Doug Harder, FirstNet Authority Senior Public Safety Advisor
Jeff Schripsema, Deputy Chief, Phoenix Fire Department, Arizona
Narrator: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology.
And now, your host.
Narrator: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology.
And now, your host.
Doug Harder: Welcome to the Public Safety First podcast. I'm Doug Harder, the senior public safety advisor with the First Responder Network Authority. Today, I'm honored to be joined by Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema from the Phoenix Fire Department. I've had the pleasure of working closely with Chief Schripsema, who served as the MACC [multiagency coordination center] Regional Communications Coordinator on the Planning Committee for the 57th Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. We've worked for the better part of 14 months, and I consider Jeff a friend as well as a colleague in making sure that public safety can talk. So, Jeff, we're honored to have you on the podcast today. And thanks for joining.
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: Thanks, Doug. I'm really, really happy to be here. Thank you.
Doug Harder: So, we wanted to talk a little bit about pre-planning and the execution [MH1] of the public safety role in the 57th Super Bowl. We offer a unique program here at the FirstNet Authority through our network experience and engagement program. We like to help public safety agencies operationalize their broadband use. Specifically, we do this through pre-planning support. We also offer up post-event reviews and training and exercise assistance. We've helped public safety officials with pre-planning for all sorts of planned events. Some of those include the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. We've done motorcycle rallies, speedboat races, local airshows and festivals, county fairs, and, of course, the Super Bowl. So, we started with Atlanta in 2019. We worked with Miami, Tampa, last year with Inglewood and Los Angeles and this year, of course, with Phoenix. And we're looking forward to working next year with Las Vegas on the 58th Super Bowl. For these events, pre-planning is a key information gathering initiative for AT&T FirstNet, for the FirstNet Authority. During the pre-planning process, we work with public safety to determine and document the locations where responders will be operating. We also want to work with them to identify their broadband capabilities that they plan to use and what type of technologies they'll need. In Phoenix, we did all of this with the Super Bowl 57 Interoperable Communications Working Group, which Jeff, you were the communications coordinator for that group. So, can you tell us a little bit about that planning committee? What public safety agencies were on the committee? What were their roles? How did this all work?
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: Sure, I'd be happy to. I think one important detail of this is that our planning process really began about three and a half years ago within the region. Before we formalized the interoperability communications subcommittee that was specific for Super Bowl 57, we used our current UASI [Urban Area Security Initiative] interop communication subcommittee that we have, which is a pretty robust group within the region to start the planning process. And what we wanted to do is look at three key areas as we prepared for Super Bowl. One was a technology solution that would better protect our radio infrastructure from jamming or interference issues. We also wanted to look at it from a policy and governance issue in the region. And then lastly, we wanted to look at training communication personnel.
We used a lot of those same personnel and players that participate in our UASI and we just naturally transitioned them over into our Super Bowl 57 planning core group. What we asked is that if any agency was going to put in place an IMT [incident management team], an EOC [emergency operations center], some sort of incident command structure to support an NFL sanctioned or sponsored event, that they had both a primary and an alternate member that would participate within this group. We also asked stakeholders like FirstNet and AT&T, as well as the other LTE vendors, as well as our military partners, as well as our public utilities. Anybody that might have an interoperability communication need to participate within that working group. That working group ended up consisting of about 75 members that participated on a regular basis. By the time it was done, we had 66 different agencies and entities that we identified that we had to create communication talk paths for in some way, shape or form, whether it was LMR or whether it was on the LTE side. So, a really big undertaking when you look at the fact that it crossed over not just local and county and state, but then our tribal, the federal partners is a huge entity all in itself, along with all of our NGOs and some of the charitable organizations. All of those folks that had a part in it.
We met on a monthly basis until October. And then from October through January, we met twice a month and then once a week after that. One of the things I think that made us very successful in how we participated in this collectively is we do a lot of large-scale events in the city of Phoenix each year, probably 40 or 50 of them. Planning a Super Bowl, if it was just us, is not an overly complicated thing. But when you add all of the hundreds of different agencies that we had to address, it becomes much more complicated. So, the challenge was, is how do we build a functional planning group and a functional plan that meets the needs of everyone? The core group of us was made up of myself, the two co-chairs for the communication planning group, the SWIC [statewide interoperability coordinator] or Deputy SWIC, DEMA, which is the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, their communications coordinator was a part of that. And then some of our communication technicians. So, we really had eight of us that kind of worked as a core to be the deconflicters, to take the information that everybody else from their cities brought forth and make sure that we didn't have any conflicts and then start looking at how we can best build a communication plan from there.
One of the very first phases that we did is what we called the discovery phase. So, we gave each one of the cities that had NFL sponsored or sanctioned event to go out and basically discover what their needs are within their community. For example, the Super Bowl being in Glendale, looking at critical infrastructure, do they have good radio coverage in the in the stadium itself? Do they have good cell phone coverage? Do we need to boost that? What other events are surrounding that? What are the critical infrastructure needs to be covered? Do we have good radio signal strength in each one of these buildings? How do we how do we protect it? How do we build contingent plans into it in the event that our primary plans fail? So, all of that information was delegated to the key players for each of the cities. Then they brought back that information and we were able to put it into a larger plan. So, I think all in all, in that year's worth of planning, it proved to be very, very successful as we were able to pretty much identify any potential problems we had and the two weeks that we were operational, for the most part it was relatively quiet and we were relatively bored, which I think is a highlight of the success of this entire planning group over the last year.
Doug Harder: That's fantastic. And I can attest, having been in the MACC, that it was it was all very well coordinated, very well planned, and a little bit boring at times.
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: Which is a really good thing in public safety.
Doug Harder: Yes, exactly. At what point did the planning committee decide to contact the FirstNet Authority for pre-planning support and what type of support did you need from the FirstNet Authority?
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: So, as a region, we have slowly been moving towards the FirstNet solutions. My first real exposure to what you can do for a large event like this came when I had the opportunity to go to Inglewood and see that planning process. And that's when I really got exposed to FirstNet and what they could do. And like you said, Doug, our planning cycle here in Phoenix was about 11 months, but the relationship we started building with you is 14 months old. What really made me excited about this is that you guys bring in a team of individuals that look at all aspects of it and not just from the planning side of it, but from the operational side of it. So, from my perspective, the things that I really wanted from FirstNet was how can we best leverage what you all can do to support our existing systems that we have in place? So, the existing cell phones, making sure MCTs [mobile computer terminals] or MDTs [mobile data terminals], whatever agency is using are supported because we know based on the amount of people that we have coming into the area that has the potential to overload the commercial side. So, having it on the FirstNet side, how that's going to best be supported. I am very big on having a minimum of three-layer deep contingent plan. So, for me, I really was excited to see what FirstNet, how they could integrate into our contingency planning to support not only our IMTs and our EOCs and our incident command, but also support forward operations in the event that we have impacts to that. So, it was a really great partnership this year and it definitely has been one of the highlights of the planning process for me is being able to work with an outside agency like the Authority or an outside vendor like AT&T and see how they can integrate into our planning process.
Doug Harder: Thank you. And I appreciate all the kind words. So, we've talked a lot about the Multiagency Coordination Center, also known as the MACC, and the major role that it played as the communications headquarters for public safety before, during and after the game. Can you explain to our listeners what happens in the MACC? And what role did FirstNet play?
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: The MACC is designed to bring decision makers in your organization, policy makers in your organization, stakeholders that are decision makers and bring them into one space where we can collaborate, where we can share information and intelligence, where we can look at different inter-agencies or inter-governmental issues and start creating strategies. If we need to adjust policy, we need to adjust personnel and resources on the fly that can be coordinated at that level. So, that room had about 200 folks in it that represented every level of government. It represented all of the public utilities, all of the vendors and other stakeholders that may have a place of coordination, including American Red Cross, there were faith-based organizations in there, county health organizations. Anybody that was a decision maker. And it allows us, again, to look at issues that may affect the region and deal with them directly and then give those recommendations or make those policy changes and push it back down.
The communications piece is a key piece in that. Interoperability and communication pathways are a critical link between either the success or failure of any planned event. It sometimes gets overlooked. I'm really proud of this group, they recognize the importance of it. So much so that we had seven seats available to us up in the MACC, FirstNet having one of those key positions in there. The amount of both personnel and deployable resources and planning that you all had done is key. So, having somebody from the Authority that's able to sit right next to us and be able to not just build relationships and continue to grow those, but to be able to look at your network, to be able to look at the system, to be able to contact the key players that are in forward positions or in other IMTs or EOCs was key to the success of the communications piece within the MACC.
Doug Harder: Great. Can you also talk about the importance of interoperability in the MACC amongst the agencies during the Super Bowl?
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: I've been a first responder for 31 years. I've been doing disaster communications for about 30 of those. I think sometimes there's an overreliance on technical solutions. I think the key is face-to-face communication. A lot of times it's unifying command. It's putting the key players in the same space, which is essentially what we did in the MACC. However, the interoperability piece for a venue of this size that was affecting 12 different jurisdictions and cities is key. So, one of the successes, is that we created a separate communication room, a regional communication room. It was a space where we brought in key stakeholders. We had FirstNet folks in there, we had the other cell phone vendors in there. We had representatives from our engineers, from our radio network. We had folks that were part of the AUXCOMM [auxiliary communications] community. We had some of our communication techs that were in there, National Guard, folks from DEMA, folks from the SWIC, CISA was in there. So, although some of those key players had seats in the MACC itself, we had more people sitting in the communication room not only working with each other, but identifying problems. We had a small fiber line cut that impacted some cell phone outages. We were able to talk to all the cell phone vendors in that space. They were all able to look at their systems on their computers and see where those outages were being affected. We were able then to bring that information upstairs and share it, that this is an issue that is impacting cell phone. We were able to share that information throughout the region through all of the other IMTs. And we created that interoperability path, that communication pathway of sharing information intelligence that put everybody on the same page within a matter of seconds. And I think that's a huge success. Our stakeholders were able to monitor that and see real world, real time information come in that dealt with interoperability communications throughout the region. So, that interoperability piece, not just talk groups and channels, it was managed out of that communication room and I think it was managed with great success.
Doug Harder: Great. Thank you. Were there any unique challenges that Arizona public safety officials faced while being the host state of this year's Super Bowl? Terrain, influx of visitors. I know there was another rather large event going on at the same time up in Scottsdale. Any unique challenges?
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: There are two big ones this year and you highlighted the one, the Waste Management Open, which is a very big golf tournament that brings in hundreds of thousands of people every single year. This year it overlapped with the Super Bowl. So, we had a greater influx of people than we normally do. Both the Waste Management Open, the NFL Experiences in downtown Phoenix, they all report record numbers of people like we've never seen before. So, that influx created a challenge for us.
From a communication perspective, it flexed our ability to provide enough interoperability talk groups to the region. We were able to do it successfully, but we did have some worries in the past. The region shares equipment. We have portable dispatch centers, we have portable CADs, we have caches of radios. We had to limit how much of that equipment we could get give out so that we had enough as a tactical reserve in the event that we had an emergency. But at the same time, we did what we could to support those with either personnel and the equipment that we could. So, that provided a very unique challenge for us.
The other big challenge that we had that we haven't had from our two previous Super Bowls is that our Arizona NFL host committee made a commitment to the Valley that they would provide NFL sanctioned or sponsored events. This year we had 15 different cities or jurisdictions that hosted events that we had to support with interoperability, communication, LTE needs, deployables pre-staged as contingent plans, all of those things. I think the strength of this region and the strength of our interoperability planning and the fact that we have existing workgroups that work through these issues helped us be successful. Ultimately, it was very successful.
Doug Harder: And with all of the pre-planning efforts that we went through with you, can you tell us anything that we brought to your pre-planning that you hadn't thought about or that you hadn't had available to you before that had some benefit in the end with support for the Super Bowl?
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: Yeah. So, there's a couple of things. This to me was not a technical solution. This was a project. So, the key in that is being able to create a strong division of labor. You guys brought an entire army of folks, both from the administrative side that were able to attend the meetings and integrate into the planning process, take the goals and objectives that we gave you and build functional plans with it. And that took a huge burden off of my plate. The other piece to that is the operational side of it, where you bring in folks that are much more technically savvy and are able to look at the critical infrastructure, look at the venues, the potential venue sizes, the challenges that we're going to face within that, and come up with solutions that make sense, that are going to have a positive impact on public safety and our response, being able to bring that back in then to our monthly meetings was key. I had no worries from the FirstNet or the AT&T side that the work was being done. You guys attended each meeting. You injected key information at the right times to give a brief to the entire group as to where they were at. That piece to me was key.
Now, for the deployables. What an amazing resource to be able to reach out to you guys for you to be able to bring your COLTs and your COWs and some of the smaller deployables that you have and pre-stage them where we're going to have hundreds of thousands of people. I think that was key.
So, you guys brought a lot of stuff and it all worked flawlessly and it was actually a really big piece off my mind and heart knowing that that was all there, that that was one piece I never worried about within this planning process.
Doug Harder: Great. Thank you. Let's talk a little bit about Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl kicks off at 4:30 or so local time. But for everybody else, it kicked off much earlier than that on Sunday. So, there were nearly 70,000 people at the Super Bowl in the State Farm Stadium in Glendale. When you have so many people in one place, obviously public safety and what you all do for us becomes incredibly important. Were there any major security challenges or concerns at this year's game? And then how did pre-planning efforts help in those moments?
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: So, the Thursday before the game, about 3:30 in the afternoon, our radio network manager calls me in a panic and says, "We've got a massive radio interference from an illegal carrier that has wiped out one of our simulcasts on the west side of Phoenix, and it's impacting State Farm Stadium operations." So, part of our contingency planning is that we activated a core group of folks. We actually moved into the first layer of our PACE plan, which when I developed it, I stole a term from wildland called a MAP, a management action point, and we built management action points into our PACE plan that basically said if this happens, in this case an interference issue, we are going to get the key players into a room. We're going to discuss the potential impacts and we're going to make a decision, do we stay on our existing radio network or do we have to move into part of our alternate planning? We put together a team very quickly into the room. We created a little ad hoc war room up in a conference room off of the MACC. We fired up a virtual Teams meeting that kept an open link to the 17 folks that were responding out in the field. We were able to share maps. We were able to look at data and coverage and interference signal strength. Our folks in our network operation center were key in that. So, in the past, when we've had interference issues like this, it has taken us anywhere from two weeks to a month to track down the signals. In this case, we were able to track down the signal in less than 2 hours. So, that ended up being a massively huge success. The impact is that it shut down radio communications or created interference for four police agencies on the west side of town. So, very much a success story.
And the other success is that we have built triple, even quadruple, resiliency into our radio network. The other simulcast sites picked up the radio traffic for the stadium, so we had no loss of coverage at State Farm Stadium where the Super Bowl is going to be played. So, I think that was a really good success.
Doug Harder: On game day in the in the MACC. Can you just talk a little bit about how FirstNet performed in there? Any issues that came up with the FirstNet side of things in the MACC?
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: None. The system worked flawlessly, and I think that's a credit to both the Authority side and the AT&T side that there's so many safeguards, so much resiliency, so much adaptability and multiple safeguards put into it that it worked flawlessly.
Doug Harder: Thank you. So, as we close out this podcast, we just wanted to ask you if you had any advice for other public safety agencies considering joining FirstNet. Any suggestions on using the pre-planning support that's offered by the FirstNet Authority?
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: My advice would be, is to contact the Authority early in your planning process. Don't wait until you're a few months out. If you're planning a large-scale event like Super Bowl, which is easily a year plus to plan, get them involved early. Between the admin support side that attends the meetings and helps build the incident action plan from the Authority side to the operational folks, a huge amount of them have public safety experience in their background so they speak the language that we speak in public safety, police and fire and EMS. They really can take a huge burden off of your organization by letting them do what they do best and helping build that out. Utilizing them as part of your contingency plans is key. I have been completely sold on FirstNet for the last couple of years since I saw them in Inglewood and saw what they did. Having worked with them in the Super Bowl, I think they have showed that they provide a huge value in supporting public safety.
I also think, before you, if you know you're going to have a large event like Super Bowl, my recommendation is if you haven't switched over to FirstNet, start working within your city governments to look at how those solutions can benefit you on the day-to-day, which is thus going to in turn better support to you for some of your planned events. So, whether it's getting cell phones or whether it's getting SIM cards or getting that wireless ability on your MCTs or your MDTs, all those things that they do can really help you not just within your day-to-day, but within your planning cycles as well. So, the earlier the better is the best advice that I can give.
Doug Harder: Thank you so much. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It's been a real privilege and I hope to talk to you soon.
Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema: Thank you, Doug. Appreciate it.
Doug Harder: Thanks.
Narrator: Thanks for listening today. We're excited to have you join our podcast community. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, and YouTube. You can learn more about the First Responder Network Authority at FirstNet.gov and learn about FirstNet products and services at FirstNet.com.
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