Public Safety

Fri May 20 12:47:28 2016

Yes this is still the Public Safety Advocate Discovery Patterns Weekly News Summary but last week more than sixty of our subscribers did not receive the email blast because it was rejected as spam. I am told it might be a word or two in the subject line causing the problem so we are trying a different one for this week. If you did not receive last week’s email and wish to have it sent to you please us know.

As I have said before, I don’t believe any of us who will be attending the PSCR (Public Safety Communications Research) yearly update session in San Diego in early June will hear anything concrete about who submitted responses, though we might hear a vague comment from FirstNet about how pleased it is with the number of responses it received. Beyond that I think FirstNet will remain quiet. Not that is matters really, all of the responses have to be reviewed, checked, double-checked, vetted, and perhaps meetings set up with the bidders for discussions. I am sure that during this process we will hear some “leaks” or rumors that will be reported as leaks, but until there is a formal announcement in the fall, I don’t think we should dwell on identifying potential bidders. I believe FirstNet will be receiving input from many qualified people and organizations such as the Public Safety Advisory Council (PSAC) to FirstNet and others.

There are some things that need to be started sooner rather than later. For example, the Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) of DHS has a very good training program for communications leaders, and once all of the steps have been completed, graduates are entitled to be called Communications Unit Leaders (COMLs). However, at the moment this training, which is excellent, only covers Land Mobile Radio and does not include broadband. As FirstNet comes online, and even before, the COMLs already in the field and those taking the courses should also be exposed to the world of broadband. In some regards, broadband training is more important than LMR training and here is why:

Today Public Safety, for the most part, communicates by voice on specific channels: law enforcement on theirs, fire on theirs, and EMS on either fire or its own. Even in the world of trunked radios these agencies have different talk groups and, for the most part, each type of agency communicates with members of its own Public Safety sector and not cross-sectors. There will be a big difference once FirstNet is up and running and there need to be people in the field who are trained to assist at incidents to ensure that the broadband capacity that is available is used wisely.

The issue here is that during most incidents that involve first responders from multiple disciplines the area in which the incident occurs will be geographically small, meaning that the FirstNet coverage may be from one, two, or perhaps three cell sectors. In the world of LTE, each cell sector has certain attributes. First, each has the full capacity of the network available within it. Second, the data speeds available within that cell sector will depend on several factors: The first is how many people there are in a single cell sector that need to send and receive data and video and how much bandwidth each user needs for how long. Next is that if too many users within a single cell sector are all trying to send and/or receive large amounts of data or videos, the speed of the network within that cell sector (and only within that cell sector) will slow down and in the worst case, some users may not be given access to the wireless data pipe that is FirstNet.

So the first issue is that if too many users within a small area try to use the system at the same time there can be some issues with data and video speeds or data and video access. Now here is where it is important to have someone trained to understand the issues. Let’s use the following scenario to explain this. There is an incident, say a fire on the corner of 1st and Main Streets. Fire and EMS respond to the fire, police respond for crowd and traffic control, and the area around the intersection is congested with emergency vehicles and personnel. Fire personnel are receiving floor plans and hazardous material updates on their devices and one or perhaps two video cameras are sending live information on the fire back to the command center. The police are using their data capabilities to organize their approach to crowd control and perhaps they are also using a video camera or two. At this point, the cell sector will probably handle all of the required traffic.

Then a victim is removed from the building and taken to the EMS vehicle for treatment. A link is established to a hospital and the paramedics send a full 12-lead EKG and other vital signs, putting very little stress on the network. THEN the doctor says he or she is concerned about internal bleeding in the patient and asks the paramedics to perform an ultrasound. They commence without any coordination with fire or police at this point. An ultrasound truly stresses the network with data rates of 5-8 Mbps in the uplink direction (remember, this is the slower of the two links, the downlink is faster). The result is that the cell sector everyone is using comes to a grinding halt and no one has a clue why. If there had been a trained person available to the IC to coordinate the broadband traffic the request for an ultrasound would have been cleared with the COML or other trained LMR/broadband coordinator. The danger in not having trained people on the ground is that failures or slowdowns of the network such as this could sour the first responders on the network.

So while we wait for FirstNet and the RFP winner, isn’t it time to devote our energies to bringing people up to speed on the differences between LMR and broadband and the fact that broadband is shared across all Public Safety sectors? Thus it needs to be managed by someone, somewhere, who has an understanding of the network capabilities and can act like the guy sitting in the ESPN van at a stadium or like a traffic cop. The ultimate solution to this is more than Incident Command, it is UNIFIED Incident Command with a trained person to help coordinate the broadband requirements, certainly not at every incident but at incidents that require a large amount of data, video, and EMS traffic in confined areas where only one, two, or three cell sectors are providing the bandwidth that needs to be shared across all of the services. We need to teach these lessons before putting the first responders in the field, or they will simply blame the failures that are bound to occur on the network and declare FirstNet a failure. None of us can afford to let that happen.

Andrew M. Seybold

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