BY DAVID G. SIMPSON
Last month, FirstNet submitted its annual report to Congress and reported three major milestones. First, a competitive contract award for the network to AT&T; second, completion of an engagement process with all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories “opting-in,” signifying their readiness to begin implementation; and third, establishment of the commercial ecosystem for first responder end user devices and applications intended to bring radical improvements in emergency response functions at consumer market prices.
Our nation’s first responders are amazing people who work selflessly to save lives and reduce risk in our neighborhoods. When it comes to the technology they use, they are appropriately demanding. Their communications must work all the time, every time. Communications are key to saving victim lives and first responder lives as they head into harm’s way. It’s natural, then, that first responders are risk-averse when it comes to technological change and, in most jurisdictions, this coupled with tight government budgets means that older technology is used well beyond an age that any of us would tolerate for consumer electronics.
Public safety communications and computer systems often are at the end of their product life cycles. They can be costly to maintain and their limited functions hinder optimal employment of police, fire, EMS and emergency communications personnel.
FirstNet’s annual report signifies good news on the horizon. Years of planning at the federal, state and local levels have placed us on the cusp of the greatest improvement to emergency response in decades. Two complementary programs — Next Generation 911 (NG911) and FirstNet — are reaching the implementation stage in “first mover” public safety departments. There are more than 10,000 jurisdictions, however, that will need to take steps to initiate their transition, and the very different governance structures in place for NG911 and FirstNet can confuse citizens and community leaders.
This article was written by David G. Simpson and appears in thehill.com dated March 5, 2018.
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David G. Simpson, a retired rear admiral with the U.S. Navy, leads Pelorus Consulting Services, specializing in public safety, telecommunications and cyber security. He’s a visiting professor for Virginia Tech and was chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (2013 to 2017).