APCO Roundup–Courtesy TRDaily: Speakers Stress Importance of State CIOS in Deployment of FirstNet System

NEW ORLEANS – State chief information officers should play an important role as the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) plans and deploys a nationwide public safety broadband network, speakers said during a session at the APCO 2014 show.

The views were expressed by Ed Parkinson, director-government affairs for FirstNet, and Mitch Herckis, director-government affairs for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

NASCIO’s executive committee has decided that the development of the FirstNet system is a top advocacy goal of the organization, and Mr. Herckis said state CIOs care about the project and have the knowledge to contribute input due to their expertise with large-scale IT infrastructure projects, their know-how concerning the needs of first responders, and the importance of focusing on business plans that allow the network to be sustainable over the long term.

“There really is a lot of public safety IT infrastructure that already falls under a lot of the state CIOs,” Mr. Herckis said. “They have an understanding of the demands, the need for reinforcement and the resiliency of these systems.”

As for sustainable business models, Mr. Herckis noted that Congress has reserved only $7 billion from auction revenues for the network. “Most of the states don’t want to … foot the rest of the difference, which is probably about 14 billion [dollars] more,” he added.

He also said that state CIOs ignore the development of the network at their “own peril” because if the project runs into problems, some people may try to blame them.

He said among the options FirstNet should consider to help build and maintain the network are adding utilities, transportation agencies, and other secondary users at the state and local levels and ensuring that fallow spectrum can be used by others in a dynamic way.  But he added that “it’s an open question at this point” whether sustainable business models can be developed.

However, Mr. Herckis said, FirstNet should utilize state CIOs to encourage state and local stakeholders to use the network, saying that CIOs are used to marketing services to other government agencies.  “It’s a lot about marketing to get these different agencies on board,” he said. “It’s going to have to be cost effective. It’s going to have to reflect the landscape.”

Survey results released by NASCIO in June (TRDaily, June 11) found that nearly one-quarter of states are not “actively” conducting outreach and education activities related FirstNet. However, the survey and other feedback indicate that even some of those states are engaging in some activities, Mr. Herckis noted.  For example, he said some states indicated that they have conducted all the outreach they can at this point while others said they don’t want to reach out too broadly until they know who they can cover. “You really do have a majority of states prepared to deal with FirstNet,” he said.

NASCIO also said in the survey report said that 38% of state CIOs or a member of their offices are state points of contact (SPOC) for FirstNet, adding that additional states plan to follow suit.

Mr. Parkinson also stressed the importance of CIOs as FirstNet plans and deploys the network. “We want the CIOs to play an active role in this,” he said. He noted that Teri Takai, a former state CIO and former CIO of the Department of Defense, is a FirstNet board member.

Among the actions that CIOs can take to assist FirstNet are promoting coordination among public safety entities in their states, assessing available assets, and coordinating with public safety answering points (PSAPs) so they understand the interrelated nature of their operations and FirstNet.

Mr. Parkinson also noted the public comment and notice period planned by FirstNet to explore legal “ambiguities” in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which created FirstNet. “I hope it will be announced after our board meeting on Sept. 17,” he said, adding that it may be drafted for consideration at the September board meeting.

Asked whether the first state plans could be completed in 2016, Mr. Parkinson replied, “It really depends, I think, on the state.” For example, he noted that a small state like Delaware, with three counties, will likely be able to complete the process more quickly than a large state such as Texas, which has 254 counties.

“We don’t have a definite date at this point,” he said. “I will say this: It is in FirstNet’s interest to get users on the network as quickly as possible.”

One audience member said he was worried that FirstNet will not sell what some users want.

“It’s got to be something that users can use or they’re not going to want to participate,” said Kauai, Hawaii Fire Chief Robert Westerman. “I just have a fear that we’re going to leave some stuff behind that certain people [planning the network] might not think is important.”

Later, he told TRDaily, “If it doesn’t work for me, I’m not going to buy it if I can get the service from Verizon for half the price.”

In response to Mr. Westerman’s concerns, Mr. Parkinson acknowledged that what FirstNet offers first responders has “to be a service that the end user can afford.”  He stressed that FirstNet “will be able to take advantage of market forces” and leverage current assets, which will allow it to offer a quality service at a reasonable price. “It’s a challenging task for sure, and there will be competitors,” he added.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com