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Connected Through a Disaster

Just as residents of many south Florida towns prepare their homes and families for natural disasters—boarding up windows, stocking up on vital supplies, identifying evacuation centers, etc.—city officials must also take steps to ready for these emergency situations. After being hit hard by hurricanes in 2004 and 2006, city leaders in Coral Gables, Florida, created a resistant, reliable communications network to safeguard its infrastructure and ensure uptime of critical services. With the adoption of IEEE 802® standards, the City of Coral Gables developed a system that enables residents to stay connected even when Mother Nature strikes at her hardest.

Raimundo Rodulfo is the director of information technology for Coral Gables. His team works with city leadership to achieve efficiencies, innovation and process improvements through technology solutions, smart city initiatives and projects. When Rodulfo started with the city as an IT analyst in 2004, the network was simpler, more segregated and less burdened with diverse services to support. From every perspective, the needs and expectations of the network have grown more challenging and complex in the years since. Rodulfo’s team led the creation of a new, more robust network based on IEEE 802 about 10 years ago.

In September 2017, the new system was put to the test when Hurricane Irma—considered to be the continental United States’ most powerful hurricane since Katrina of 2005—delivered tremendous damage to the Northeastern Caribbean and much of Florida. Irma lashed Coral Gables, with numerous downed power lines, trees and traffic lights throughout the city. The system survived the storm and was able to provide digital services and communications to emergency responders and constituents during and after the wrath of Irma.

“Because of the resilience of our infrastructure, we’ve been able to sustain critical services such as police, fire and 911 emergency systems and communications, even though many of our network sites lost power during Hurricane Irma,” said Rodulfo. “We’ve created a robust design based on IEEE 802 protocols. Through those standards, failover capabilities are built in the design of our network at multiple layers—at the fiber optics, metropolitan Ethernet network, satellite systems or point-to-point wireless links.”

Poor interagency communication during emergency response and recovery operations can have disastrous consequences for a city and its residents. Coral Gables officials had learned through experience that could not depend solely on a terrestrial communication infrastructure due to the destructive nature of tropical storms and hurricanes. Such events can uproot wireless base stations, disconnect vital communication cables, and flood central offices. The old system offered a limited degree of redundancy and lacked interoperability between public safety agencies.

In order to update the system, Coral Cables looked to industry standards developed by IEEE. The IEEE 802 suite of end-to-end networking standards underpin the internet, “Wi-Fi®,” the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, cloud computing, the smart grid, computer gaming, eHealth, industrial automation and numerous other high-tech applications. IEEE 802 standards undergird the functionality and resiliency of products and services so that cities like Coral Gables can avoid dire communication failures. The new system developed by Rodulfo’s team uses a combination of redundancy layers to ensure uptime and availability.

“We learned a lot from hurricanes in 2004 and 2006, and that influenced subsequent designs,” Rodulfo said. “For example, we learned that there would be a high probability of losing power completely in different areas. We learned the hard way that not all the service providers would be 100 percent available, so we learned to be more and more diversified.”

Despite large-scale hurricane damage, the metropolitan network maintained critical information systems during and after Hurricane Irma. Vital sites never lost communication with each other or with the responders’ fleets. The network’s performance in such a challenging circumstance not only merited accolades in the IEEE Standards Association 2017 World Standards Day video contest, it also earned Rodulfo and his team recognition for a job well done from the mayor of Coral Gables, Raul Valdes-Fauli.

As soon as the threat of Hurricane Irma passed, Rodulfo, his team and other city officials put heads together to review new lessons learned.

“Every experience is an opportunity for continuous improvement,” he said. “We are continually reviewing and upgrading the network core and working to make it smarter. There is always the challenge of maintaining mission-critical services and cybersecurity and increasing speed and capacity to support new smart city services, and we constantly have to make our network more resilient.”

Rodulfo’s department maintains and supports more than 200 home-grown programs and off-the-shelf applications, including specialized products for the enterprise, public safety and community services. Information technology is a key component of the city’s emergency management and operation plans. His team is called upon to ensure resilience, security and high-availability technology services and communications during emergency events, as well as during normal operations. Most recently, Coral Gables has implemented a new Crime Intelligence Center, deployed CCTV and license-plate readers and acquired and deployed CrimeView applications. These innovative advancements are helping to prevent and fight crime as well as improve safety and quality of life for residents, businesses and visitors.

As public-safety agencies become more dependent on the sharing of data, images and video during and after emergencies, a robust network is vital for cities like Coral Gables. Because of IEEE 802 protocols, the city is ready to meet the needs of these agencies and its residents, even in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Irma. Consensus technical standards such as IEEE 802 help the world stay connected in chaos.

Check out the 2017 World Standards Video above.

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Beyond Standards features contributions from IEEE SA’s global network of volunteers, members, staff, and partners, serving as a trusted source of information, education, and inspiration for industry, government, academia, and the public.

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