Communications Engineering Services

Communications Engineering Services (CES) provides the equipment, support, and expertise necessary to operate the statewide EMS communications systems and to support public safety interoperability in direct alignment with the Vision 2030 key goals of developing, sustaining, and collaborating with relevant constituents for the advancement of EMS communications. CES ensures that every county and every town in Maryland has a well-functioning, up-to-date, and accessible EMS communications and response system through continual evaluation and maintenance. CES overcomes challenges by successfully maintaining strong partnerships and communication with public safety partners, including Maryland State Police, Maryland State Highway Administration, Department of Natural Resources Police and Forestry, Maryland Department of Transportation and the Transportation Authority, Maryland Department of Emergency Management, Homeland Security Border Protection, and our 9-1-1 centers and Counties.

Public Safety Interoperability Network (PSInet)

Communications Engineering Services (CES) deploys, administers, and maintains the Public Safety Interoperability network (PSInet), a statewide, private IP-based public safety network composed of fiber, microwave, and wireless links that support critical data and voice communications managed by MIEMSS. PSInet is the foundation upon which the EMS communications system upgrade to an IP-based EMS system, being implemented through the Communications Upgrade Project (CUP), is built, and it is vital to MIEMSS’ future operations. Deployed across the state, the network provides connectivity into Maryland State Police barracks, MIEMSS regional operating centers, jurisdictional emergency operations centers (EOC), public safety answering points (PSAP), state and jurisdictional health departments, hospitals, and other allied agencies. Applications that currently operate on PSInet in addition to MFiRST include Digital Emergency Medical Services Telephone (DEMSTEL); Central Maryland Area Radio Communications (CMARC); other systems monitoring/controlling the state’s public safety microwave network, and tower infrastructure.

In FY 2023, CES continued to migrate systems to new, more resilient technologies that enhance services provided to the EMS community. CES was involved in several major projects intended to evaluate and maintain a well-functioning, up-to-date, and accessible EMS communication and response system. Its major efforts this year included Public Safety Microwave Systems updates; continued work on the Communications Upgrade Project (CUP); completing coverage across Maryland with a 700 MHz radio system; addressing issues related to the Verizon copper retirement project; and a full schedule of maintenance on the communications systems. While CES is leveraging newer communications systems such as MFiRST, a large portion of departmental responsibilities and resources involves maintaining or improving current systems to provide the best service possible to EMS clinicians and the public.

CES’s chief responsibilities include its leadership in the design, implementation, and maintenance of the Microwave System for EMS communications in Maryland. This critical system supports MIEMSS, Maryland State Police (MSP), Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), Maryland counties' public safety radio systems, and other partners. It includes the statewide 700 MHz radio system project (MFiRST). Microwave systems are critical for reaching remote areas within that state that do not have access to newer technologies. Beyond CUP, in FY 2023, CES upgraded key microwave links to enhance the reliability and resiliency within the current communication systems plan. This included strategically placing Ethernet-capable radios in key locations to further support CUP. The upgrade of these microwave links across Maryland provides a more robust and reliable transportation of radio traffic (backhaul) that will sustain an effective EMS communications system for years to come. The following are notable microwave path replacements locations upgraded this year and in effect expand the native Ethernet network and enhance connectivity for CUP:

  1. Bressler Building to Jessup tower
  2. Jessup tower to College Park MSP tower
  3. Bressler Building to State Office Building
  4. State Office Building to Hopkins Blalock Building
  5. Hopkins Blalock Building to Bayview Hospital
  6. Bayview Hospital to Essex Community College
  7. Essex Community College to Hickey tower
  8. Frederick Law Enforcement Center tower to Montevue Lane tower
  9. Frederick Law Enforcement Center tower to SHA District 7 tower
  10. Montevue Lane tower to Gambrill Mountain tower
  11. Gambrill Mountain tower to Lambs Knoll tower
  12. Gambrill Mountain tower to Quirauk tower
  13. Gambrill Mountain tower to Marlu Ridge tower 
  14. Sideling Hill tower to Fairview SHA tower 
  15. Naylor Mill tower to Bucktown tower
  16. Bucktown tower to Dorchester 9-1-1 tower
  17. Dorchester 911 tower to Easton MSP tower
  18. Easton MSP tower to Parole MSP tower

Since 2019, CES has continued to make progress on CUP. As older systems have become more prone to failure and increase the risk of outages, the work on the microwave system has supported critical upgrades needed to advance CUP and reduce vulnerabilities to the communication system. As systems become outdated, vendor support is commonly reduced for those products, further increasing vulnerability. During this reporting period, the Region III Emergency Resource Center (EMRC) experienced a four-hour outage due to a failure of a critical power supply in the patching system, and Region I EMRC experienced a microprocessor board failure in August 2022. Events such as these reveal the importance of making significant headway toward the completion of CUP. Systems such as the Region III EMRC patching system have been operational for 25 years, and though proactively replacing these systems is desired, proactivity without significant downtime because of the integrated design of the power system is nearly impossible. While similar system failures are anticipated in future, continual systems monitoring along with specific and essential employee training and development will enable CES to quickly resolve incidents with minimal downtime.

Maryland First Responder Interoperable Radio System Team (MFiRST)

Maryland First Responder Interoperable Radio System Team (MFiRST) is a statewide system with encryption capabilities for public safety. MFiRST is designed to provide radio communication across the entire State. Upon completion, it will allow a public safety official located at Deep Creek Lake to talk with their counterparts in Ocean City. The system will also provide air-to-ground channels for public safety flight operations.

Communications Engineering Services (CES) serve on the Radio Control Board and its Operations Committee. The Radio Control Board is responsible for coordinating the operation and maintenance of the Statewide Public Safety Interoperability Radio System. In FY 2023, CES developed interfaces to enable all Maryland jurisdictions to leverage the MFiRST system for medical consultation and obtain medical direction via Emergency Medical Resource Center (EMRC). MFiRST’s final phase was finished in April 2023, completing coverage across the state, and it is expected that Maryland State Police Aviation Command (MSPAC) communications will migrate completely to the MFiRST system. MFiRST efforts are now focused on a coverage improvement program to fill in areas that have been identified as dead spots. Meanwhile, CES continues to support the VHF low-band system to allow MSPAC to communicate across the state and successfully promote the creation and adoption of aviation talkgroups (AVTacs) on MFiRST, thus establishing a common gateway between Maryland counties and aviation resources. To date, Talbot, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Queen Anne’s, Kent, Harford, Allegany, Garrett, Dorchester, Somerset, Washington, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties are actively advancing the EMS continuum of care by implementing the AVTac. Several other Maryland counties have committed or are considering the adoption of AVTac as the MFiRST system expands and completes deployment.

Communications Systems Maintenance and Improvements

To ensure Communications Systems Maintenance and Improvements, Communications Engineering Services (CES) continually upgrades microwave power and battery systems throughout the state to ensure reliable backup power for critical systems. CES established remote control and monitoring capabilities for the power systems and other system components to better respond to maintenance needs of the system. After the COVID-19 outbreak diminished, remnants of the pandemic continued to make remote access for Maryland Poison Control (MCP) essential. To support this telework solution, CES continued to work with MCP in FY 2023 to develop an intricate patching solution that will deliver high-quality service to meet its needs.

To accelerate progress of the CUP project, a switch was made to an IP-based communication system for Region V. CES began transitioning Region V hospitals to full-time use of the new Cisco 8851 Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones and network infrastructure to provide for a smoother future transition to the new all-network solution. It accomplished this by combining the current analog technologies with a hybrid network solution using voice gateways. Twenty-four of 26 hospitals in Region V have been converted to VoIP, leaving only two to complete in FY 2024. Hospital connectivity development in Regions I and III is continuing while core patching development for the system's reliability and functionality is tested. Phase II hospitals connectivity, MedStar Franklin Square, Northwest Hospital, Meritus Health, and Garrett Memorial Medical Center have been completed by the vendor.

CES worked with Laurel Hospital to coordinate the installation of the required network equipment to ensure the successful opening of its new campus in June 2023.

Verizon Copper Retirement Program

Approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission, the Verizon Copper Retirement Program precipitated the loss of Franklin Square’s circuit in July 2023, which required transitioning the hospital to using the CUP project strategy. Communications Support Services (CES) developed a microwave link to Franklin Square ahead of the region's proposed schedule. CES will develop solutions for any additional hospital circuits pending notification from Verizon.

EMRC Back-up Sites / Continuity of Operations

A Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) is essential. MIEMSS has been addressing the need for a new Emergency Medical Resource Center (EMRC) and System Communication (SYSCOM) Backup Center capable of fully supporting current EMRC and SYSCOM operations in the event that the primary communications center becomes unusable due to a building infrastructure failure, disaster, or other unplanned event. In April 2022, a partnership with the Harford County Department of Emergency Services offered space in its 9-1-1 center to MIEMSS operations. Communications Engineering Services (CES) successfully installed a network virtual environment that allows for off-site data storage and will support the advancements to EMS communications to realize the creation of a Backup Center that is geo-diverse from MIEMSS HQ. This advancement in technology is key for a stable COOP, making it essential to seek the appropriate procurement of funds to attain the necessary equipment to advance this effort.

In FY 2023, CES expanded its network monitoring and alarm monitoring systems to enable staff to be more efficient and to effect system repairs quickly and decisively. CES continued working to integrate the MFiRST system alarms into the MIEMSS master alarm system to provide daily insight into maintenance and performance issues that allow rapid identification and diagnosis of system problems. This integration leverages the state’s investment in the master alarm system and enables a comprehensive, overall view of MIEMSS, DNR, SHA, and the MFiRST radio infrastructure. This year, the department installed enhanced alarm monitoring at many additional MIEMSS’ tower sites.

Access to PSAP via 911

The three digit number 911 is used to access the local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) in every jurisdiction within the state. By state law, access to 911 was implemented on July 1, 1985. Additionally, by law, enhanced 911 access was mandated by July 1, 1995. Implementation in Maryland of Wireless 911 that includes Automatic Location Information was somewhat slowed because of waivers that were granted by the FCC to the wireless industry. However, significant progress has been made over the past two years with focused efforts instituted by the State Emergency Numbers Board. Funding to support 911 services is through telephone subscriber fees administered by the State Emergency Numbers Board.

Ambulance and EMS Dispatching and Communications

Each county is responsible for the dispatch of its ambulances, usually in response to a 911 call or request from another emergency services clinician. Ambulance dispatching is accomplished by a variety of means, such as manually or computer aided, and initial control is usually maintained by using a fire channel (VHF, UHF, or 800 MHz). All counties have implemented EMD programs to provide pre-arrival instructions to callers to assist in stabilizing patients prior to the arrival of medical assistance.

Once at the incident scene, the medical clinician can use existing medical protocols or may require medical direction depending on the patient’s condition. The clinician accesses the EMS communications system via a EMRC Call channel, county talkgroup Call Channel or Maryland FiRST Call Channel (in some states defined as a Hailing Channel) to obtain a medical channel for consultation with the hospital emergency department.

There are two types of EMS radio communications systems in use within Maryland: Regional (EMRCs) and local. There are currently four regional centers. The Region III EMRC is operated by MIEMSS and services Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford, Carroll, and Cecil counties and Baltimore City. MIEMSS also operates the Region V EMRC which services Frederick, Montgomery, Prince Georges, Calvert, Charles and St Mary’s counties. The Region 1 EMRC servicing Allegany, Garrett, and Washington Counties is operated by Allegany County in partnership with MIEMSS. The Region IV EMRC servicing eight counties on the Eastern Shore is operated by Talbot County in partnership with MIEMSS.

1. EMS Region III EMRC

The EMS Region III med-channel radio communications system is the most complex system in the state. This necessary complexity is due to the population density and the number of medical resources within the region.

EMS Region III comprises Baltimore City and the five surrounding counties. For communications purposes, however, Cecil County (part of region IV) is included in the region III EMRC. The region III EMRC is located in Baltimore at the MIEMSS building. Med-Channel communications is received at EMRC via one of 24 base station sites or through interfaces with local jurisdiction’s 800 MHz systems. EMRC is the central location for establishing medical consultation within the region. Whenever there is a need for medical consultation, the clinician contacts EMRC on Call 1. The EMRC operator directs the clinician to the appropriate med-channel and establishes a patch to the appropriate medical facility. Consultation facilities and multiple hospitals can be patched into a single consultation. The EMRC can also be accessed by local and 800 service dial telephone and a tie into the Region 3 EMRC provides access to all Region 3 area medical facilities.

A Trauma Line radio system is present at the R A Cowley Shock Trauma Center. RF radiating cables allow communications with the attending trauma physician via a portable radio on Med-Channel 5.5. This provides a means for field clinicians to receive medical consultation on trauma patients without the Shock Trauma physician’s movements being restricted.

The EMRC operator maintains a computerized status of all hospitals in the region. The system is known as CHATS (County Hospital Alert Tracking System). The operator provides notification of changes to a hospital’s status to the affected jurisdictions. The CHATS information is also available via the internet from the MIEMSS website.

2. EMS Region V

Region V is served by the region V EMRC located with the region III EMRC at the MIEMSS building in Baltimore. Operation of the region V EMRC is like that described for Region III. It includes Maryland hospitals located within the region, as well as Washington, D.C. hospitals and Frederick County. The region V EMRC is accessed via Med-Channel Call 2 as well as county talkgroups. With the advent of the Maryland FiRST radio system, talkgroups have been setup in to provide the Call and Med interfaces for FiRST users. A tie into the Region 3 EMRC provides access to all of the Region 3 area medical facilities.

3. EMS Region IV (upper shore)

The Eastern Shore area of Maryland’s EMS Region IV (Caroline, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset counties) are served by a regional EMRC located in Easton. The operation is provided by Talbot County using equipment provided and supported by MIEMSS. Access is via Med-Channel Call 2. Several counties also utilize an interface with their 700/800 MHz radio systems for EMS communications via the EMRC. With the advent of the Maryland FiRST radio system, talkgroups have been setup in to provide the Call and Med interfaces for FiRST users. A tie line to the region III EMRC provides access to Baltimore and Washington area medical facilities.

4.  EMS Region I

Region 1 (Allegany, Garrett, and Washington counties) is serviced by the EMRC operated by Allegany County in partnership with MIEMSS, located in Cumberland. Access is via Med-Channel Call 1. With the advent of the Maryland FiRST radio system, talkgroups have been setup in to provide the Call and Med interfaces for FiRST users. A tie line to the region V EMRC provides access to Baltimore and Washington area medical facilities.

Existing Med-Channel Sites

There are presently over 95 med-channel base station sites within the state. The present system allows approximately 95% radio coverage 95% of the time. Voters are used for automated med channel site selection by the EMRCs.

Med-Evac Helicopter Communications System

1.  SYSCOM Helicopter Communications

By regulation, MIEMSS is responsible for med-evac helicopter communications. All med-evac helicopters transporting patients to or from medical facilities within Maryland are required to communicate with SYSCOM. For this reason, twelve VHF 44.74 MHz, six 700 MHz helicopter communications sites were installed across the state and a talkgroups were established on the Maryland FiRST trunked radio system. These sites were strategically located to ensure radio coverage to and from helicopters as reliably available over approximately 95% of the state. The 44.74 MHz communications system uses a voter and transmitter steering device to select the correct site.

The Maryland State Police (MSP) Aviation duty officer, stationed in SYSCOM, has primary responsibility for the dispatching of MSP helicopters. In addition to MSP, U.S. Park Police helicopters may be utilized for med-evac operations. MIEMSS is working with commercial air ambulance services in Maryland to provide use of those services in the event that the MSP helicopters are unavailable or significantly delayed.

Medical communications from the helicopter to trauma centers and other medical facilities are provided by the Region III and Region V EMRCs located at MIEMSS using 47.66 MHz base stations at 10 locations throughout the state. Maryland FiRST also established a six-site 700 MHz multicast system and Maryland FiRST trunked talkgroups for medical patching. Using the EMRC patching systems, the helicopter medic can obtain medical direction or give reports on patient condition to any medical facility in the state.

2.  Flight Following System

A flight following system in SYSCOM provides visual awareness of the status and location of all MSP helicopters. The system utilizes the FAA’s newest tracking system known as Automatic Dependant Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). MIEMSS has partnered with the FAA to increase the coverage area of ADS-B by utilizing the state’s tower sites and transport systems.

The system allows the MSP duty officer to locate and dispatch the nearest helicopter to the scene of an incident. In addition, the system provides an alarm feature which identifies helicopters that are out of communications with the system which allows helicopter emergencies to be quickly identified. Graphic and text displays can be used to locate emergencies, enabling fast responses when a helicopter may be down or in trouble.

3.  Statewide Infrastructure Project

Starting in early 2000, MIEMSS as a key participant in Maryland’s statewide project to construct the necessary infrastructure to support a public safety 700 MHz communications network began upgrading the old analog microwave system with new digital equipment.

The new microwave system is based on 28 T-1 point-to-point links between all of the usable existing and newly constructed communications towers. Connectivity to the county 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) centers is included. The system is divided into five separate backbone segments, northern, western, southern, eastern, and the Baltimore City hospital segment.

MIEMSS has provided all of the engineering services for the design of this network. Other allied State agencies have contributed to the installation of the equipment. Towers and microwave equipment are provided by both the State and the local Counties in a partnership arrangement. Monitoring of the network is primarily done by MIEMSS with access to the management system available to the county and state maintenance personnel.

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