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Drones, Balloons Could Serve in Crises

FCC explores Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture

An arm of the Federal Communications Commission recently released a white paper detailing some possible high-tech steps to ensure reliable communications for first responders in times of crisis.

Bureau Chief James A. Barnett Jr. said the study examines the use of communications capabilities on aerial platforms now employed by the military.

Early this year the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released a notice on a communications infrastructure, Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture (DACA), to be deployed when terrestrial systems become insufficient or damaged. Now its latest paper includes recommendations to the commission from the bureau.

Technologies mentioned to deploy emergency services include small unmanned aerial vehicles (SUAV), that fly to an altitude of 500 feet and support a single frequency band for cellular services; outfitted weather balloons acting as repeaters to carry multiple frequencies longer distances; high-altitude, long-distance unmanned vehicles (HALE) providing a greater payload at specific locations, reducing the potential for interference; and suitcase systems placed on low-flying aircraft to be used as repeaters.

The release outlines a few specifics on the potential uses of DACA. According to the white paper, DACA could be deployed within 12 to 18 hours following a disaster, and would be able to restore necessary lines of communication for a period of 72 to 96 hours. The system would restore cellular services for wireless priority service (WPS), Government Emergency Telecommunications Services (GETS) and 911 calls, as well as public safety communications.

The paper notes the required cooperation of FEMA, the FAA and federal, state and local authorities on the coordination of spectrum usage and prevention of spectrum interference from the DACA system.

White paper (PDF)

DACA Encyclopedia Entry