Continued Progress Toward the Nation's First Public Safety Broadband Network

January 19, 2016
FirstNet has developed a comprehensive outreach strategy to put us in touch with law enforcement in dozens of states and territories, including one-on-one discussions at police agencies across the United States, national association meetings, local and county meetings, and visits to fusion centers and police dispatch centers.
FirstNet has developed a comprehensive outreach strategy to put us in touch with law enforcement in dozens of states and territories, including one-on-one discussions at police agencies across the United States, national association meetings, local and county meetings, and visits to fusion centers and police dispatch centers.

This blog is a repost from The Police Chief, vol. LXXXIII, no. 1, January 2016
By TJ Kennedy, President, First Responder Network Authority

It has been a productive year for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce that is ensuring the build out of a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN).

FirstNet is focused on deploying a network that can deliver innovative technologies to first responders over a more accessible, secure, and reliable platform. Just as smartphones, tablets, and wearables like smart watches have changed the way individuals communicate in their personal lives, FirstNet believes that an NPSBN will improve the way U.S. law enforcement communicates.

To achieve this mission, we are working closely with the future users of the network—U.S. law enforcement, fire, and EMS personnel. This was a top priority in 2015 and will continue to be our primary focus going forward. Over the last year and a half, FirstNet has engaged with the public safety community in 55 U.S. states and territories as part of our consultation process. These meetings gave FirstNet in-person feedback from almost 4,000 public safety representatives, including a large number of law enforcement personnel. We also conducted data collection, receiving input from more than 11,600 public safety entities covering more than 1.6 million personnel. The input we gathered will help shape the design of the network and serves as a building block for our continued consultation with the states and territories.

Consultation is as much of a learning process for FirstNet as it is for the states and local public safety agencies. On our end, we’ve received detailed accounts of how first responders throughout the United States prepare for and respond to emergencies of all sizes to improve communications, coordination, and situational awareness during emergency response operations. Many consultation meeting participants provided specific case studies about how mobile broadband technology is assisting law enforcement and how a dedicated NPSBN would help them with timely and efficient responses to emergencies.

In Michigan, for example, we learned how the Law Enforcement Division of Michigan Department of Natural Resources would greatly benefit from real-time satellite imagery to assist in identifying investigation locations and directing patrol efforts in remote areas of the Great Lakes.

In Ohio, we learned that the sheriff’s office in rural Guernsey County has deployed more sophisticated broadband capabilities than many of its counterparts serving more populous and urbanized jurisdictions with access to E-9-1-1 mapping, traffic monitoring cameras, school safety plans, and a range of other resources.

In Massachusetts, much of the discussion focused on communications before, during, and after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. With the large number of personnel deploying in the same area, radio frequencies were very crowded. Boston police said that, as the manhunt unfolded, officers used non-traditional means to communicate, including texting.

Each state and territory is different, and we strive to be accessible, flexible, and adaptable to account for their unique characteristics and needs. We have developed a comprehensive outreach strategy, with the help of Senior Law Enforcement Advisor Joshua Ederheimer, to put us in touch with law enforcement in dozens of states and territories, including one-on-one discussions at police agencies across the United States, local and county meetings, and visits to fusion centers and police dispatch centers. In addition to briefing law enforcement agency representatives directly, FirstNet increased its federal outreach and briefed the leadership of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC), who train most of the federal agencies in the United States. The FLETC director subsequently designated a liaison to FirstNet.

We’ve also increased our presence at many key law enforcement association conferences over the past year and briefed the 20 key law enforcement associations and their stakeholders and leadership at direct meetings. FirstNet board member, Hennepin County, Minnesota, Sheriff Richard Stanek participated in the 2015 IACP Annual Conference and Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, along with about a dozen FirstNet team members. The conference was a great opportunity to engage with law enforcement leaders on key issues facing their agencies in their communities.

In addition, FirstNet also has an advisory body called the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC). The committee comprises representatives from public safety organizations at the state, territory, local, and tribal levels. It was created to provide FirstNet with subject matter expertise and advice on key network issues to assist with the planning, design, and deployment of the NPSBN. Most recently, the PSAC has been focused on public safety grade, priority and preemption, and user equipment, and we are looking forward to receiving their feedback on other key issues this year.

The PSAC is led by retired police chief Harlin McEwen, who was chair of the IACP Communications Committee for several years, a position now held by Deputy Chief Eddie Reyes from the Alexandria, Virginia, Police Department. Working together with Chief McEwen and others, we are addressing the needs of the first responder community, and we hope we’ve infused some new ideas for public safety to consider the opportunities that FirstNet can provide.

We'll continue our nationwide outreach and consultation in 2016, expanding upon the discussions from 2015 to ensure coordination with the public safety community in urban and rural locations, including island states, territories, and tribal lands. I encourage law enforcement leaders to contact their state or territory’s governor-appointed single point of contact (SPOC) to learn more about what their state or territory is doing and how they can contribute to the process. We look forward to meeting with governors and their staffs in the coming year to discuss key issues, such as the development of state plans for deploying the network.

In conclusion, I would like to point to the remarks of U.S. President Obama, who, while speaking to attendees at IACP 2015, noted that, with FirstNet, “for the first time in history, America’s police departments will share a single network.” Today, the law enforcement community is undergoing many challenges in multiple areas, and, as it progresses in the next several years, we will continue to work hand-in-hand to deliver a network that best meets your voice, video, and data needs.

Thank you for your continued support and participation.

- TJ
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