Credit: TR Daily

The public safety community must begin to prepare now to guard networks in an all-Internet protocol world from cyber attacks, and the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) is ideally suited to help that process, David Simpson, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, told the organization today.

“Public safety entities should not wait to prepare for a full IP transition. Rather they should begin now to develop the identity management programs, priority access schemes, and other protocols necessary to create secure public safety networks,” Mr. Simpson said at an NPSTC meeting in Washington. “This is a big task. It magnifies when you get beyond radios.”

Mr. Simpson cited incidences in which hackers transmitted a bogus emergency alert and reprogrammed a highway sign and a Florida resident whom the Commission said used a jammer to disrupt mobile phone service during his daily commute for up to two years. “It’s a problem that’s not in the future, it’s a problem that’s here now,” Mr. Simpson warned of network threats.

He said such jamming instances mean there is a need to “ask ourselves, ‘Is the current method of reporting outages after 30 minutes impacting hundreds of thousands of users, is that sufficient to allow us to connect the dots?”

He also said public safety agencies must be proactive in their use of social media, noting that otherwise third parties will create fake Facebook pages and other sites.

Mr. Simpson said cyber security must be integrated into network standards. “One thing is for certain: If public safety fails to prepare now, critical decisions will be made for us, not by us,” he cautioned.

He also asked public safety to help on the lobbying front to outlaw owning jammers, which he said is legal even though their sale and operation to non-federal government entities is not permitted. Mr. Simpson and others today also noted the FCC’s proposal last week to fine a Chinese electronics manufacturer and online retailer $34.9 million for allegedly marketing 285 models of signal jamming devices to U.S. consumers for more than two years (TRDaily, June 19).

Mr. Simpson also stressed the need for training of public safety personnel on cyber issues. “Public safety professionals will be facing a very different world in the future,” he said.

Roberto Mussenden, an attorney-adviser in the Public Safety Bureau’s Policy and Licensing Division, said some public safety items that staff had hoped the Commission would have already taken action on have not been addressed due to the amount of attention devoted by Commissioners and their staff to incentive auction and open Internet orders adopted at the May meeting (TRDaily, May 15). Those orders “sucked all the oxygen out of the eighth floor,” he said.

He briefly mentioned several pending public safety proceedings. For example, he said that a tentative timeframe for Commissioner circulation of a 4.9 gigahertz band order is the fall, and he said that FCC staffers are working out “kinks” on an item in the 700 megahertz band narrowbanding proceeding. “We’ve got to move that out because licensees need clarity – soon rather than later,” he said.

He also noted that the bureau has sought comment on an NPSTC petition on railroad police and has extended the pleading cycle in the next-generation 911 (NG-911) proceeding.

Mr. Mussenden also noted that the FCC and Industry Canada are working on guidelines for cross-border use of portable radios and base stations.

In response to a question, Messrs. Simpson and Mussenden said that the FCC would adopt a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comments on the FCC’s process for reviewing state requests to opt-out of having the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) build the radio access network in states. But they gave no timeframe for such action.

Mike Dame, director of the State and Local Implementation Grant Program at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, cited progress states are making in getting ready for FirstNet. For example, he said, 85% of grant recipients are engaging stakeholders, holding 480 meetings between July 2013 and March of this year. Among other things, he said his program plans to develop best practices this year on issues such as outreach and education, tribal coordination, and governance.

Kevin McGinnis, a FirstNet and NPSTC board member, cited progress the authority has made in recent months as it has bolstered its staff, including by hiring a tribal outreach lead, Carl Rebstock. He also said that FirstNet hopes to hire two other tribal outreach personnel who are members of tribes. And he said FirstNet may launch as soon as next month a public notice and comment process for its comprehensive network services request for proposal.

Also at today’s meeting, Harlin McEwen, chairman of FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), praised new FirstNet board Chairman Sue Swenson’s decision to allow stakeholders and others to be in the room during FirstNet board meetings – the first such meeting being the board’s meeting earlier this month in Colorado (TRDaily, June 3). Mr. McEwen called the decision a “dramatic change,” noting that previous chairman Sam Ginn had the board meet in a separate room from stakeholders, although reporters sometimes were permitted to be in the room.

He also said Ms. Swenson told him that the PSAC executive committee will be often invited to board meetings and asked to participate. “That was another thing that Chairman Ginn chose not to do,” he said. “I think both of those things are very significant improvements and welcome.”

“She has a very different view about how [the] FirstNet board should work and how the PSAC should relate to the board,” Mr. McEwen said.

Mr. McEwen added, “We’re really on a roll now to start to actually be actively involved and be valued as a part of the FirstNet process.”

He also said that members are being identified for a new PSAC tribal working group, saying there will be about 15 members, and that a chairman is being identified for a new early builder working group.

NPSTC also agreed to prepare a recommendation for the board to express its support for continuing to develop mission-critical voice communications standards in 3GPP, which is dedicated to developing standards for LTE (long term evolution) technology, rather than other standards bodies.

Earlier this month, FirstNet officials expressed concern that efforts are underway by some to move mission-critical voice standards from 3GPP to the Open Mobile Alliance (TRDaily, June 3). For its part, OMA said it was collaborating with 3GPP (TRDaily, June 5).

Andy Thiessen, vice chairman of NPSTC’s Technology Committee, said it would be beneficial for public safety for the work to continue in 3GPP, citing activities related to push-to-talk and direct-mode capabilities. He said that 3GPP stakeholders generally support keeping the public safety standards in 3GPP. Mr. McEwen agreed, saying, “We’re locked into LTE.”

Mr. Thiessen also described efforts to work with FirstNet’s technical team on the most important requirements needed when the network is launched, while he said work is planned to refresh local control and priority and quality of service reports prepared by NPSTC in 2012. Mr. Thiessen also said that the plan is to wait for guidance from FirstNet before engaging in other work on requirements needed for the FirstNet system.

He also said a report that lists 29 public safety console LTE requirements should be published soon.

Also at today’s meeting, the NPSTC board approved the establishment of a subcommittee under its Technology Committee to develop an explanatory paper on the connection between NG-911 and FirstNet. Several speakers agreed that many in the public safety community with no 911 backgrounds know little about topics such as the National Emergency Number Association’s i3 technical standard.

In another presentation, Ron Hewitt, director of the Office of Emergency Communications, said the Department of Homeland Security is “getting close” to being able to release OEC’s updated National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP), which he noted is still in the interagency clearance process.

Also, John Merrill, director of the Office for Interoperability and Compatibility at DHS, noted that his office is developing a device to locate radio signal jammers, saying it provides jammer directions and received signal strength information.

Also at the meeting, NPSTC praised John Powell, who is stepping down as chairman of the group’s Interoperability Committee, and welcomed his successor, John Lenihan, a Los Angeles County Fire Department battalion chief who has 37 years of experience in the fire service.- Paul Kirby,