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Homeland Security

Rescue 21 communications network

In September 2002, the U.S. Coast Guard hired General Dynamics Decision Systems of Scottsdale, AZ on a $611 million contract to replace its outdated communications system in a project titled Rescue 21. Rescue 21 will act as the maritime "911" system for coastal waters. Prior to Rescue 21, the Coast Guard's backbone communications network was the National Distress and Response System (NDRS), established in 1970. The VHF-FM-based radio communication system had a range of up to 20 nautical miles along most of the U.S. shoreline. While this system served the Coast Guard well over the years, it consisted of out-of-date and non-standard equipment with many limitations including:

  • Imprecise direction finding capability.
  • Numerous geographic coverage gaps.
  • Lack of interoperability - for example, with other emergency response services.
  • Single-channel radio operation, which prohibits the ability to receive radio calls when the system is previously engaged in a transmission.

Harnessing the latest in technology, Rescue 21 will be an advanced command, control, and communications system that will improve the ability of the Coast Guard to execute all missions in the coastal zone. Furthermore, the system enables quicker response to distress calls and increases coordination with federal, state, and local agencies. At completion, Rescue 21 will cover more than 95,000 miles of coastline, navigable rivers and waterways in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Rescue 21 will provide the U.S. with a maritime distress and response communications system comparable to systems in Great Britain and Norway, only on a much grander geographic scale. The Coast Guard's new system will also rival the land-based systems that many state and local emergency services already have in place. More Americans have access to and are utilizing our waterways for recreation, commerce and tourism, resulting in more waterways traffic, and therefore, emergencies. Annually the Coast Guard conducts 40,000 search and rescue cases and saves 4,000 lives.

The system will consist of approximately 46 Coast Guard region/sector command centers and 220 stations/field offices outfitted with Rescue 21 hardware, software and supporting communications equipment (radios, antennas, routers, workstations, etc). In addition, approximately 3,000 handheld communications devices, and 350 communications towers configured with transmit/receive antennas will overhaul the Coast Guard's legacy VHF short-range communications system.

Rescue 21 revolutionizes how the Coast Guard uses command, control, and communications for all missions within the coastal zone. The system incorporates direction-finding equipment to improve locating mariners in distress, improves interoperability amongst federal, state, and local agencies, enhances clarity of distress calls, allows simultaneous channel monitoring, upgrades playback and recording feature of distress calls, reduces coverage gaps for coastal communications along navigable rivers and waterways, supports Digital Selective Calling for registered users, and provides portable towers for restoration of communications during emergencies or natural disasters. Rescue 21 will also increase position localization - within 2 degrees - of VHF-FM transmissions, so rescue vessels have a dramatically smaller area to search. It will increase the number of voice and data channels from one to six, allowing watchstanders to conduct multiple operations. It will incorporate protected communications for all Coast Guard operations, position tracking of certain Coast Guard assets such as boats and cutters, provide digital voice recording capability with immediate, enhanced playback, improving the chances for unclear messages to be understood. If properly registered with a Mobile Maritime Service Identity (MMSI) number and interfaced with GPS, the DSC radio signal transmits vital vessel information, position, and the nature of distress (if entered) at the push of a button.

In order to implement Rescue 21, visits by Coast Guard and other personnel to Coast Guard units will lead to the development of a Detailed Regional Implementation Plan (DRIP) for each of the regions. Establishment of remote antennae sites will support the Rescue 21 system and the installation of a data network that connects facilities with Coast Guard communications centers. After the data network is installed, the actual, physical installation of the communications equipment at Coast Guard facilities, communication centers, and vessels throughout the region will take place and the old system will be shut down and Rescue 21 will become active. There will be continued, ongoing follow-up maintenance and support of the Rescue 21 system.

Rescue 21 will replace consoles at all Coast Guard activities, groups, stations, and marine safety offices (about 270 facilities), all remote transceiver sites, as well as the network connecting them to the facilities above, equipment on nearly 700 Coast Guard vessels, and approximately 3,000 portable radios. While cost overruns and schedule delays pushed the timeline for achieving full operating capability from 2006 until 2011, Rescue 21 is in place in Atlantic City, NJ; Eastern Shore, VA; Mobile, AL; St. Petersburg, FL; Seattle, WA; and Port Angeles, WA as of 2006.

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Page last modified: 13-07-2011 12:51:27 ZULU