Protecting the Large Hadron Collider

Published:  19 March, 2014

Comms manufacturer recognised for implementing a challenging radio system that enhanced safety for the world’s largest particle accelerator. 

CERN - background

As many as 12,000 people work at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) at any one time, including physicists and engineers from dozens of countries whose collaborative work is aimed at gaining a greater understanding of the fundamental structure of the universe.

CERN's operations are distributed over an area of 60 km2 that straddles the border between France and Switzerland. In addition to 600 surface buildings, CERN has over 50km of underground tunnels, including a 27km-long circular tunnel located some 50-150m underground containing the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator. In 2013, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded jointly to François Englert and Peter W. Higgs for their theoretical work on the Higgs boson, whose existence was recently confirmed by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC.

The safety challenge

With so much of the facility located underground, it was a challenge for CERN to implement reliable communications systems for its fire brigade and for the security and maintenance teams who carry out other safety-related work. Analogue radio systems were already in use, but their limitations included a lack of interoperability between different systems, no ability to track an individual's precise location, and no connectivity to the French or Swiss public safety networks.

To ensure everyone's safety in CERN's unique environment the organisation employs a highly specialised fire brigade who are trained to deal with a wide variety of risks.

CERN organised a call for tender for an integrated replacement system that overcame these limitations, and selected Sepura's bespoke critical communications solution. This covers CERN's entire site, both above and below ground, including the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) tunnel. Three radio antennas support over 300 TETRA terminals, and the network is fully redundant

The TETRA network enables communications for CERN's fire brigade, security and maintenance teams. In addition, if members of the French or Swiss public safety services are called to an incident, they can use their existing TETRA radios throughout the infrastructure deployed for CERN.

The right TETRA radio for each user group

CERN's firefighters use Sepura STP8X hand-portable radios for all their operational communications. These intrinsically safe devices are waterproof and dustproof in line with the latest and most stringent V6 of the IECEx/ATEX standard. They provide CERN's firefighters with the loud, clear audio and very high-resolution displays that are critical for effective communication in noisy, smoky and hazardous environments. Their tactile keypad is easy to use even when wearing the heavy gloves that are part of the fire brigade's protective gear.

"Sepura's reliable ATEX hand-portables help our firefighters stay safe and effective, because they carry on working under the most extreme conditions," said Yann Léchevin, Projects Leader and Chef d'Etat-Major within CERN's Fire and Rescue Services. "On top of that, firefighters can use them to send short text messages such as 'Arrived at destination', enabling us to monitor the progress of a call-out in real time."

Wardens, maintenance engineers and other groups working at CERN use Sepura STP8000 hand-portables and vehicle- or desk-mountable SRG3900 mobiles. Supplementing CERN's existing closed GSM network that enables point-to-point communications, the TETRA devices are typically used to set up talk groups for teams, or to enhance the personal safety of individuals working alone.

"When we demonstrated the Sepura radios ahead of rollout, all of the different user groups quickly understood the benefits they offered and were very taken with the radios' user-centric design. In fact, some of our colleagues were quite reluctant to hand the radios back at the end of the day!" says Aurélie Pascal, Telecommunications Engineer within CERN's IT department.

Protection for lone workers

Individuals often work alone in vast areas underground at CERN, and ensuring their personal safety is a top priority. As well as an emergency button users can press to call the fire brigade directly in an emergency, all the Sepura STP8000 and STP8X hand-portable radios in use at CERN include sophisticated 'man-down' functionality. Based on motion sensing technology, the radio automatically alerts the fire brigade if a user is motionless or suffers a serious impact.

These radio-based features are combined with Sepura's STProtect in-building tracking and location solution, consisting of beacons and software that enable a radio user's position to be precisely displayed on a map of the CERN site if a man-down alarm sounds, and accelerating the rescue operation.

Sepura's GPS localisation functionality was put to the test when a CERN security guard working in isolation fainted. "Thanks to the man-down alarm and the ability to pinpoint his location, he was rapidly found and rescued," reports Léchevin. "We couldn't have asked for a better demonstration of the benefits of the Sepura lone-worker solution."

Recognition for achievement

Sepura shared CERN’s success at the prestigious International TETRA Awards which took place at a gala ceremony in London last month. CERN was the undisputed winner of two of the seven prestigious TETRA awards namely the ‘Outstanding Single Site TETRA installation’ and ‘Best Use of TETRA for Public Safety’ categories.

The awards, launched in 2012 by TETRA Today in collaboration with the TETRA & Critical Communications Association (TCCA) recognise excellence in the field of TETRA radio communications.  A panel of international communications experts and authorities chose this year’s impressive shortlist from a vast range of submissions from across the globe.

“CERN is delighted to get through these two awards a strong recognition from the TETRA industry for the excellent work done in partnership with Sepura”, said Frédéric Chapron, Head of Communications Support within CERN's IT Department. “We also take this opportunity to thank all persons from Sepura, Sysoco, Cablex and CERN who contributed to the project, but could not attend the ceremony. These awards outline also the quality of their work”.

Jonathan Hamill, VP Government & Public Safety for Sepura, said:  “We strongly believe sharing CERN’s values and principles has enabled our organisations to develop a strong working relationship and partnership and hope this is set to continue into the future”.

(Image, left to right: Alberto Garcia Molero, Telecom Engineer, CERN; Yann Lechevin, Head of Operation, Fire and Rescue Services, CERN; Aurélie Pascal, Telecom Engineer, CERN; Sascha Schmeling, Director-General unit, CERN; Frédéric Chapron, Deputy CS Group leader, CERN.)

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