APCO Roundup–Courtesy TRDaily: Experts Emphasize Importance of Planning for FirstNet System

NEW ORLEANS – Outreach and teamwork are crucial as states reach out to stakeholders to prepare for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) system, experts said at the APCO 2014 show here.

Travis Durek, broadband technology manager for the North Dakota Information Technology Department, said coordination among agencies in his state is crucial. He also said that state officials have worked to see who needs public safety broadband access, what their desired apps and capabilities are, and what the coverage needs are.

“If you haven’t been out there talking to people, you’ve got to get a dialogue started now,” Mr. Durek advised.  He also said attendees should work with associations and work closely with public safety answering points (PSAPs).

Brandon Abley, a consultant at Televate LLC and former statewide interoperability coordinator for Minnesota, described the importance of conducting outreach to tribes, which he acknowledged can be difficult, especially in Minnesota, which he said has had “some really ugly politics” involving tribes.

Mr. Abley, whose firm is helping Minnesota with its State and Local Implementation Grant Program planning, said Minnesota will have its initial consultation meeting with FirstNet on its state plan Sept. 24.

Jackie Mines, director of the Division of Emergency Communication Networks in the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, emphasized the importance of beginning planning, noting that it took 10 years to plan for and deploy a statewide radio system in her state. However, she said it can be difficult to convince certain people, such as local officials, of the need to plan many years in advance.

Ms. Mines also pointed out that while outreach now is important, many answers are still not in – including on key matters such as how much it will cost users to access the FirstNet system. “Our stakeholders are very concerned about cost,” she said.

Bill Schrier, chair of Washington state’s Interoperability Executive Committee and the state point of contact for FirstNet, agreed that reaching out to public safety and other associations is a good way to reach stakeholders, including setting up booths at association conferences. He said officials in his state have made about 50 presentations to groups. He said his state will have its initial consultation meeting with FirstNet on Oct. 16, about a week after Oregon on Oct. 8.

Regarding outreach to stakeholders, Mr. Schrier said one issue “is early outreach versus the slow pace of FirstNet.” And he noted that some local officials are getting irritated about data collection, saying that he wants to halt all data collection until FirstNet provides tools for that. “I will go to my stakeholders once,” he said.

Mr. Schrier also said some first responders that already use commercial LTE (long term evolution) services are skeptical about the need to switch to the FirstNet network. He also said that “there’s skepticism about the federal government involvement.”  In addition, he said he has concerns about FirstNet’s ability to deliver a state plan from a technical standpoint. – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com