Simon Fraser University (SFU)
A natural disaster along B.C.’s West Coast could put Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus into the thick of the region’s emergency communications response.
A high-speed, wireless link that connects the campus to the nearby Surrey-based Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centre (PREOC) supports ongoing SFU research at the centre—and would also serve as a vital backup communications lifeline for the region.
“Beyond facilitating our research, this link serves as a critical backup communications link for Emergency BC (EMBC), and all of the supporting emergency agencies and utilities that may be called upon to assist at the PREOC in support of a large scale emergency in Southwestern B.C.,” says Peter Anderson, director of SFU’s Telematics Research Lab (TRL) in the School of Communication.
Anderson and colleague Stephen Braham played a backup role in the recent Cascadia Rising emergency exercise, which simulated the consequences of and responses to a 9.0 magnitude earthquake on the West Coast. In the event of a real emergency the Surrey PREOC will be the region’s hub, coordinating communications and emergency response and recovery operations with communities from Vancouver to Pemberton and Boston Bar.
The SFU Surrey link was originally established by the TRL, in conjunction with SFU Network Services, to support the University’s participation in emergency arrangements for the 2010 Olympics.
Since then Anderson and Braham have continued to refine SFU’s backup capabilities, including systems embedded in the University’s Advanced Mobile Emergency Communications (AMECom) vehicle. The unit was conceived and outfitted by Anderson and Braham at SFU’s Burnaby campus and is now housed permanently at the PREOC.
The vehicle also provides a test-bed to develop new generations of mobile communication support systems, and currently serves as an active emergency response capability for B.C. and local authorities.
Since initially created more than a decade ago, the vehicle has been dispatched to myriad provincial emergencies, including floods and wildfires, and was on standby during the recent Fort McMurray and northern B.C. fires. A mobile satellite trailer is also stationed at the PREOC.
“There are wide-ranging challenges to emergency communications and disaster planning throughout the province,” says Anderson. “A 900 km flight up B.C.’s coast translates into over 26,000 km of intricately winding coastline. Given its remote channels and physical ruggedness this is one of the toughest places in the world in which to communicate.” Anderson’s ongoing work is also helping to inform plans to refine B.C.’s tsunami warning system.
“Through our work at SFU, the University has become a national leader in emergency communications,” says Anderson. “After years of research and remote testing we can now deploy our systems virtually anywhere.
“Our latest system connects to networks through a variety of different means including satellite systems, as well as existing Internet services,” he says.
“We’ve been testing the technology in Metro Vancouver, the Central Interior and in the Yukon, and have become the national lead for developing a rapid, deployable public safety broadband LTE cellular system.”
Anderson, who continues to fine-tune and test systems, also draws from the experiences responses to international disasters and has visited the sites of many of the world's most devastating events.