Houstonian Corner (V14-I35)

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Houstonian Corner (V14-I35)

FirstNet: Nationwide Operation to Address Interoperability Problems

FCC authorization makes State of Texas first public safety broadband network in state

This week, thanks to authorization from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a partnership between the state and Harris County’s Information Technology Center will allow the State of Texas to become the first public safety broadband network in the state. It will also be one of the first in the nation to begin operating.

When operational, the broadband network will enhance public safety communications statewide by providing more data and access to communication resources than is now available for first responders.

DPS Director Steven McCraw“This is great news for the State of Texas and will allow us to enhance communication capabilities among the law enforcement and first responder communities,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw (pictured). “The ability to immediately share information across law enforcement jurisdictions and among emergency responders is critical to public safety.”

The FCC order allows the state to begin deploying and operating public safety LTE (“4G” cellular technology) networks immediately, which will become part of the nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, called FirstNet. This network will provide instant interoperability among first responders nationwide. That interoperability was absent during the terrorist attacks on 9/11, leading the 9/11 Commission to recommend the interoperable network. FirstNet provides increased communication capacity and higher reliability for first responders during routine actions or major events.
Just this week, an event at the San Antonio International Airport illustrated the importance of radio interoperability. When a bomb threat was reported at the airport, fire, police and airport personnel were dispatched and approximately 2,000 people were evacuated while a search for explosives was undertaken.

After the event and after no bomb was found, an analysis of the response by emergency personnel revealed that some emergency personnel failed to communicate with each other during the event.  San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood said fire personnel were communicating with each other, police with police and airport with airport. Although the bomb threat call was dispatched on a mutual aid channel that all emergency personnel could access, officials failed to tell them the channel’s frequency.

The FirstNet network will support transmitting video from almost any source to any responder, provide a way to coordinate first responders from multiple jurisdictions who respond to an event and allow responders and incident commanders to have all information necessary to assess the situation.  It also will provide for virtual seamless interoperable communications between mutual aid organizations.

The FCC authorization will run only until Sept. 2. The state will then have to gain Special Temporary Authority from the FCC to extend that authorization by 180 days. The state will be seeking that authorization within the next week.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is committed to interoperability as well and will spend $8 million for prototype wireless services nationwide that can be implemented without costing billions of dollars. DHS officials note a lack of interconnected networks for public safety officials throughout the country. The 18-month effort is aimed at creating the ability to roam from public safety networks, commercial networks and mobile radio networks and to connect users on different networks.

The funds will be competitively awarded and the competition is open to industry government laboratories, academic institutions and nonprofits. Immediacy is one of the key elements sought, according to DHS officials, so that users can switch to this improved network. Officials are looking at cutting costs by having emergency communications services shared by multiple organizations on an as-needed basis.



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