. Network management applications can monitor system activity and compile useful analyses and reports. These, in turn, can be used to observe trends, identify over (or under) utilized sites and consoles, and anticipate where channels or sites need to be added.
A greater challenge is to obtain technical resource to monitor and interpret network status information.
Systems with thousands of users (state-wide networks, large counties or major metropolitan areas) should operate their own 24/7 network operation centers (NOCs). NOC personnel typically monitor network performance and take responsibility for system configuration, user ID creation and talk group management.
Where dedicated 24/7 NOCs are not feasible, you can look for a shared one, using a mix of vendors, local service shops, and large systems nearby.
A shared NOC can monitor system performance metrics, provide alerts, deliver performance reports. In the event of an alarm, often a vendor may not even need to involve you to rectify the issue. A disadvantage is that you may be competing for a shared NOC’s attention with other systems, and a vendor is likely to be monitoring remotely via the internet, which is of less use in a disaster.
A multi-layered approach with a manufacturer or vendor, service provider and internal techs means lots of eyes watching your system from multiple perspectives – your in-house experts during the day, and a contracted local vendor or a friendly NOC at night.
If you choose to monitor your system yourself, remember that the tools provided and expectations placed on your maintenance team are critical to success.
Active monitoring allows you to respond proactively, and not to simply rely on your users’ complaints. Where this is feasible you should set up alarms to trigger paging or SMS to technicians on duty. If you involve your PSAP, educate your field staff and dispatch well. For example, when a call is dropped, users must report formally which radio and location, so you can keep track of events. Make this process a part of your standard operating procedures.
Monitoring by dispatch
Some agencies opt for dispatch personnel to monitor their networks. This is controversial for two reasons:
- This additional task can potentially conflict with dispatchers’ primary life-saving and property-saving responsibilities.
- System monitoring and issue reporting requires technical knowledge beyond the understanding of most dispatchers.
Ideally you would not burden your dispatch personnel with monitoring, but it may be a matter of necessity, typically due to financial constraints. On the positive side, properly set-up alarm systems may be embraced by dispatch personnel.
If you must use your dispatch personnel for self-monitoring:
- provide appropriate training, including scheduled refresher sessions,
- provide clear instructions and SOPs,
- strive for a balance, making sure monitoring receives sufficient attention without interfering with the primary objectives of the dispatchers,
- bring all alarms, clearly labelled, to one terminal so that the monitoring personnel can easily interpret them and commence the appropriate course of action.
No Public Safety communication system should rely on complaints from users as its principal monitoring method.
However, officers in the field will provide invaluable radio performance information, for better diagnosis of issues like dead spots and interference.
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