By TJ Kennedy, FirstNet Acting General Manager
I had the opportunity to head to the Pacific Northwest this week to visit with public safety professionals and discuss FirstNet’s progress and all the work that we are dedicated to complete. Great discussions were amplified with strategic urgency for improving public safety communications to enhance capabilities in everyday operations.
It is already a busy fire season, and the northwest has had more than its share of devastating wildfires. Almost half of the 2.5 million acres burned by wildfires this year are in Washington and Oregon. The current fires are still blazing in Washington state – which began from a lightning strike more than a month ago – and have now consumed nearly 300,000 acres and destroyed over 300 homes in Okanogan County and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. This devastating fire has been reported as the worst in all of the country. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) prediction earlier this month does not indicate any slowing down of above normal significant wildland fires for the west coast in August.
On Tuesday, I met with public safety officials in Salem, Oregon for the State Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) meeting. I touched base with several stakeholders including their state Single Point of Contact (SPOC) Steve Noel, whose team recently released a FirstNet infographic as an outreach tool for the state. This infographic is an excellent representation of the history of FirstNet and a break down of our strategic roadmap. And on Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak at the Washington OneNet State Interoperability Workshop and catch up with Washington SPOC Bill Schrier and stakeholders from across the state. Keil Green, who supports the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications led a great discussion on coverage maps for FirstNet state consultation with Washington state stakeholders.
Later that afternoon I attended the National Joint Tribal Emergency Management Conference outside of Spokane, Washington, with FirstNet Tribal Outreach Branch Chief Carl Rebstock and PSAC Tribal Working Group chairman Richard D. Broncheau (Nez Perce). At the conference I addressed 350 tribal leaders, elders, veterans, and emergency managers from across the United States and Canada, as well as state and federal executives and staff. Their day began with a moving 20-minute music video—entitled "Oso Strong, Highway 530"—produced by youth from the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe to honor those who perished in the nearby mudslide earlier this year. This was followed by talks by Raina Thiele (Pedro Bay Native Village), Associate Director for the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement; Robert Holden (Choctaw and Chickasaw), Deputy Director of the National Congress of American Indians; Brian Patterson (Oneide), President, United South & Eastern Tribes; and David Munro, Director of Tribal Affairs at DHS. I was honored to be a part of the audience after lunch to hear a heartfelt presentation by Steven Golubic, Executive Director for the National Tribal Emergency Management Council (NTEMC) who challenged Indian Country and the federal government to move forward as partners in preparedness. This was the perfect compliment to my message that together we can build a wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety that reaches the most remote reservations and rural communities.
Today I met with several public safety officials in Utah where I spent many years serving as a state trooper, a paramedic, and a firefighter. It was nice to catch up with the Commissioner of Public Safety Keith D. Squires, and to visit the Utah Highway Patrol, Life Flight and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
Several other members of the FirstNet team were also part of face-to-face outreach this week, sharing important and relevant information about the future nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN). Brian Hobson, FirstNet Technical Lead for State Plans attended California's Town Hall in Bakersfield, California on Wednesday. FirstNet Board member Jeff Johnson and Association Manager Vicki Lee were in Dallas, Texas for most of the week for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Fire-Rescue International Annual Conference and Expo. Kristi Wilde from the FirstNet Outreach Team visited Oklahoma for the Public Safety Broadband Network Outreach and Awareness session on Wednesday and Rich Reed, Director of State Plans, was in Delaware for the SIEC and broadband working group meeting Thursday.
This is an exciting time to be a part of a mission as vitally important as FirstNet, and we are proud to be able to share that mission with those that need the network. We will continue to do our part serving those that serve us every day until the network is a reality across all tribes, states, cities, counties, territories, and the District of Columbia.