Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, November 21, 2015

The big news for the week has to be the continued crumbling of LA-RICS. According to an article in Urgent Communications. ) LA City opted out of the LA-RICs consortium by a vote of 12-0. The immediate impact to LA-RICS and to Motorola is the loss of the City of LA for the construction of the new LA-RICS LMR radio system. The City says that they can save money by enhancing their own existing LMR system instead of spending money with LA-RICS.

In an area which makes heavy use of the T-Band (unused TV-Channels in the UHF TV band), and has issues with the number of 700 MHz LMR channels which can be used due to issues with Mexico, it does not appear that those who made the decision had reviewed and understood all of the implications of such a move. It also leaves in doubt the future of the LA-RICS FirstNet broadband system too. It is unfortunate but the LA area has a very poor track record in being able to centralize any type of public safety communications systems.

LA-RICS, of course, has been plagued with miss-steps. Not too long ago LA-RICS had a major problem with the fire fighters and their Union when they basically just started showing up at fire stations to install 70 foot towers to be used for the FirstNet LTE system. The fire fighters said that they feared being radiated by the LTE signals and in many cases they enlisted the assistance of the neighbors surrounding the fire stations. LA-RICS had to scale back the 225 planned towers to somewhere around 70 at the moment, which of course will provide much less coverage than any of the commercial operators now have in that area. LA-RICS did not do the type of outreach that wireless providers know that they have to do in order to minimize the complaints when applying for a permit for a single new tower, let alone 225. Surprising people by showing up to dig a hole and plant a tower next to a fire station is never going to result in a successful conclusion. This is not the first time that the LA area has tried to provide consolidated communications systems, all of which failed over the years for the same reason, politics.

When I was working for Motorola in LA in the late 70s and early 80s we were involved with the LA County Sheriff’s department and others to pioneer the use of the UHF TV channels in the area that were not being used for TV. The idea was to obtain two channels (each of which is 6 MHz worth of spectrum) , one for the City and one for the County. We suggested a different approach which was to use one TV channel for both City and County Fire and one channel for City Police and the Sheriff’s channels so that the city and county would have full interoperability at least between like agencies. The idea was rejected by both the City and the County, again for purely political reasons, and the City ended up with one UHF Channel for both Fire and Police and the County another for its sheriff and fire communications. Those were the days before wide-band capable radios so they could not interoperate across both TV channels and they ended up with two systems with no interoperability capabilities.

It is a shame that the growth of interoperable communications for public safety is oftentimes not a casualty of the technology but rather of the people who should be working together for the good of the public safety community. Some of these people are politicians who don’t fully understand the meaning of the decisions that are voting for but some of them are leaders in their own public safety community who for whatever reason don’t trust people wearing different types of uniforms. FirstNet would never have happened except for the formation of the Public Safety Alliance (PSA). This was a unique (unfortunately) organization made up of law enforcement brass, fire brass, and ems brass. They banded together for a common cause to convince those in DC that the D block was needed by Public Safety. Time after time I had the privilege of attending meetings with top elected officials along with Police, Sheriff, Fire and EMS personnel in full uniform. This unified approach resulted in FirstNet and the PSA is no more but Safecom, NPSTC, and APCO are organizations where all of the agencies should be working together closer than they are. I have to wonder what would have been the outcome in LA if those involved worked as well together as the PSA did in DC ? Have a great week-end and a Happy and quiet Thanksgiving next week! Andy

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