Alerting emergency crews in the event of disruptions and crises

02.07.2019

Interruptions to the supplies of gas, water and electricity need to be remedied as quickly as possible. One key element of this is the setup and permanent operation of an on-call service with technical equipment to match. This blog article focuses on the demands made on communications equipment and telecommunications systems and services, especially in relation to alerting emergency crews in the event of disruptions, major outages, emergencies and crises.

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Disruptions and crises

"Interruptions to the supplies of gas, water and electricity to the public need to be remedied as quickly as possible. The organisational and technical resources required for this need to be kept ready within companies and appropriate emergency crews kept on standby" [1]. The legal basis for this is provided by the Energy Industry Law (EnWG), especially Section 49 , requirements for energy systems as well as the Technical Rules of the DVGW Deutscher Verein des Gas- und Wasserfaches e.V, Worksheet GW 1200 Principles and organisation of an on-call service for gas and water utilities, and the notes on crisis management by the network operator S 1002 of the FNN Grid Technology / Grid Operation Forum in the VDE.

The organisational and technical requirements include the establishment of an emergency crew which can start remedying disruptions immediately, the maintenance of a reporting centre that can be reached at all times, as well as suitable communications equipment that can safeguard the exchange of information between the reporting centre and the fault resolution service at all times [2]. Professionally trained and reliable personnel is of course another essential requirement.

In crisis management, the stakes are much higher. Beyond normal operation that is prepared for disruption, successful crisis management also requires the company to follow a special set of structures and procedures in the event of a crisis [3].

Alerts and warnings 

The generally understood definition of the word alert means a warning signal in the event of danger, unrest or being on call, while in the military sector it can even represent a call to arms, but also a call for help [4].

We consequently understand alerts to mean all of the steps required to relay such a "warning signal" to emergency crews.
Since emergency crews are prepared and trained for fault resolution or crisis situations on their deployments, generally speaking the information that needs to be communicated is primary mission data - namely the type of disruption and its location. In the event of a crisis, more extensive information may be needed, especially for employees of the company who are not part of the immediate on-call team. In this case, in addition to alert systems, more suitable warning systems need to be used. Warnings contain not only the primary mission information, but also generally more detailed instructions since, although employees may be trained and skilled, they may not currently be prepared for what they are about to face. In most cases, such situations also involve the ability to contact certain employees and bring them in outside normal working hours for a particular mission, e.g. to serve on the crisis committee.

If the warning is issued for certain population groups, a completely different communication approach is needed, but one that can be taken by using modified alerting systems such as the ones used for alerts in the event of disruptions and crises.

In all cases, the rapid and secure - as well as unambiguous - communication of information is essential. Starting the disruption resolution process by determining the nature and extent of the disruption takes absolute priority. More detailed communication or active feedback is required at most for the rendezvous at the mission site

Reliability, availability and functionality

The requirements in terms of the alert systems used for raising the alarm are therefore determined by the technical parameters of reliability and availability, but also functionality.

Reliability is the property that determines with what constancy a technical function assigned to the system is fulfilled over a period of time, i.e. how reliably the communications system or communications equipment operates. The parameter of reliability is essentially determined by the individual technical components of the alert system, with the reliability of such a system frequently being described by the time interval MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) for repairable system components. 

Availability is the likelihood of a technical system fulfilling certain requirements within a given time period, i.e. how likely it is that the communications system or equipment will work.
The parameter of availability is primarily determined by how long technology-related disruptions and downtimes of the actual system, but also environmental influences, human input, other technical systems, weather conditions, power outages, and so on, can prolong the times during which an alert system, for example, cannot be used. The goal must therefore be to protect an alert system as much as possible from external influences of all kinds and to use suitable technical facilities.

Fig. Technical requirements on alert systemszoom
Fig. Technical requirements on alert systems

Functionality is the property that determines how functionally suitable the communications system or equipment is for supporting the relevant operating procedures. The functionality of an alert system specifies how functionally mission information for trained emergency crews or start information for prepared actions is communicated. In addition to this, particularly suitable communication methods, overlapping radio coverage areas, the independence of public telecommunications networks and essential components equipped with uninterruptible power supplies have a crucial role to play. It is also imperative to have appropriately dimensioned receiving equipment (pagers) and all of the components in an alert system must be configured exclusively for the alert function.

Alerts as a service 

For alerts to the on-call service in the event of disruption or to service crews in the event of a major outage or emergency, but also in crisis situations, suitable telecommunications equipment and services must be maintained for the organisation's own staff both within and outside normal working hours. If there is a widespread outage of the power supply, it must be assumed that the public telecommunications systems (e.g. land lines, mobile telephones, Internet) will only have limited availability or will fail completely after a short time. If a grid operator is dependent entirely on public communications systems, its in-house services and processes, as well as communication with third parties, can be severely impaired [5].

e*Message Wireless Information Services Deutschland GmbH offers suitable alert and warning systems for companies in the critical energy and water infrastructure sectors.

The e*Cityruf radio paging service helps industry, utility companies, disposal companies, logistics companies and various service companies to reliably communicate alert and messaging information across the whole of Germany.

e*Message Wireless Information Services Deutschland GmbH has many years of practical and professional experience in the operation of radio networks and, in the last few years, has proven its reliability, expertise and performance on numerous occasions to the Federal Grid Agency (BNetzA), its supervisory body. For this reason, the Group has been assigned the required frequencies long-term [6].

All of the requirements listed above are offered to users as a service in accordance with company-specific structures and procedures.

Alerts are communicated in accordance with regulated procedures and standards NP2M [7] and POCSAG[8].

The pager networks for safety-critical alerts to emergency crews comprise central system components in the Network Operation Centre (NOC) and around 800 transmitter locations in Germany.

Full grid management is effected within the NOC with high availability and redundancy . All operationally relevant systems are designed in duplicate. The operating concept of the central system components safeguards the uninterrupted continuation of function even if entire or partial individual components unexpectedly fail. Pages that are already in the system are delivered reliably. It also remains possible to receive and process incoming calls.

Communication with the NOC that is independent of conventional terrestrial communications networks is possible via a Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT).

The satellite-supported transmitter station network comprises around 800 stations working independently of each other that receive, process and synchronously transmit information across the whole of Germany [9].

The exposed transmitter stations, as well as the high permitted transmitting powers of up to 100 W, mean that the radio coverage areas largely overlap, essentially ensuring that radio signals can be received in indoor areas such as cellars, underground garages and buildings, too.

Appropriate pagers are available for all kinds of user requirements. Every pager or even groups of pagers can be reached through a uniquely assigned call number (special phone number) or e-mail address. For applications with enhanced security requirements, closed user groups (CUGs) or the encrypted transmission of information content (128-bit AES) are available.

As well as simple pagers, which indicate alerts through an audible signal or the display of numeric symbols (calling phone numbers), pagers are also available that can display text messages and which are suitable for use in environments at risk of explosion (ATEX) .

Whether the service is used in the event of disruptions and crisis situations to provide primary information, or redundantly to increase the reachability of on-call crews, all of the various (local, regional or even national across Germany) requirements can be met.



[1] EnWG, Energy Industry Law, § 49 Requirements on Energy Systems, July 2005 (BGBL. I S. 1970, 3621)
[2] GW 1200 Principles and organisation of the on-call service for gas and water utilities, August 2003
[3] S 1002 Safety in the electricity supply, notes for crisis management by the network operator, FNN, November 2011
[4] www.dwds.de/wb/Alarm
[5] S 1002 Safety in the electricity supply, notes for crisis management by the network operator, FNN, November 2011, 6.5 Telecommunications systems and services, P.17 of 36
[6] Spezialnetz-was ist das?, Volker Berlin, Netzpraxis, Issue 55 (2016), Vol. 11, P 34-37
[7] ETSI TR (Technical Report) 103 102 V1.1.1, August 2013
[8] ITU Rec. (Recommendation) ITU-R M.584-2, Codes and Formats for Radio Paging, (1982-1986-1997)
[9] Safe communication on pager networks from e*Message W.I.S. Deutschland GmbH, Berlin, July 2018  


White paper: Professional alerts for on-call services  

This white paper will discuss the process of alerting on-call services as a crucial element of disruption management. It offers a summary of the requirements and suitable alert systems such as digital paging over specialist radio networks.

White Paper for download
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Dr. Klaus Hütten
Director Sales
e*Message W.I.S. Deutschland GmbH

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