DHS Office of Emergency Communications Summary of FY 2016 DHS Preparedness Grant Programs

In February 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Preparedness Grants Notices of Funding Opportunities (NOFO).  The NOFOs are available at:  http://www.fema.gov/preparedness-non-disaster-grants.

Application Due Dates: Emergency Management Performance Grant Program applications are due on March 18, 2016; Remaining DHS Preparedness Grant Program applications are due on April 25, 2016. OEC has prepared a summary of FY 2016 DHS Preparedness Grants or stakeholders to assist in developing proposals that align with DHS funding priorities for emergency communications.  Stakeholders are strongly encouraged to read this summary and the SAFECOM Guidance on Emergency Communications Grants before submitting emergency communications proposals for funding.  Each year, OEC provides details of fiscal year DHS grants.  The Grant Programs Letter  summary contains the following information:

  • DHS grant amounts and deadlines
  • Key updates or changes in funding or program details
  • Table detailing each grant program including purpose, eligibility, and allowable costs
  • Detailing of SAFECOM Guidance priorities and recommendations for grantees
  • FEMA grant requirements and grants management best practices


Drivers Busy Talking on Phone, Texting Behind the Wheel

Seventy percent of drivers said they talked on a mobile phone while driving in the previous month, while 31% said they do so fairly often or regularly, according to survey results released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.  The survey also found that 42% of drivers said they read a text message or e-mail while driving in the past month, while 12% said they do so fairly often or regularly. Also, 32% said they typed or sent a text message or e-mail while driving over the last month, with 8% saying they do that fairly often or regularly. Overall, many drivers said they view using a wireless device while driving as dangerous when other drivers are doing it, yet many do it themselves. Continue reading

Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, February 26, 2016

Okay, I am confused. FirstNet posted its responses to the first one hundred of the four hundred questions it received between the time the RFP was issued and the February 12 deadline for submission. One of the questions and I believe probably more, had to do with the timing of the RFP response. The original dates provided only sixteen weeks between the time the RFP was made public and the due date. In response to requests to extend the deadline, FirstNet agreed to extend the Capability Statement date and the RFP due date by two weeks. This means the most important RFP FirstNet will ever issue is due back after only eighteen weeks on the street!

The RFP was issued one month shy of the fourth year anniversary of the law that created FirstNet. In all fairness, the first two years after the law was signed were not good years for FirstNet. It was being run by the NTIA instead of the FirstNet board of directors, hiring people was a painfully slow and tedious process, and the board faced some dissention that further complicated things because the NTIA, like any government agency, is totally averse to any hint of irregularities and things ground to a halt for almost nine months. But FirstNet came back strong, hiring was expedited, the board of directors began taking more control, and progress was evident. Still, it took two more years before FirstNet issued the most important RFP it will ever issue. Without a valid partner, FirstNet cannot exist. Congress made it clear that there will be no more federal monies allocated to FirstNet, so the private-public partnership is its only logical and legal course of action. So a draft RFP was circulated, questions were responded to, and comments were submitted.

The new RFP was said to be much more in tune with a true partnership as opposed to a federal government procurement was finally released but with an exceptionally short fuse. Further, it was so different from the draft RFP that potential bidders had to start over from the beginning to review this new RFP and digest its many sections and pages. Questions were submitted almost immediately but answers did not start coming until after the February due date. Then many of the questions were not answered in such a way as to mitigate the issues that had been identified. Yes, there have been some changes to the RFP and some of the sections that conflicted with each other have been reconciled, but there are still three hundred questions in the FirstNet hopper waiting to be answered. Meanwhile the clock is ticking. So the RFP responses are now due on May 13, 2016, and FirstNet still plans to make the award during the fourth quarter of this year. I believe both dates are too soon.

This is not simply an RFP that says the vendor will provide so many widgets to the federal government for so many dollars, it is an RFP for a partner that will take on substantial financial risk to hopefully experience a return on investment at some future time. Some of the terms and conditions seem onerous to me and several teams of potential bidders have dropped out of the process even before their questions were answered. The shame of this is that if the responses to the first questions had been provided sooner, perhaps some groups that have disbanded their teams would still be in the hunt. To design, build, and operate a new nationwide broadband network on spectrum that is unused except for some existing Public Safety LMR systems that will be moved is an enormous task even for existing commercial network operators. The timelines do not take into account many issues such as local permitting processes and many others over which a vendor has no control. Ask any of the commercial network operators if they actually meet their yearly goal for new cell sites. Those I talk to miss their targets year after year by 30 percent or more because of permitting issues. During one network operator’s LTE build in San Francisco, using rented tower space from a nationwide tower provider it was already using, new permits were required for each and every site, delaying its LTE launch by months. Yet only 24 months after the contract is signed, the RFP winner must have 50 percent of its predicted Public Safety users up and running. I don’t understand why the extension was for only two weeks.

FirstNet’s reasoning was worded this way, “Due to the critical schedule for award, the Government is extending the submission of proposals due date for two additional weeks.” Which leads me to ask the question, “According to whom is there a ‘critical schedule for the award’”? Nothing in the law states that an award must be made by the end of 2016. The best RFP responses will be reviewed in detail by, I am told, FirstNet, federal government folks, subject matter experts, and hopefully representatives of the Public Safety community. The final contract will not be what is submitted in the RFP but rather the result of numerous discussions, back and forth negotiations, and then finally an understanding between the potential partner and FirstNet and/or whoever will actually administer the contract. Once that is done, I have to assume the contract will be drawn up and reviewed again by everyone including a ton of attorneys on both sides. Changes to the language will be discussed and agreed upon and then there will be a final contract. I will be amazed if all of this is done in the allotted time and the contract is signed, sealed, and delivered within 2016. Thus another thirty or sixty days extension for the RFP responses should not be an issue. What am I missing here? The more time that is allotted for RFP responses, the better the responses and perhaps more responses there will be. I have to wonder if the “critical schedule” has more to do with the November elections than with FirstNet. It seems to me that an RFP two years in the making that will require the winning bidder to expend $billions before ever seeing a return on its investment is worthy of more than sixteen or eighteen weeks of time for bidders to respond. Andrew M. Seybold Continue reading

Ligado Says Testing Shows that LTE Network Won’t Interfere with GPS

Testing commissioned by Ligado Networks LLC (formerly LightSquared) shows that LTE signal levels agreed to by Ligado will not impact GPS user performance for tested Garmin International, Inc., Samsung Electronics, and Motorola Solutions, Inc., devices, Ligado and its engineering consultants told reporters.  Ligado submitted the test results from its engineering consultant, Roberson and Associates LLC, to the FCC late yesterday. The company shared the results with representatives of the Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, and National Telecommunications and Information Administration during a Feb. 5 meeting at the Roberson and Associates testing lab in Herndon, Va.

 Roberson and Associates launched the testing last year and modified its work in the wake of spectrum use agreements that Ligado reached with GPS companies Garmin, Trimble Navigation Ltd., and Deere & Company. Under the spectrum use agreements, Ligado has agreed to reduced power levels and out-of-band emissions limits to protect GPS operations in adjacent bands. It has asked the FCC to modify its licenses to conform with the agreements (TRDaily, Jan. 4). Continue reading

NASCIO Issues Calls for State IT Procurement Reform

LEXINGTON, Ky., Thursday, February 25 — The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) today issued a call to action for state information technology (IT) procurement reform. In the 2015 survey, The Value Equation, roughly one-half (47%) of state chief information officers (CIOs) exhibit negative outlooks on IT procurement processes — a number which is consistent with results from the 2010, 2012 and 2013 surveys. Additionally, NASCIO’s corporate partners are 70% moderately to very dissatisfied with the state IT procurement process. One corporate partner responded, “disorganized, inconsistent processes, governance and standards across agencies even with a supposedly centralized procurement function,” continue to plague the state IT procurement process. Continue reading

Tesla Exploration [Company Offering Geophysical Services] Pays Penalty for PS Interference

The FCC entered into a consent decree to resolve an investigation into whether Tesla Exploration violated the commission’s rules by operating radio transmitting equipment on 11 unauthorized frequencies. Tesla admitted that its unauthorized operations violated the commission’s rules, and the company will implement a comprehensive compliance plan and pay a $50,000 civil penalty.  Read complete article here: http://mccmag.com/News/NewsDetails/newsID/13946

NGA Policy Academy on Enhancing Emergency Communications Interoperability

Policy Academy on Enhancing Emergency Communications Interoperability

Purpose: To assist states in developing strategies for improving the interoperability of emergency communications.

Opportunities Provided: Five competitively selected state teams will: (1) participate in two, two-day meetings where they will review the latest research on best practices in interoperable communications, identify strategies for overcoming barriers to statewide implementation of their interoperable plans, and explore opportunities for enhancing collaboration between governors’ offices and statewide interoperable coordinators; (2) receive technical assistance in convening a stakeholder workshop to refine recommendations they develop during the kickoff summit; and (3) present those recommendations and a plan of action to their governor. In addition, selected states will be eligible to receive up to $15,000 in funding to support planning efforts.

Proposals Due: Monday, March 7, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Bidder’s Conference Call: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Call-in Number: 855-240-2575
Passcode: 63003277
Selection Announcement: Week of March 14, 2016
Project Period: April 2016 – September 2016
First Policy Academy Meeting: April/May 2016
Second Policy Academy Meeting: August/September 2016
Eligibility: States, commonwealths and territories with full NGA membership benefits.
NGA Center Contacts: Timothy Blute, Senior Policy Analyst, Homeland Security and Public Safety Division
(202) 624-7854 or tblute@nga.org
Michael Garcia, Policy Analyst, Homeland Security and Public Safety Division
(202) 624-5312 or mgarcia@nga.org

Through this policy academy, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications (OEC), will assist five states in developing strategies for improving emergency communications interoperability.

The term “interoperable communications” refers to the ability of federal, state, and local emergency responders to communicate with each other by voice, data, and video on demand, in real-time, and as authorized. Interoperable communications is key to an effective emergency response, yet fire, police, and other public safety entities in most jurisdictions continue to rely on communications systems and equipment that are often incompatible. Such limitations make interoperability one of the most critical issues facing public safety today. With the buildout of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, continued use of land mobile radio, and deployment of Next Generation 9-1-1 systems in the next decade, the need for interoperability will continue to be of critical importance.

A variety of challenges exist to achieving interoperability. Technical and financial limitations can be obstacles. Others include those related to policy and governance. For example, without a formalized, statewide governance structure in place, it can be difficult to coordinate a unified approach across multiple disciplines and jurisdictions.

Through the Policy Academy on Enhancing Emergency Communications Interoperability, the NGA Center, in partnership with OEC, aims to assist states in addressing challenges to achieving interoperability. The Office of Emergency Communications (OEC), within the Department of Homeland Security partners with public safety personnel at all levels of government to lead the nationwide effort to improve emergency communications capabilities. The Policy and Planning Branch advises OEC and DHS leadership through policy options, strategic planning initiatives, research projects, and targeted outreach activities to support identified mission priorities.

An NGA Center policy academy is a highly interactive process designed to assist a select number of states in developing and implementing action plans for addressing complex public policy challenges. The policy academy process and lessons learned from it are also intended to serve as a catalyst for adoption of best practices in all states.

Through the Policy Academy on Enhancing Emergency Communications Interoperability, up to five states will be competitively selected to participate in a set of activities designed to help them develop or strengthen interoperability plans to enhance governance capacities at the state level for public safety emergency communications interoperability. State team members will receive guidance and technical assistance from NGA Center staff and faculty experts—such as consultants from the private sector, research organizations, academia, and the federal government—to help them identify strategies for overcoming barriers to statewide implementation of those plans.

Policy Academy Teams. Each participating state will assemble a high-level multidisciplinary “core” team of five state representatives. The team should be designated by the governor’s office and include senior level advisors, such as the chief information officer, chief information security officer, state point of contact, statewide interoperability coordinator, homeland security advisors, legislators, law enforcement agency representatives, or others with responsibilities related to managing the state’s interoperable communication systems.
Selected states will:
 Participate in two, two-day policy academy meetings with other policy academy states;
 Convene an in-state workshop facilitated by NGA Center staff;
 Develop and begin to implement interoperable emergency communications plans and systems;
 Educate governors and their key policy staff on the critical importance of pursuing aggressive improvements to the state-level governance structures that inform and direct the deployment and utilization of emergency communications interoperability among public safety and emergency services agencies;
 Participate in regular conference calls and other networking activities;
 Receive customized ongoing technical assistance from NGA Center staff and faculty experts; and
 Receive up to $15,000 in funding to support planning and convening experts within their state. Continue reading

SAFECOM and NCSWIC Publish New Documents on Funding and Sustainment for Public Safety Communications Systems

The Joint SAFECOM and National Council of Statewide Interoperability Coordinators (NCSWIC) Funding and Sustainment Committee is pleased to announce the launch of several new documents for public safety to utilize regarding the challenges they face securing and sustaining funding to build, improve, expand, and support the ongoing costs of public safety communications systems.

The first document, Funding Mechanisms for Public Safety Communications Systems, lays out various funding mechanisms (e.g., bonds, user fees, special taxes), and provides specific examples of states and localities that have leveraged that type of funding for improvements to their systems. This paper is intended to help public safety leaders and government officials learn how other states and localities are funding their public safety communications systems and start a discussion in their state. For more information on the Funding Mechanisms for Public Safety Communications Systems check out the blog post, Funding Public Safety Communications Systems, by Chief Tom Roche (Ret.), SAFECOM Funding and Sustainment Committee Chair.

The second set of documents is a set of three white papers on land mobile radio (LMR) technologies known as the LMR Trio.  These documents can be used to educate decision-makers and funders as to the importance of LMR technologies, and the need to sustain and support LMR systems throughout the development of the nationwide public safety broadband network.  For more information on the LMR Trio check out the blog post, Land Mobile Radio (LMR) Trio, by Victoria Garcia, NCSWIC Funding and Sustainment Committee Chair and Hawaii Statewide Interoperability Coordinator.

For more funding resources or information on SAFECOM and NCSWIC, please visit the SAFECOM and NCSWIC website or if you have any questions on these products, please email SAFECOMGovernance@hq.dhs.gov or NCSWICGovernance@hq.dhs.gov.

&T Press Release: DHS S&T Awards $200K for Internet of Things Systems Security

Santa Clara start-up receives first Innovation OTS contract from DHS S&T Silicon Valley Office

WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) awarded $200,000 to Pulzze Systems, Inc., a small business based in Santa Clara, California, to advance detection capability and security monitoring of networked systems, collectively known as the Internet of Things. This is the first award from the Innovation Other Transaction Solicitation (OTS), designed to engage non-traditional performers in developing solutions to some of the toughest threats to the security of the homeland.

Interested in learning more? Read the full S&T Press Release.

Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, February 28, 2016

Since last week’s commentary I have received verification that five other potential FirstNet RFP bidders have decided not to pursue this opportunity. Yet I have also heard from a reliable source that we can expect to see more than two bidders submitting proposals. I hope my source is correct since Public Safety deserves many bids on the table to ensure the best possible partner is chosen. Obviously, last week I was at a low point in the Public Safety broadband journey. For the past eight years I, along with a number of others, kept the faith that FirstNet would become a reality and would provide Public Safety with the much needed addition of near-mission-critical data and video services.

In the early days we were told that the dream of obtaining the D-block was just that, a dream or even a pipe dream. But led by Chief Harlin McEwen and others, we did not give up. During that period even some within the FCC did not support Public Safety in our quest for the D-block, and several “learned scholars” on assignment to the FCC wrote technical papers “proving” Public Safety did not need more than a 5 X 5-MHz portion of the spectrum. It is interesting that one of the key issues with the RFP today as detailed to me by a number of contractors who have dropped out is the fact that even with 10 X 10 MHz of spectrum there is still a concern that during peak times and major incidents many of the secondary users will have to be moved somewhere else. Through it all we remained positive.

Then FirstNet was formed and we looked forward to moving ahead quickly, yet it was soon apparent that FirstNet was not the happy family is was supposed to be and it did, in fact, go off the tracks for a number of months. But then it righted itself and began to make inroads, first with its assigned tasks and then with the federal beauracracy that was holding it down. The FirstNet of today is not the FirstNet of 2012 and 2013 but a more viable entity that is moving forward on many fronts at once. Unfortunately, it is still having to find ways to appease those whose only goal in life seems to be to make sure FirstNet adheres to any federal requirement they deem necessary to protect the citizens of the United States from something dire, I have to assume, but what? When the draft RFP came out and I spent a month taking it apart, formulating questions, commenting, and then more months preparing and filing comments, I was, once again, pretty low because if the draft RFP was released as the final, it would have resulted in no responders and left FirstNet floundering while Congress decided what to do with its remains. Continue reading