In today's "Meet the FirstNet Team" feature, we talk to Carl Rebstock, who recently joined FirstNet as the lead for Tribal Outreach. Carl discusses his background working with Indian Country and FirstNet's strategy for working with our tribal partners on the nationwide public safety broadband network. He also shares his thoughts about successful coordination between Indian Country and the states and territories.
Q: Can you talk about your background working with tribes and emergency management?
A: My readiness experience is rooted in the military but my education occurred in Indian Country. For many of the thirty years I served in the U.S. Army, I flew aeromedical evacuation and developed medical contingency plans. After leaving the service, I went to work for a tribe in Washington State. My responsibility seemed straightforward: build an emergency management program. I knew precisely what to do and how to do it…or so I thought.
What I discovered was that they and I lived in the same country but different worlds. My federal perspective was helpful, but understanding—and freeing myself to be guided by—the tribe’s priorities would become vital. The program that subsequently grew organically from within is flourishing. I learned that putting aside preconceptions and striving to approach issues from the vantage of others applies nowhere more so than with Native American affairs.
Q: What got you interested in joining FirstNet?
A: The vision. Building a nationwide, wireless, broadband, 4G/LTE network dedicated to public safety is a game changer. To play a part in such a game is a privilege; to advocate for Indian Country Is a responsibility.
Q: Can you talk about the complexity of engaging with 566 federally recognized tribes that are sovereign nations?
A: It is at once both confounding and yet uncomplicated. Our differences may be many but our common ground is a commitment to helping those in distress while protecting the most vulnerable among us: our children, our elders, young families, people with disabilities, and the places that are culturally or historically sacred.
Also, in terms of communications and technologies, Tribes can be a study in extremes. According to the American Community Survey 2006-2010 data, nearly 19 percent of Indian homes lack telephone service. Significantly more lack broadband access.
Q: While you are new to FirstNet, can you talk about our strategy for coordinating with Indian Country on the network?
A: FirstNet is committed to engaging sovereign tribal nations. We will accomplish this principally through a network of 56 Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) that coordinate efforts in every state and territory. Honoring this commitment will best be achieved by seeking advice, assistance, and guidance from Indian Country for Indian Country. To this end, we’re about to increase the membership and utilization of a Tribal Working Group wisely established last year.
Additionally, FirstNet Board member, Kevin McGinnis, has been crisscrossing the country to speak at tribal gatherings with support from staff member Kristi Wilde. As we expand our outreach, we will meet with tribal officials on the reservations where they live and work and will benefit from FirstNet coverage.
Q: What recommendations would you give to the states and territories in terms of coordinating with tribes on planning for the network?
A: Two tips: give it attention and give it time. Those that already enjoy a strong relationship achieved it through mutual respect and mindful actions. But even the best intentions can be foiled by rushing the process of building relations. When we relinquish to clocks the regulation of our lives, springs and cogs win. Be patient. And know nothing substitutes for assessing the earnestness of ones intentions than meeting face-to-face. This advice generally works best if your initial overture is to meet on their turf—but ask, never assume. Make your mother proud.
Q: Can you talk about building your team and opportunities that may be available in tribal outreach?
A: We intend to hire liaisons that live in the regions they will support and are respected by the communities they serve. We will be turning to tribal leaders and associations, as well as the FirstNet Tribal Working Group to help us recruit and support these key staff members in the field.