APCO Roundup–Courtesy TRDaily: FirstNet Officials Cite Need to Integrate NG 911

NEW ORLEANS – First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) officials today emphasized the benefits of integrating next-generation 911 (NG-911) systems with a public safety broadband safety network. But some public safety officials complained that NG-911 is being short-changed financially and that an effective governance model has not yet been established.

Jay English, director of communications center and 911 services for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, stressed during a session at the APCO 2014 show here the importance of standard interfaces so the NG-911 and public safety broadband networks can communicate with each other.

Amanda Hilliard, director-outreach for FirstNet, said the 911 community should ensure that it is part of the state consultation process that FirstNet plans to conduct.  She also noted that FirstNet plans to hire a 911 subject matter expert and wants to hire outreach staff in each regional office in the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency regions.

FirstNet Deputy Chief Technical Officer Jeff Bratcher said he knows that many people want information on the architecture for the nationwide network, but he said staff is “still knee deep in” work to plan that architecture. He said he agreed with Mr. English that interoperability issues between FirstNet and NG-911 networks must be addressed.

Mr. Bratcher also noted that FirstNet has a technical staff of 24 federal employees and contractors and it is currently hiring its planned 12 directors. He said FirstNet wants to ensure it hires enough technical staff with 911 and NG-911 backgrounds.

FirstNet board member Jeff Johnson said there is a need to educate first responders about the benefits of NG-911, including enabling the public to send public safety answering points (PSAPs) video and other data during emergencies.

“We have all kinds of kingdoms out there … and we’ve got to bridge the gap,” Mr. English said, noting various public safety agencies and disciplines.  He said agencies need to partner to deploy NG-911, saying it will enable more efficient and cost-effective deployment. He also said that establishing a governance structure up front for NG-911 is also crucial.

Mr. English said he agreed with an audience member, Jeff Vannais, a communications supervisor for the East Hartford, Conn., Police Department, who said that more funding is needed for NG-911.  Mr. Vannais also said that the profile of NG-911 needs to be raised to the same level as FirstNet. He also said that a national governance structure is needed for NG-911.

Another audience member, Larry Hatch, assistant director of the Washington County, Ore., Consolidated Communications Agency, echoed the concern that there is scant funding for NG-911 at the local level.

Mr. Johnson noted the political difficulty of eliminating some PSAPs so they can be operated in a more cost-effective manner at a regional level.  He also said there is a need for a broad coalition in public safety to get any additional changes from Congress to help NG-911 deployment, as was necessary to convince Congress to establish FirstNet.  And he said that FirstNet will do all it can to ensure that NG-911 can be improved.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which established FirstNet, reserved $115 million for NG-911 from auction revenues, once a number of other priorities are met, including $7 billion for FirstNet. – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com