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Communications key for post-disaster command and control

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Keith Schalk, an Arkansas Air National Guard Airmen, raises the top of the antenna that utilizes satellite systems to increase communications during responses to natural disasters in the state. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jessica Roles)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Keith Schalk, an Arkansas Air National Guard Airmen, raises the top of the antenna that utilizes satellite systems to increase communications during responses to natural disasters in the state. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jessica Roles)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Disasters occur throughout the world, often with little or no warning. In Arkansas, the 189th Airlift Wing’s Rapid Augmentation Team and Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC) provide quick support and relief to communities affected by tornadoes, flooding and other natural events. Communication is key to ensuring the required information is shared and received.

The communications flight at the wing stepped up to provide the support needed in the event of a natural disaster by modernizing and restoring the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability. The JISCC is built for emergency preparedness.

The goal of the JISCC is to maximize effectiveness by bridging first responder communications systems and deliver high-bandwidth capability anywhere.

“When we go into an emergency like the MEOC does, we have an advantage,” said Tech. Sgt. Keith Schalk, a 189th Communications flight information systems security manager and JISCC project lead. “We have a communications system that coincides with the MEOC and is able to provide comms for all the first responders supporting the disaster relief effort, whether they are state or federal.”

The JISCC provides not only satellite IP connectivity but also radio frequency network interoperability, allowing command and control to be established only hours after any disaster. The equipment is made from a standard design that is interchangeable with other Department of Defense network systems.

The JISCC also includes a Voice over Internet Protocol capability, allowing first responders to use handheld radios to communicate, thus improving productivity across the different supporting agencies and eliminating duplicate efforts. Schalk said the communication system is so flexible, emergency responders can communicate with each other from counties or even states away using an ACU interoperability device compatible with a JISCC.

Extremely compact, the JISCC can be transferred to nearly any location in support of a mission. The entire communications requires six people and only a few hours to set up, once a site is established. The main requirement for the JISCC to work effectively is a clear distance of separation. This allows the systems to send and receive messages from the satellites quickly and concisely.

“We have a lot of comm folks consisting of new and eager Airmen who are excited to be part of this opportunity,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Sewell, 189th Communications Flight network operations and JISCC alternate project lead. “We’ll have a team A and team B that’ll consist of the right amount of people. ... We get the call and we’re ready to go out within 24 hours.”

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