Huntsville engineers build nationally-recognized life-saving communication

Updated: Mar. 4, 2019 at 12:08 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -Over the last two decades both foreign and domestics acts of terrorism have scarred the American public, leaving them searching for answers.

After each of these tragic events, security experts, government officials and media outlets all echo the same thing: “We have to do something.”

Some call for gun control, others mental health outlets, but one resolution almost all agree on is the need for more reliable communications between first responders, coupled with faster response times to emergency situations.

Natural disasters are no different.

2005′s hurricane Katrina and more recently, the California wildfires, brought devastation and destruction to thousands of people. During these types of widespread events, emergency personnel and state, local, and regional officials typically have an ‘all hands on deck’ type of approach to disaster responses.

At these times, the need to communicate seamlessly and efficiently with different departments is imperative.

Unfortunately, traditional radio communication prevents communication across agencies because different agencies use different types of radios and those radios don’t work together (interoperate).

“Several years ago, our town fell victim to a series of tornadoes that wiped out our radio towers,” said Assistant Fire Chief Chad Fugitti, a Tango Tango user in Illinois. “We were completely unable to communicate with each other via hand radios. Had we a system to connect to other agencies, the response and recovery effort would have been a lot better.”

“To address the emergency situations, whether that is a fire, a school shooting, or a hurricane, first responders must be able to collaborate across different radio channels and frequencies,” said Phillip Kovacs, CEO of the Huntsville-based communication agency, Tango Tango. “Interoperability is key."

Tango Tango is a secure, cellular communications software designed to integrate any handheld radio system to any smartphone, on a carrier-without geographic limitations.

“On 9/11 the New York Police Department could not use their radios to communicate to the New York Fire Department. The inability to communicate and interoperate resulted in increased fatalities. Many cities across the country face the same problem today,” said Guntersville Police Chief Jim Peterson, who began using Tango Tango’s service with the local Sheriff’s Office and the city schools last year.

Unlike standard handheld radios, Tango Tango transmits messages via wireless internet, as opposed to traditional radio towers, which have limited capabilities geographically.

With wireless technology, law enforcement has the ability to connect regardless of distance or affiliation.

For example, Guntersville Police was not able to connect to the State Emergency Medical Assistant officials through radio communication before implementing Tango Tango.

“Tango Tango’s interoperability is unparalleled. We started using it in June at Hydrofest, which is a large boat race on Lake Guntersville that involves thousands of spectators and hundreds of boats and sometimes, in-climate weather,” said Chief Peterson.

“As you can imagine, the race involves coordinating and communicating with a number of outside emergency agencies. Tango Tango allows us to have a separate channel that does not disrupt the normal day-to-day traffic and crime radio communication.”

After the success of Hydrofest, the Guntersville Police force began using Tango Tango in its day-today operations.

Additionally, Chief Peterson collaborated with Guntersville City Schools to implement the technology giving teachers and Student Resource Officers (SROs) the ability to directly contact law enforcement via Tango Tango in the event of a school shooting or any other emergency.

The Chief recalled a particular incident familiar to most Alabama residents when traditional radio communications hindered his team’s ability to respond.

“if you were in Alabama on April 27, 2011, you know the damage and destruction (from tornadoes) we experienced,” said Chief Peterson. “You also know about the outpouring of support law enforcement and first responders received from other states. However, many of us had a difficult time communicating with the outside agencies we needed to work with because we couldn’t talk to them on our hand radios. Moreover, we couldn’t talk to many of our own state agencies,” said Chief Peterson.

Peterson says Tango Tango would have solved that problem.

Aside from voice capabilities, Tango Tango allows its users to share GPS locations, emergency alerts, and multimedia messages.

“We’ve used the messaging feature to send pictures of crime scenes and even house fires. It’s such a valuable tool and adds another layer to communication,” said Chief Peterson.

The wireless technology also provides coverage to users in rural areas where radio signals are unreliable or cannot cover an entire area.

“We cover a very rural area, so reception is traditionally spotty using our radios, but that’s not an issue when we use Tango Tango,” said Fugitti. “We even put it to the test by contacting one of our off-duty officers who was on vacation in the Smokey Mountains where there is almost no radio coverage; the sound was crystal clear.”

Word has spread about the technology, which is helping law enforcement agencies across the county more effectively communicate.

“The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Police in South Dakota adopt the Tango Tango technology because two-way radios could not reach across the entire reservation. The area was far too large, so they started using our software and service,” said Kovacs.

Agencies in 22 states across the nation now use Tango Tango to help their team communications. Those teams reach as far west as California and as far north as South Dakota. It currently has more than 2,500 users.

Many agencies in the Tennessee Valley have integrated Tango Tango into their communication systems including: Jackson County Police, UAH Police, Arab Police, Arab Fire and Rescue, Boaz Police, Guntersville Police, Guntersville City Schools, and most recently Huntsville Police. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) uses the service to help its officers cover a seven-state-territory, and Jack Daniels Fire Brigade uses the service to help protect their warehouses.

“Tango Tango is cost effective and easy to use. We’ve used other ‘push-to-talk apps’ but the technology and customer service does not compare,” continued Chief Peterson. “Tango Tango has a lot of features that the big name providers don’t have, like messaging and the ability to share geo-locations.”

People may wonder why first responders don’t just pick up the cell phone and make a call, but in emergency situations where team communication is essential, cell phones are inefficient and unreliable.

“To use a cell phone requires-unlocking your phone, finding the number, waiting (ring time) before someone answers, and most of the time you can only get three people on a conference call. It costs valuable time and it’s not practical," said Chief Fugitti.

Kovacs suggests that Tango Tango’s most important feature, the ability to cross connect any radio with any cellular provider, makes it an ideal application for some of our country most pressing problems.

“Today, federal and local law enforcement cannot cross-communicate via hand radio along the Southern border,” said Kovacs. “In one hour, Tango Tango could have local law enforcement talking to the Border Patrol talking to the Coast Guard.”

“While we may disagree on what needs to be done on the Southern Border, I think we can all agree that federal and local law enforcement agencies should be able to communicate with one another via radio.”

Politics aside, Tango Tango users across the county are communicating more efficiently, responding to emergency situations more quickly, and more importantly, saving lives.

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