One of the most critical challenges facing first responders is interoperability: when those on the frontlines need to collaborate with one another across different government agencies during times of crisis, the simple act of sharing emergency, life-saving information is often impossible.

First responders need true interoperability, by which we mean the ability to communicate and share data with whom they need, when they need, regardless of network, device, platform or solution. Government agencies have tried valiantly to solve this decades-old, life-or-death challenge. The time is now, once and for all, for an industry-led approach, leveraging advances in technology to deliver this critical functionality to all public safety agencies and the communities they serve across the nation.

The terror attacks of 9/11 as well as annual large-scale natural disasters demonstrate clearly that a lack of interoperability has contributed to loss of life. Yet despite the rapid pace of technology evolution, progress toward interoperability has been slow. During a recent Verizon Town Hall event, former Arlington, Va., Fire Chief Ed Plaugher, a member of the Verizon First Responder Advisory Council (VFRAC), reminded us all that 9/11 was a tipping point that exposed the weaknesses of existing non-interoperable solutions.

“Interoperability reached its precipice on September 11 where we had a very difficult time, due to the nature of the terrorist attack, and we had the inability to provide a simple radio message and were overwhelmed,” he said. While collaboration and communication among first responders has improved over the years with Land Mobile Radios (LMRs), he added, “even they haven’t fixed the problems of connecting to other agencies.” By 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, police and firefighters from the same government agency could communicate with each other, but not with first responders from other municipalities.

VFRAC member Chief Daniel Oates, who led the Aurora, Colorado Police Department at the time of a mass shooting at a movie theater there in 2012, stated in our recent Town Hall: “When you have 250 people responding from 15 different agencies, you might technically have interoperability but with only one radio channel you don’t have communications. In an ideal world, the modern thinking of policing is several channels of interoperability: one for basic police operations, one for command, one for tactical operations and certainly one for speaking with other government agencies that you will be coordinating a response with.”

Verizon has decades of experience supporting public safety agencies. Today more federal, state, and local first responders rely on Verizon’s award-winning network and public safety-grade products and solutions than any other carrier. We understand from our customers and experience just how critical cross-agency communication and collaboration is during emergencies and natural disasters, which is why we support true interoperability and have spent years building out our capabilities to deliver it.

Driving interoperability forward
From law enforcement to emergency medical services to fire, the requirements for interoperability are similar across all critical public safety agencies: the need for dispatch connections, plus real-time situational awareness with access to maps, data and integrated communications and information sharing that ensures every agency and first responder is in the know.

For years now Verizon has been building our products and networks to ensure robust interoperability capabilities across agencies, jurisdictions, carriers, and devices: from priority network access built to the Department of Homeland Security’s standards, to preemption services that meet international standards and the technical requirements of federal, state and local public safety bids; from mutual aid roaming to our partner application ecosystem; from our public safety private network core to local network control functionality for commanders on the ground in an emergency; from LMR integration to our recently announced mission-critical Verizon Push-to-Talk Responder.

Collectively, these innovations give first responders what they need most: the situational awareness within and during emergencies to do their jobs effectively and collaborate with one another to save lives and to protect property.

We cannot achieve true interoperability however until all carriers, device manufacturers, platform and solutions providers commit to building their solutions to interoperability standards. Verizon isn’t waiting for that; we have partnered with Mutualink to enable first responders to easily create secure group communications for improved collaboration and data sharing in near-real time, giving agencies greater control and choice when cross-agency communications are mission critical.

Moreover, our interoperability roadmap continues to evolve at the pace of innovation. Verizon’s build out of 5G Ultra Wideband, for example, will enable first responders to take advantage of high-speed transmission and sharing of massive amounts of data through applications such as high-definition video.Technology companies provide much of the critical infrastructure of the modern state and develop products that affect fundamental rights. Search and social media companies, for example, have set de facto norms on privacy, while facial recognition and predictive policing software used by law enforcement agencies can contain racial bias.

In this episode of Deep Tech, Marietje Schaake argues that national regulators aren’t doing enough to enforce democratic values in technology, and it will take an international effort to fight back. Schaake—a Dutch politician who used to be a member of the European parliament and is now international policy director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center—joins our editor-in-chief, Gideon Lichfield, to discuss how decisions made in the interests of business are dictating the lives of billions of people.

Also this week, we get the latest on the hunt to locate an air leak aboard the International Space Station—which has grown larger in recent weeks. Elsewhere in space, new findings suggest there is even more liquid water on Mars than we thought. It’s located in deep underground lakes and there’s a chance it could be home to Martian life. Space reporter Neel Patel explains how we might find out.

Back on Earth, the US election is heating up. Data reporter Tate Ryan-Mosley breaks down how technologies like microtargeting and data analytics have improved since 2016.
Gideon Lichfield: Well, it’s not quite that bad. But there is an air leak in the space station. It was discovered about a year ago, but in the last few weeks, it’s gotten bigger. And while NASA says it’s still too small to endanger the crew… well… they also still can’t quite figure out where the leak is.

Elsewhere in space, new findings suggest there is even more liquid water on Mars than we thought. It’s deep in underground lakes. There might even be life in there. The question is—how will we find out?

Here on Earth, meanwhile, the US election is heating up. We’ll look at how technologies like microtargeting and data analytics have improved since 2016. That means campaigns can tailor messages to voters more precisely than ever.

And, finally, we’ll talk to one of Europe’s leading thinkers on tech regulation, who argues that democratic countries need to start approaching it in an entirely new way.

I’m Gideon Lichfield, editor-in-chief of MIT Technology Review, and this is Deep Tech.

The International Space Station always loses a tiny bit of air, and it’s had a small leak for about a year. But in August, Mission Control noticed air pressure on board the station was dropping—a sign the leak was expanding.

The crew were told to hunker down in a single module and shut the doors between the others. Mission Control would then have a go at pressurizing each sealed module to determine where the leak was.

As our space reporter Neel Patel writes, this process went on for weeks. And they didn’t find the leak. Until, one night…

Neel Patel: On September 28th, in the middle of the night, the astronauts are woken up. Two cosmonauts and one astronaut that are currently on the ISS. And mission control tells them, “Hey, we think we know where the leak is, finally. You guys have to go to the Russian side of the station in the Svezda module and start poking around and seeing if you can find it.”

Gideon Lichfield: Okay. And so they got up and they got in the, in the module and they went and poked around. And did they find it?

Neel Patel: No, they have still not found that leak yet. These things take a little bit of time. It’s, you know, you can’t exactly just run around searching every little wall in the module and, you know, seeing if there’s a little bit of cool air that’s starting to rush out.

The best way for the astronauts to look for the leak is a little ultrasonic leak detector. That kind of spots frequencies that air might be rushing out. And that’s an indication of where there might be some airflow where there shouldn’t be. And it’s really just a matter of holding that leak detector up to sort of every little crevice and determining if things are, you know, not the way they should be.

Gideon Lichfield: So as I mentioned earlier, the space station always leaks a little bit. What made this one big enough to be worrying?

Neel Patel: So..the.. you know, like I said before, the air pressure was dropping a little bit. That’s an indication that the hole is not stable, that there might be something wrong, that there could allegedly be some kind of cracks that had been growing.

And if that’s the case, it means that the hull of the spacecraft at that point is a little bit unstable. And if the leak is not taken care of as soon as possible, if the cracks are not repaired, as soon as possible, things could grow and grow and eventually reach a point where something might break. Now, that’s a pretty distant possibility, but you don’t take chances up in space.

Gideon Lichfield: Right. And also you’re losing air and air is precious…

Neel Patel: Right. And in this instance, there was enough air leaking that there started to be concerns from both the Russian and US sides that they may need to send in more oxygen sooner than later.

And, you know, the way space operations work, you have things planned over for years in advance. And of course, you know, you still have a leak to worry about.

Gideon Lichfield: So how do leaks actually get started on something like the ISS?

Neel Patel: So that’s a good question. And there are a couple ways for this to happen. Back in 2018, there was a two millimeter hole found on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

That was very worrisome and no one understood initially how that leak might’ve formed. Eventually it was determined that a drilling error during manufacturing probably caused it. That kind of leak was actually sort of good news because it meant that, with a drilling hole, things are stable. There aren’t any kind of like aberrant cracks that could, you know, get bigger and start to lead to a bigger destruction in the hull. So that was actually good news then, but other kinds of leaks are mostly thought to be caused by micro meteoroids.

Things in space are flying around at. Over 20,000 miles per hour, which means even the tiniest little object, even the tiniest little grain or dust could you know, just whip a very massive hole inside the hull of the space station.

Gideon Lichfield: Ok so those are micro meteoroids that are probably causing those kinds of leaks, but obviously there’s also a growing problem of space debris. Bits of spacecraft and junk that we’ve been thrown up into orbit that is posing a threat.

Neel Patel: Absolutely space debris is a problem. It’s only getting worse and worse with every year. Probably the biggest, most high profile, incident that caused the most space debris in history was the 2009 crash between two satellites, Iridium 33 and cosmos 2251. That was the first and only satellite crash between two operational satellites that we know of so far. And the problem with that crash is it ended up creating tons and tons of debris that were less than 10 centimeters in length. Now objects greater than 10 centimeters are tracked by the Air Force, but anything smaller than 10 centimeters is virtually undetectable so far. That means that, you know, any of these little objects that are under 10 centimeters, which is, you know, a lot of different things are threats to the ISS. And as I mentioned before at the speed that these things are running at, they could cause big destruction for the ISS or any other spacecraft in orbit.

Gideon Lichfield: So it’s basically a gamble? Yeah? They’re just hoping that none of these bits crashes into it, because if it does, there’s nothing they can do to spot it or stop it.

Neel Patel: No, our radar technologies are getting better. So we’re able to spot smaller and smaller objects, but this is still a huge problem that so many experts have been trying to raise alarms about.

And unfortunately, the sort of officials that be, that control, you know, how we manage the space environment still haven’t come to a consensus about what we want to do about this, what kind of standards we want to implement and how we can reduce the problem.

Gideon Lichfield: So… They still haven’t found this leak. So what’s going on now?

Neel Patel: Okay. So according to a NASA spokesperson quote, there have been no significant updates on the leak since September 30th. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, released information that further isolated the leak to the transfer chamber of the Svezda service module. The investigation is still ongoing and poses no immediate danger to the crew.

Gideon Lichfield: All right, leaving Earth orbit for a bit. Let’s go to Mars. People have been looking for water on Mars for a long time, and you recently reported that there might be more liquid water on Mars than we originally thought. Tell us about this discovery.

Neel Patel: So in 2018, a group of researchers used radar observations that were made by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter to determine that there was a giant, subsurface lake sitting 1.5 kilometers below the surface of Mars underneath the glaciers near the South pole. The lake is huge. It’s almost 20 kilometers long and is, you know, liquid water. We’re not talking about the frozen stuff that’s sitting on the surface. We’re talking about liquid water. Two years later, the researchers have come back to even more of that radar data. And what they found is that neighboring that body of water might be three other lakes. Also nearby, also sitting a kilometer underground.

Gideon Lichfield: So how does this water stay liquid? I mean Mars is pretty cold, especially around the poles.

Neel Patel: So the answer is salt. It’s suspected that these bodies of waters have been able to exist in a liquid form for so long, despite the frigid temperatures, because they’re just caked in a lot of salt. Salts, as you might know, can significantly lower the freezing point of water. On Mars it’s thought that there might be calcium, magnesium, sodium, and other salt deposits.

These have been found around the globe and it’s probable that these salts are also existing inside the lakes. And that’s what allowed them to have stayed as liquid instead of a solid for so long.

Gideon Lichfield: So what would it take to get to these underground lakes? If we could actually be on Mars and what might we find when we got there?

Neel Patel: These lakes, as I’ve mentioned, are sitting at least one kilometer sometimes further, deeper, underground. Uh, there’s not really a chance that any kind of future Martian explorers in the next generation or two are going to have the type of equipment that are gonna allow them to drill all the way that deep.

Which is not really a problem for these future colonists. There’s plenty of surface ice at the Martian poles that’s easier to harvest in case they want to create drinking water or, you know, turn that into hydrogen oxygen, rocket fuel.

The important thing to think about is do these underground lakes perhaps possess Martian life. As we know on Earth, life can exist in some very extreme conditions and it’s, you know, at least a non zero chance that these lakes perhaps also possess the same sort of extreme microbes that can survive these kinds of frigid temperatures and salty environments.

Gideon Lichfield: Alright so maybe we don’t want to try to drink this water, but it would be great if we could explore it to find out if there is in fact life there. So is there any prospect that any current or future space mission could get to those leaks and find that out?

Neel Patel: No, not anytime soon. Drilling equipment is very big, very heavy. There’s no way you’re going to be able to properly fit something like that on a spacecraft. That’s going to Mars. But one way we might be able to study the lakes is by measuring the seismic activity around the South pole.

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