Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, October 30, 2015

This week I attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in Chicago. It was well attended, there were great sessions, and good exhibits on the show floor. On Sunday morning I attended the Communications and Technology (C&T) annual meeting as a guest. I wanted to be there because it was Chief Harlin McEwen’s (Ret) last meeting serving as chairman of the committee as he has done for the past 35 years. While the Chief is shedding some of his activities, he will stay on as Chairman of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) for FirstNet and, I am sure, continue to keep his hand on the pulse of Public Safety Communications.

Chief McEwen always runs a tight meeting for 4 hours but it is sometimes difficult to keep it on track timewise. This particular meeting was especially difficult because every hour, it seemed, another dignitary would show up to honor the Chief and present him with an award. Even so, we got through the many sub-committee reports, they voted on a few items, and adjourned on time at noon. An hour later we all met to continue honoring the Chief at a special luncheon. Many of his longtime friends and associates spoke about him and his willingness to listen to any and all who might have an idea or a comment. He has mentored countless of us over the years, and is considered the Father of FirstNet because he is. Harlin will be missed by the IACP of that I am sure, but for a while at least, he will continue to guide Public Safety in a direction where it will be improved and will continue to serve those who serve the public.

The exhibits were open Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, but I left town on Tuesday morning because President Obama was scheduled to address the Chiefs later in the day. While I would have enjoyed listening to what he had to say in person, I was not about to get caught up in the traffic and crowd control that always accompanies such an event. There were large crowds in the exhibit area most of the time I was there, and many more companies than I expected were showing all types of body cameras. Many had small light devices, and many did not have data storage solutions (the most expensive part of the entire eco-system).

In the C&T conference, Ed Reyes, who will be filling Chief McEwen’s position as chairman, gave an overview of what his department is doing to put the cameras on his uniformed personnel. He talked much more about the requirement for having policies in place for the collection and storage of the video and how quickly it should or should not be redacted and released after an incident, especially since there will already be a number of citizen-made videos already posted. All of this data will consume massive amounts of storage, terabytes and terabytes of storage, and all at a cost. Some of the camera companies have end-to-end camera to data storage systems in place while others are simply selling the cameras and leaving the storage issues up to the individual departments. It is clear that there needs to be standards, and I was shocked to find some of the companies plan to simply stream the video over the Internet to its intended location. That is a non-starter for two reasons–one is chain of custody and the other is that the Internet is not a secure environment under the control of the Public Safety community. It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds. 

There were also a fair number of LTE broadband hardened tablets on display. I saw a new one at the Panasonic booth that looked like it had been designed with Public Safety in mind, just as its Toughbook notebooks have been. I met two of the Panasonic execs I had worked with many, many years ago when I was consulting with Panasonic and getting the first radios built into Toughbooks for Public Safety use. Of course in those days we were using RAM Mobile Data and CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data), and ARDIS, the Motorola data network. Our data rates were a blinding 8 to 19 Kbps but fast enough to receive dispatch information, run license plates, and in some cases request additional resources. Thinking back to those early days it was unusual for a police officer to be able to type on a keyboard very well. Today it is second nature.

There were a number of new LMR radios, multi-band radios, and others on display. At the Motorola and Harris booths I was shown their self-contained LTE systems. The one in the Harris booth is made by Nokia and is transportable but still large, while the one in Motorola’s booth (not sure who makes it) is much smaller and lighter. The Motorola unit is an entire broadband network, self-contained, and includes an eNode B (radio transceiver) and EPC (Enhanced Packet Core) or network back-end. It is designed to be deployed on a temporary basis where there is no FirstNet or commercial service but there is an incident. The first version of the Motorola unit has no back-haul capability so it cannot be integrated into FirstNet’s system once it is operational.

Further, I was disappointed to find that users have to be pre-provisioned into the system before it is deployed. This makes no sense in a remote area where new resources are arriving to assist with the incident and are probably not pre-stored in the LTE system module. Motorola has plans to fix this and to add back-haul to it over time. IACP is about all aspects of police work that Chiefs need to be aware of, and to deal with. Over and over again, the Chiefs find that almost every aspect of their work these days at some point involves communications technologies in one form or another. Gone are the days when Police had a Land Mobile Radio system and nothing else. Today they are dealing with LMR systems, the start of broadband, fiber and microwave data services, data access across boundaries, and much more. Just as communications has permeated almost every aspect of civilian life, so too has it found its way into many more places within the Public Safety community. Have a great weekend Andy

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