SPOC Spotlight: Q&A with Oregon SPOC Steve Noel

June 17, 2014
Steve Noel, State Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for Oregon
Steve Noel, State Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for Oregon

Q: What’s the best way you’ve found to communicate what we’re building in FirstNet?

A: One of our best outreach tools is showing stakeholders real implementations of what we envision FirstNet looking like. There is anticipation, because stakeholders are using 4G LTE in many of our agencies today. They’re excited and would like to have FirstNet available. They’re also excited about first responders having priority on the spectrum. That’s a big deal. Stakeholders want to see what FirstNet will be like so we’re making that happen. If first responders are interested, we recommend that they take the tour of an interesting project in Jackson County [OR].

Q: What stands out about Jackson County’s implementation? Do you think this county’s innovation is unique or is this a trend?

A: All the sheriff’s deputies have smartphones. An app on their phones allows them to use their LMR [Land Mobile Radio] system. They just push a button and it’s just like talking on the radio; this is a basic conventional radio system that they interface with and use from their smartphones. Also everybody has real-time ‘eyes-on’ today. Everyone knows where every other officer is; it’s GPS-based tracking system with mapping. They can also use their smartphones to access real-time video inside schools for better situational awareness. Through the app, they can lock school doors if needed.

As such, they can respond more rapidly and bring more appropriate assets to a given situation. All of these capabilities are integrated back into the command center, where the sheriff has the emergency management operational system. If you look at his smartphone, apps listed include Triage, Mapping, and Logistics. It’s like an early show of some of the things we imagine with the evolution of First Net.

What’s unique about this implementation is that this is a relatively small community. Other than Portland, Salem, and Eugene, the size of our cities is usually 100,000 and below. I think FirstNet will help bring more advanced technologies to smaller jurisdictions like this one. They are implementing new technology, and the officers in the field are gravitating toward it. The sheriff is personally very excited about FirstNet because the functionalities he uses, like real-time video, sometimes get bogged down with the capacity available to him now. Public safety officials in Oregon in general are excited.

Q: What do you think is most important technological development in this mission area?

A: I think having the dedicated spectrum is most important. Just having the spectrum in and of itself is important. During most events, like Hurricane Sandy, the first thing that goes down is the cell phone network. Often it’s not because the back-end infrastructure has failed. The failure happens because the systems are overloaded with people in the event-center using their cells to call for help or to talk to friends and family. Having dedicated spectrum will be a huge benefit in these and other situations.

Q: Apps for smartphones have exploded. FirstNet will serve three to five million public safety users. Can we expect the same kind of application explosion in the public safety smartphone space?

A: Yes. Public safety is embracing smartphones now. In the United Kingdom, police officers already have on-duty cell phones. We have a lot of officers in our state today, especially the smaller departments that use tablets; they can coordinate with dispatch from the device. So that dynamic is already happening. I think there’s an opportunity for a public safety app store someday.

Q: I understand you’re the Statewide Interoperability Coordinator (SWIC) for Oregon as well as Oregon’s Single Point of Contact (SPOC) to FirstNet. I’m told that you were involved in efforts to create a nationwide broadband network before FirstNet came into existence.

A: All true. I’m the SWIC and I’m the point for FirstNet. Regarding FirstNet, our state, a little before 2010, received a waiver allowing our use of 700 MHz spectrum to build out a mobile data system as part of the [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] NTIA [Broadband Technology Opportunities Program] BTOP process. That got the ball rolling for us. There were about 21 waiver recipients. Seven participated in the grant process. Through that process, we created an advisory group. This grant had some very tight timelines which required our 21-member group, a mixture of cities and states, to work collaboratively from the outset. We continue to collaborate to this day. This working group has evolved into the Early Builder Advisory Council [EBAC].

While we didn’t receive an NTIA BTOP grant, we continued to work on the ‘soft side.’ We generated planning documents and governmental processes that would eventually be used for should a FirstNet come about. Throughout our ‘soft’ preparation work, we worked very closely with Jeff Johnson, the chair of our State Interoperability Executive Council and FirstNet Board member. Our soft work also included working with Federal organizations like the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications.

It was during this effort when FirstNet came into being so we organized and began moving everything toward what we envisioned would happen with FirstNet. As we had hoped, our ‘soft’ work gave us a head start on in-state outreach. Oregon did some early studies with broadband use and that grew into the broadband coverage workshop. We’ve got a pretty good group of stakeholders, a mixture of representatives from metropolitan and rural areas. They’re communicating interest and the momentum is growing.

Q: What got you interested in this mission space?

A: My professional career has spanned about 30 years. I’ve worked from strategic levels to levels where the rubber meets the road. I served in the [U.S.] Army Signal Corps. In the Signal Corps, you work all aspects of communications. I’ve been in infantry and cavalry units, as well as European headquarters units. Probably the most unique job I had was at Fort Irwin, California when I worked in the ‘Star Wars’ Building.

That was a very interesting job because all the new communications technologies came through our office. I got to work with several new technologies, including early stage mobile data operations. That job piqued my interest in this space. In the military we went from analog radio to digital and I watched all those things take place. I’ve seen large programs that developed to fruition over time and were tremendous force multipliers. I’ve worked here in the state of Oregon for close to 20 years. I used to oversee land-mobile radio for the state police, and then engaged in IT management for different state agencies. I’ve been working as the SWIC as well as some other jobs since 2007. What I enjoy about my job today is that I’m able to support all local governments within the state. FirstNet attracts me because it’s going to have an impact on a lot of different agencies and it’s new technology which is fascinating.

Go to top