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The GS, IT and PH Departments are currently finalising the installation of a new digital radio communication system. Known as TETRA, the system has been specially designed to meet emergency communication needs and will be used by the CERN Fire Brigade from next January.


A delicate operation: one of the three radio antennae of the TETRA communication system is installed on top of the water tower on the Meyrin site. Photo: Anthony Grossir.

A blurred image followed by a blank screen. Marc has collapsed while carrying out maintenance work on technical equipment. It's 6.00 a.m., he's on his own and there's little chance of the firemen being alerted in time to save him. This scenario, although already unlikely today, will be impossible with the arrival of the new TETRA communication system.

TETRA is a digital radio communication system already in service in many fire brigades across Europe. It will soon be used by the CERN Fire Brigade, as well as by hundreds of CERN personnel and contractors' staff working down in the tunnels. "This new redundant radio system is operated and monitored internally at CERN, with round-the-clock support, guaranteeing us maximum reliability," explains Aurélie Pascal (IT/CS/CS), the TETRA project leader. "This is a great improvement on the VHF* systems we've been using up to now."

TETRA radio systems are designed for emergency communications but also allow users to send messages of the type "Arrived at destination" or "Taking charge of the patient" so that the progress of call-outs can be monitored by the command post in real time. "This feature will be a big help in optimising the firemen's work in the field," says Yann Lechevin, the project coordinator for the Fire Brigade.  Another interesting feature of TETRA radios is that they are equipped with a "lone worker" alarm, which alerts the fire station if anyone working in isolation is prone and no sign of movement is detectable for an extended period or in the event of a crash or bump or other such impact. This could be supplemented with a geolocation system that works even in the tunnels, as the installation of 5,000 underground position indicators from 2013 onwards is under study.

The system, which entered the test phase a few days ago, is being deployed across the whole CERN site. Three radio antennae were installed: one on the water tower on the Meyrin site, one on the Prévessin site and one at Point 4 of the LHC. The radio coverage stretches as far as the Saint Julien hospital in France and should be extended to include the route to the Geneva University Hospital next year; discussions on the subject are currently underway with the Swiss authorities. These antennae will also benefit the French and Swiss fire brigades, allowing them to use their communication equipment in CERN's underground infrastructures.

"The CERN Fire Brigade will start using the TETRA network next January. We'll be deploying almost 500 radios to meet the communication needs of CERN's different groups, services and experiments," says Sascha Schmeling, from the PH Department, who is coordinating the project for users other than firefighters and guards. These radios will be reachable by the Fire Brigade 24 hours a day and "visible" on a map (in the event of an accident only). So Marc – and everyone else – can feel reassured.

*Very High Frequency
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by Anaïs Schaeffer