IBM, Cisco Preach Crisis Services

IBM and Cisco hope to turn the debate over crisis communications from a hardware issue to a service solution, launching today a service based on a managed approach.

Most efforts to maintain continuous access to critical infrastructure during and after storms like Hurricane Katrina and terrorist attacks are focused on product-based, individual solutions for crisis response, only to ultimately fail due to integration or interoperability issues.

“A state will come up with its own solution [for emergency communications], but it turns out the solution is inoperable with solutions in another state,” Ian Steinberg, IBM’s global crisis management executive, told “Most solutions are partial solutions where customers have to buy stuff. Now they can buy it as a service.”

The new IBM Crisis Management Services for Crisis Response service combines communications, collaboration and coordination technologies with satellite and wireless capabilities. Key components of the service are multiple management platforms that utilize a service-oriented architecture (SOA) .

A Cisco spokesman said the joint IBM-Cisco project is designed to take a “holistic” approach by joining desperate systems together. By combining hardware, software and satellite-based capabilities as one service, IBM and Cisco say they are creating a one-stop emergency response communications network.

“Customers always ask about equipment, but the technology is already there for interoperability,” the spokesman said. “Existing equipment can be made to work together very well.”

Steinberg said the joint project began as a response to first responder interoperability issues, but IBM  and Cisco  quickly realized that businesses and governments need the same capabilities.

“Who can afford to have the network down?” he asked. “It’s all about accelerating the recovery.”

The platforms range from a suitcase-sized tactical communications kit for rapid deployment for emergency response teams, to a six-wheel truck that delivers large-scale network, communications and information-based services. All of the platforms use Internet Protocol-based communications and standards-based, off-the-rack equipment.

The magnitude of the crisis determines the platform needed. “The technology piece of the solution could be one or more of the platforms. It’s plug-and-play.”

As for interoperability, which first responders still struggle with and Congress has granted billions of dollars to fund emergency systems, Steinberg said using IP-based communications solves the problem.

“We use wireless at the [crisis] location and satellite to send communications to the back office,” he said. “The technology is there for interoperability.”

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