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European GERYON Project to modernise communications in Emergency Services of Hospitals

The University of the Basque Country is leading a project to modernise communications in the emergency services. The engineer Fidel Liberal is the coordinator of the GERYON European initiative.

A research team in the Department of Communications Engineering of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) is leading the European Project GERYON which is seeking to improve and modernise the communications used by the emergency services. Firstly, it sets out to eliminate the incompatibilities existing among certain systems in order to facilitate interconnection among ambulances, firefighters, police, etc. And secondly, to combine the best of each system: the security of the classical emergency transmitters with the multimedia capability offered by the broadband of the 4G networks. GERYON, which got going in December 2011, is scheduled to take 30 months, has funding of 2.5 million euros from the European Commission, and a total budget of 3.5 million. Apart from the UPV/EHU, another six European organisations, including the Basque organisations Itelazpi and Grupo CYS, are participating in it. GERYON is being led by the UPV/EHU in the person of Dr Fidel Liberal, who is the general coordinator and a researcher of the NQaS (Networking Quality and Security) group located at the Faculty of Engineering in Bilbao. Seven members of this group are in fact participating in the Project. They specialise in the LTE standard (used by the new 4G mobile devices) and in IMS, a mechanism that manages modern multimedia communications. As Liberal explains, the contribution that NQaS is making to the project focusses on “developing mechanisms to enable the latest mobile networks to provide communications that are just as robust and secure as the emergency networks and, likewise, that will allow high-quality multimedia photos, videos and data to be transmitted.” Today, the communications systems of the emergency services have significant incompatibility problems. For example, two networks may have the same technology yet be unable to connect with each other for the simple reason that they come from different manufacturers. “This hampers operations when it comes to co-ordinating an emergency involving more than one of these bodies, and the problem is much greater if we consider crisis situations affecting several countries, because the technological difficulties are compounded by others to do with different operations, hierarchy and ways of working. That accounts for the European interest in the project," explains Liberal. But that is not the only problem. Today, emergency transmitters offer unbeatable quality in terms of audio and security, but they lack other features that would be very valuable in emergency situations and which, paradoxically, are in fact offered by any mid end mobile device. “It is not unusual to see a member of an emergency team receive an order over his or her walkie-talkie and then take out his/her mobile phone to check out addresses, data of interest, etc.” points out the co-ordinator. These are some of the shortcomings of, for example, TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) technology, a standard European network currently used by many emergency services. “TETRA is designed to be robust, secure, but on the other hand, its capacity to send and receive photos, video and information is very limited,” says Liberal. The idea behind GERYON is in fact to develop all this over TETRA, and improve it: “We are not planning to substitute this technology, but to complement it so as to get the best of both worlds.” With today’s walkie-talkies the various emergency services can talk with the maximum levels of security and clarity. The idea of this project is to make available multimedia terminals that make this possible and much more: Internet access, the sending of photos and videos of the emergencies, browsing systems, etc. “It will be possible to avail oneself of much fuller information than is the case at present, and in real time, thus facilitating co-ordination among the different teams,” says the co-ordinator. And not just the teams that handle emergencies. The platform being proposed would also be advantageous for the members of the public who, through their smartphones, will be able to communicate with the emergency services more effectively: “Something along the lines of an improved emergency number 112.” GERYON is still in its early days, as it is not expected to be completed until halfway through 2014. So far, the researchers have concentrated mainly on gathering information from the emergency services to see what their priorities are. “On the basis of these needs and an exhaustive analysis of the LTE, IMS and TETRA capabilities, the phase dealing with the general design of the system has been virtually completed. It will consist of using IMS as the basis to deploy these services and interconnect the various networks,” concludes Liberal.