Early Builders Expect to Meet September 30 BTOP Grant Deadline

Representatives of the four early builder public safety projects that received BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) funds said today they will meet the Sept. 30 deadline for spending to be completed.  The project that has faced the most difficult road is the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS).

LA-RICS Executive Director Pat Mallon said during a session this afternoon at the APCO 2015 show that he expects it to meet the Sept. 30 deadline, while acknowledging it has work still yet to do. Of the 78 sites now planned, Mr. Mallon said that 34 sites have been completed, 21 are in construction, five are awaiting construction, and three still need the completion of permitting. The 78 sites include 15 cells on wheels (COWS).

LA-RICS construction was suspended in April after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council voted to halt LA-RICS construction of cell sites on government-owned land in their jurisdictions, including at fire and police stations (TRDaily, April 3).

LA-RICS subsequently filed an amended plan for constructing the network and the suspension was lifted (TRDaily, May 1).

LA-RICS ran into fire union, politician, and community opposition to the siting of cell sites over health and aesthetic concerns, which prompted the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to abandon plans to seek inventories early on of public assets for the nationwide public safety system. LA-RICS originally had planned to deploy 232 cell sites, and Mr. Mallon said today that coverage would be impacted by the smaller network.

Mr. Mallon said LA-RICS’s experience highlights the importance of reaching out to rank-and-file first responders. “Get the line level excited about this, because it’s their excitement that’s going to really sell it,” he said.

While he said that he believes his project will meet the Sept. 30 deadline, he acknowledged that it hasn’t been an easy process.

“Sept. 30th is kind of our drop-dead date,” he said. “I’m afraid I might drop dead before that date.”

During today’s session, Jacque Miller, deputy chief information officer for the state of New Mexico, said her state will have its network, which includes six fixed sites and a COW, completed before the Sept. 30 deadline. She said four sites have been built and two more will be done within weeks.

Walt Leslie, assistant director-technology for the Adams County, Colo., Communications Center (ADCOM 911), said the 19-site network has been completed and officials are looking for ways to expand it, including by getting permission from FirstNet to use legacy equipment to expand service to two neighboring communities.

Fred Scalera, public safety broadband manager for the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, detailed efforts to complete work by the deadline, which he said will be met. He said work is being completed on 10 deployable units and an equipped Chevy Tahoe. The system will have a total of 37 deployable units plus the Tahoe and a van. Mr. Scalera said that his agency plans to lend two deployables to the  Pennsylvania State Police for the Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.

Bill Schrier, the moderator of today’ session and Washington state’s FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC) and chair of its state’s Interoperability Executive Committee, joked that the New Jersey system “is likely to be the first public safety LTE network to be blessed by the pope.” He added that “FirstNet needs all the prayers that it can get.”

Todd Early, deputy assistant director of the Public Safety Communications Service within the Law Enforcement Support Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the state’s SPOC for FirstNet, updated the audience on the progress in building out a network in Harris County, Texas, which did not receive BTOP funding. He noted that the county recently approved $58 million to expand the network, which currently has deployed 14 sites and plans to expand in phases to more than 90.-  Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com