PSA Discovery Patterns Weekly News Summary

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Sat Nov 21 11:18:45 2015

The big news for the week has to be the continued crumbling of LA-RICS. According to an article in Urgent Communications, LA City opted out of the LA-RICs consortium by a vote of 12-0. The immediate impact to LA-RICS and Motorola is the loss of the City of LA for construction of the new LA-RICS LMR system. The City says it can save money by enhancing its own existing LMR system instead of spending money with LA-RICS. Read article

In an area that makes heavy use of the T-Band (unused TV channels in the UHF-TV band), and has issues with the number of 700-MHz LMR channels that can be used due to issues with Mexico, it does not appear that those who made the decision reviewed and understood all of the implications of such a move. It also leaves in doubt the future of the LA-RICS FirstNet broadband system. It is unfortunate but the LA area has a very poor track record in being able to centralize any type of Public Safety communications systems.

LA-RICS, of course, has been plagued with missteps. Not too long ago LA-RICS had a major problem with fire fighters and their union when they basically started just showing up at fire stations to install 70-foot towers to be used for the FirstNet LTE system. The fire fighters said they feared being radiated by the LTE signals and in many cases they enlisted the assistance of the neighbors surrounding the fire stations. LA-RICS had to scale back the 225 planned towers to somewhere around 70 at the moment, which, of course, will provide much less coverage than any of the commercial operators now have in that area. LA-RICS did not do the kind of outreach that wireless providers know they have to do in order to minimize complaints when applying for a permit for a single new tower, let alone 225 towers. Surprising people by showing up to dig a hole and plant a tower next to a fire station is never going to result in a successful conclusion.

This is not the first time the LA area has tried to provide consolidated communications systems. All of them failed over the years for the same reason—politics. When I was working for Motorola in LA in the late 70s and early 80s we were involved with the LA County Sheriff department and others to pioneer the use of the UHF-TV channels in the area that were not being used for TV. The idea was to obtain two channels (each 6 MHz of spectrum), one for the City and one for the County. We suggested a different approach, which was to use one TV channel for both City and County Fire and one channel for City Police and the Sheriff’s channels so the City and County would have full interoperability at least between like agencies. The idea was rejected by both the City and the County, again for purely political reasons, and the City ended up with one UHF channel for both fire and police and the County another for its sheriff and fire communications. Those were the days before wideband-capable radios so they could not interoperate across both TV channels and they ended up with two systems without any interoperability capabilities.

It is a shame that the growth of interoperable communications for Public Safety is oftentimes not a casualty of the technology but rather of the people who should be working together for the good of the Public Safety community. Some of these people are politicians who don’t fully understand the meaning of the decisions they are voting on but some are leaders in their own Public Safety community who for whatever reason don’t trust people wearing uniforms different from theirs. FirstNet would never have happened except for the formation of the Public Safety Alliance (PSA). This was a unique (unfortunately) organization made up of law enforcement, fire, and EMS brass. They banded together for a common cause to convince those in DC that Public Safety needed the D-block. Time after time I had the privilege of attending meetings with top elected officials along with police, sheriff, fire, and EMS personnel in full uniform. This unified approach resulted in FirstNet and the PSA is no more. Safecom, NPSTC, and APCO are organizations where all of the agencies should be working together more closely than they are. I have to wonder what the outcome would have been in LA if those involved worked as well together as the PSA did in DC.

Fri Nov 27, 2015

Public Safety Advocate Discovery Pattern Weekly News Summary

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

Unfortunately, I am back on my rant about the politics of Public Safety communications. Last week I talked about LA City pulling out of LA-RICS, this week, Urgent reported that LA requested that the UASI grant for the LA-RICS LMR P-25 network, awarded in 2011 and already allocated by LA-RICS, be rescinded! Who are the losers in all of these political games? The Public Safety community and the citizens of the country.

LA is not the only place politics has played a part in obstructing the deployment of needed Public Safety Land Mobile Radio and even Broadband networks. Consider the cancellation of the BTOP grants by NTIA once FirstNet was voted into existence. Most of the BTOP grants were to pay for pilot LTE Public Safety systems but were cancelled, the money was recalled, and the grants were never renewed. Then there was the City of Charlotte, which would have had Public Safety LTE up and running for the Democratic Convention in there a few years ago. The State of Mississippi had already purchased its equipment and not only was its grant recalled, it was told to dismantle the system it had started. And so it was for Bay RICS in Northern California and others. As a result, the Harris County, Texas system, which was not even part of the BTOP grants, and the Colorado system, which is small but has been extended to cover some areas in New Mexico, are all that FirstNet has up and running to prove out the technology, applications, and devices.

We should have had entire states (Mississippi), major cities, Bay RICS, medium-sized cities (Charlotte), and more. If all of these had been allowed to move forward instead of being shut down by the NTIA, we would have a much better feel for how much spectrum is needed by Public Safety, how much secondary spectrum might be available for use by a partner, and the types of devices and applications that are most important to first responders.

The political side of Public Safety communications deployments, expansions, and maintaining existing budgets are growing increasingly heated. Many elected officials were falsely convinced that if they opted out of FirstNet they would receive a windfall of money from the secondary use of the FirstNet spectrum. Other politicians have come to believe that the FirstNet network will negate the expense of their existing Public Safety LMR network as soon as next week, and others are simply more interested in appearing to be “smart” in public than they are in trying to understand the needs of the Public Safety community and the impact of their politically motivated decisions.

The unfortunate truth is that as long as there are political animals trying to be re-elected and trying to prove how smart they are, Public Safety communications will continue to receive the short straw. We all thought that with FirstNet each city and county would be treated the same by the states, yet politics are lurking in many state capitals. Which counties voted for the “right party” and therefore deserve better coverage? I am hoping that this does not come to pass, but it is only logical to think about the issue in terms of the existing political landscape.

There apparently is no solution to the problem, and of course Public Safety communications is not the only area to suffer from the political scene. Every week when I sort the stories to include in my summary, I avoid stories about Congress failing to pass the extension of the bill to assist the first responders injured in the 9/11 tragedy and many other Public Safety-related issues. I wish I had a solution, but I don’t.

Andy

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