Andy Seybold’s PSA Discovery Patterns, July 22, 2016

NTIA Publishes State Opt-Out Guidelines:  This week NTIA released a document that will have a significant impact on states considering opting out. The NTIA’s document, for which comments are due by August 19, 2016, is entitled, “State Alternative Plan Program (SAPP) and the First Responder Network Authority Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.” The full document can be found at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-07-19/pdf/2016-17034.pdf

Note: A state that opts out of the FirstNet build plan needs to provide its own Radio Access Network or RAN. That is, the cell sites that will connect to the FirstNet backend or Evolved Packet Core (EPC), which is the brains of the network. I plan to file comments and I suggest any state even considering opting out at least read this document very closely. If comments are appropriate, that state should file before the deadline. I would never suggest to any state that it opt out, rather my thought is to work with FirstNet and the partner and accept the coverage being offered, perhaps with some suggested modifications. Also, make sure your state has the right to negotiate with the partner so after building the RAN in the state there will be ways to expand coverage of the network.

This could be accomplished in several ways. One would be for the FirstNet partner to agree to add the coverage because it would also give the partner better access to the spectrum on a secondary basis (more capacity). The next way would be for the city, county, or state to pay for an additional RAN and have it installed by the FirstNet partner or a qualified, pre-approved vendor. There are a number of combinations of these two that might make some sense, but I would opt for gaining the best coverage possible from FirstNet and then moving forward. Back to the Document from the NTIA My first issue is not with the NTIA document but rather with the law that spells out that the opt-out process must include several steps. According to the NTIA document, the law states, “First, a state must submit its alternative plan for the construction, maintenance, operation and improvements of its RAN to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and meet specific interoperability criteria established by the FCC.”

The FCC is then required to review the state’s plan for RAN deployment within that state and either agree or disagree based on a document that was created by the FCC and its task force several years ago. (Technical Rules for Public Safety Spectrum, https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-12-68A1.pdf) In reality, FirstNet and the partner’s current plans may or may not include all of the items covered in the FCC document, but the FCC is to approve or not approve the plan based on its criteria and not the criteria of the current partner and FirstNet engineers. I see many problems with this. First, the FCC has, by law, had to have been hands-off in any planning or system design. Two, the FCC may decide to turn each state’s request into a long, drawn-out affair including public comment periods and other time-consuming investigations that could materially impact the network timeline. If the FCC does not approve the state plan, FirstNet has a green light to build the network in that state. There has to be a better way to make sure the FCC is satisfied with the opt-out plan. Continue reading

Ligado Reply Comment Deadline Extended

The FCC’s International and Wireless Telecommunications bureaus today extended until Aug. 11 in Rulemaking 11681 the deadline for reply comments on Ligado Networks LLC’s request that the agency launch a rulemaking to allocate the 1675-1680 megahertz band for terrestrial mobile use shared with federal government operations. The deadline for reply comments had been tomorrow, but Ligado sought an extension until Aug. 11. “Ligado states that a three-week extension would provide it with more time to understand the concerns of the more than 35 commenters in the proceeding and would provide commenters with additional time to understand the specific proposal in the Petition,” a public notice released today observed. “Ligado also notes that the American Meteorological Society meeting will take place next week. While it is the policy of the Commission that extensions of time shall not be routinely granted, we agree with Ligado that a brief extension for the filing of reply comments will facilitate the development of a complete record. We therefore grant Ligado’s request.”

Courtesy TRDaily

FirstNet to Hold Southwest Border Forum

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) plans to hold a southwest border forum Aug. 30-31 in Phoenix, Chris Algiere, FirstNet’s federal consultation lead, said in a blog posting. “The U.S. southern border continues to be one of the largest challenges for public safety operations at all levels of government.  The dynamic mission space, coupled with the remote landscape and environmental factors, challenges technology delivery of just about any sort,” Mr. Algiere said.

“As part of our consultation and planning for the nationwide public safety broadband network, FirstNet is holding a federal forum focused on operations along the southwest border of the United States and has plans for future forums in other regions of the U.S.  The upcoming southwest border forum is part of our plan to take consultation with federal departments and agencies beyond the headquarters and engage management, practitioners, and other staff members across the United States,” he stressed.

“The Forum will be held in Phoenix, Arizona August 30th and 31st at the Bureau of Land Management’s National Training Center.  This meeting will provide an opportunity for federal stakeholders in and around the southwest border region to engage with FirstNet through a series of presentations and breakout sessions focused on understanding the needs and challenges facing federal practitioners and what is possible with public safety broadband,” Mr. Algiere added.

“Through this meeting, we will inform federal stakeholders on the latest FirstNet developments and current efforts, expand outreach to regional stakeholders, and gain a better understanding of how to support federal border needs and the needs of their local, state, and tribal partners,” he added. – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily

 

 

FEMA Releases Voice Radio Communications Guide for the Fire Service

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) released a new guide on radio communications for the fire service. The Voice Radio Communications Guide for the Fire Service comprises 10 sections covering basic radio technology, digital and analog technology, conventional and trunked radio systems, portable radios, system design and implementation, interoperability and spectrum licensing, and future technology convergence with FirstNet.fire

In the Introduction the guide provides a look into the challenges of communicating when fighting fires.  “The life safety of firefighters and citizens depends on reliable, functional communication tools that work in the harshest and most hostile of environments. All firefighters, professional and volunteer, operate in extreme environments that are markedly different from those of any other radio users. The radio is the lifeline that connects the firefighters to command and outside assistance when in the most desperate of situations. To operate safely in these dynamic environments, it is imperative that firefighters have the ability to immediately communicate information accurately. Factors that separate fire from other disciplines:”

  • Communications on the fireground are fast-paced and may be chaotic.
  • Work position. Firefighters are often on the floor crawling.
  • Visibility challenges including heavy smoke and dark situations.
  • SCBAs pose several challenges: Voice ports on facepieces are difficult to communicate through and restrict field of vision.
  • Temperature and humidity.
  • High noise environments.
  • Gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) restrict vision, hearing, and the manual dexterity required to operate radio controls.
  • Buildings vary greatly in construction and complexity. All buildings to some degree resist penetration of radio waves.

The USFA worked with labor union International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) to develop the guide. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), First Responders Group, Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) supported the partnership.

NTIA Releases Preliminary Guidance on Evaluation of Opt-Out States

July 19, 2016–The National Telecommunications and Information Administration today released a public notice providing preliminary guidance on how the agency plans to review proposals from states that want to deploy their own radio access networks (RANs) rather than having the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) partner do so. Among other things, NTIA said that greenfield builds are unlikely to be approved because they would not demonstrate cost effectiveness, and it said it might reduce grant awards to take into account cost increases that FirstNet will face as a result of states building their own RANs.

“The FirstNet nationwide public safety broadband network must be sustainable and provide seamless broadband service across the country,” said NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling. “The first guidance we are releasing today respects each state’s right to choose to build its own radio access network, while still ensuring that first responders have access to a nationwide broadband network that will improve their ability to respond to emergencies and save lives.”

Under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which established FirstNet, states that want to deploy their own RANs must submit their alternative plans to the FCC, which is charged with reviewing whether they would comply with minimum technical interoperability requirements. If the FCC approves a state plan, the state has to apply to NTIA for authority to secure a spectrum capacity lease agreement with FirstNet. States seeking to build their own RANs may also apply to NTIA for grant funds to help cover those costs. Continue reading

FCC Officially Announces Planned National EAS Test on September 28

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau today officially announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in collaboration with the Commission, plans to conduct a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on Sept. 28 at 2 p.m. EDT. A secondary test date has been set for Oct. 5, if necessary. The national test will be the second such test ever conducted.

“All EAS Participants are required to participate in this nationwide test,” the bureau said in a public notice. “The nationwide test will assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS, with a particular emphasis on testing FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the integrated gateway through which common alerting protocol-based (CAP-based) EAS alerts are disseminated to EAS Participants. The test message will clearly state that the alert is only a test of the EAS. FEMA’s alert will be transmitted in English and Spanish and include both audio and the text of the test message, which can be used to populate an accessible video crawl. These improvements will help ensure that all members of the public, including non-English speakers and individuals with disabilities, will receive emergency information. The test will provide an opportunity to evaluate this and other measures that the FCC has adopted to address issues identified in connection with the 2011 Nationwide EAS Test. The results of the nationwide EAS test will be captured and analyzed using the EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS).” Continue reading

Auxiliary Emergency Communications: Recognition of Its Support to Public Safety

Colorado Law Enacted to Codify AUXCOMM Unit, John E. Peterson, DHS OEC Technical Assistance Branch,

https://www.dhs.gov/safecom/blog/2016/07/11/auxilliary-emergency-communications

A new Colorado law has created an Auxiliary Emergency Communications (AuxComm) Unit within the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM). The law implements recommendations in a 2012 FCC report to Congress regarding amateur radio’s role in disasters and emergencies.  Governor John Hickenlooper signed the measure into law on June 6, 2016.

Colorado’s General Assembly determined “a uniformly trained and credentialed unit of communication volunteers available for disaster response” would “materially assist emergency preparedness and disaster response efforts across the state.” “While maintaining their traditional roles as Amateur Radio operators, many of these volunteers assist with the establishment and maintenance of communication facilities, assist with programming public safety radios during emergencies, and act as radio operators on public safety channels,” the bill says in its findings.

Colorado Section Emergency Coordinator and State Government Liaison Robert Wareham, N0ESQ, an attorney, conceived this law while he met with DHSEM staff after completing the Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) Auxiliary Emergency Communications course in 2012. In 2012 and 2013, Colorado amateur radio operators played key roles in responding to major disasters in Colorado, including wildfires that destroyed several hundred homes and a 500-year-flood that inundated much of north-central Colorado.

While the new law is clear that the unit is comprised of unpaid amateur radio volunteers, it authorizes reimbursement of their reasonable and necessary expenses.  It also broadens the circumstances under which any disaster volunteer could receive Workmen’s Compensation benefits and tort immunity in Colorado.  “This statute puts volunteer Amateur Radio operators on an equal footing with volunteer firefighters and other rescue workers with respect to legal benefits and protections,” American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Rocky Mountain  Division Vice Director Jeff Ryan, K0RM, said. This new Colorado law can be found here.

Amateur Radio Recognition Week

Besides Colorado, seven other states proclaimed the week of June 20 as a time to recognize amateur radio as a communications resource that can be used during national, state and local emergency, and for community/public type events.  These states include:  Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Florida. Here are a few of the governors’ remarks:

Michigan:  Governor Rick Snyder cited Amateur Radios voluntary community service and its role in emergencies and disasters.

Minnesota:  Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed that during times of national, state, and local emergency, and for community and public events, amateur radio operators have provided communications resources at no cost.

Texas:  Governor Rick Scott said that amateur radio provides a critical communication link in the event of a disaster and recognizes the support Florida radio amateurs provide in times of emergencies.

DHS Office of Emergency Communications:  AUXCOMM

 “AUXCOMM” is an umbrella term and acronym for “auxiliary communications.” It was developed by OEC in 2009 with the assistance of amateur radio subject matter experts.  The concept behind the acronym was to educate as many amateur radio entities to work and train with public safety personnel, understand the value of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS) concept and the role of the communications unit leader (COML). AUXCOMM, although not an official national ICS position as of yet, is most often identified as a Technical Specialist (THSP) in the Communications Unit of the NIMS ICS structure.  A few states have endorsed AUXCOMM as an official position within their state NIMS/ICS structure.  The process on how this can be accomplished is described in the FEMA NIMS:  Guidelines for the Credentialing of Personnel, August 2011 and FEMAs Type 3 All-Hazard Incident Management System Qualification Guide, dated September 2010.

OEC subsequently developed the AUXCOMM technical assistance workshop and produced the Auxiliary Field Operators Guide. This guide and other OEC products are available at http://www.publicsafetytools.info/. The TRG-AUXCOMM (again, another Federal acronym for the course designator) is designed to educate amateurs and state officials involved with volunteer groups they could expect in an emergency operations center environment.  The AUXFOG is a reference guide for the amateur radio emergency communications community.  To date, the OEC AUXCOMM course has been taught 105 times with over 1,300 amateur radio operators trained.

Note: Some of the details in this article have been adopted from the ARRL E-Letter, found at http://www.arrl.org/news-features.

Further reading:  More information about amateur radio support to public safety can be found in the following articles:

•  ARRL E-Letter, 15 June 2016, “Before Deployment: Personal, Family Safety First”

•  ARRL E-Letter, 9 June 2016, “Colorado Creates Auxiliary Emergency Communications Unit”

•  AUXCOMM – Intense Training for Serious Disasters, QST Article dated May 2016

•  QST Article, ARES in the Classroom:  DHS Auxiliary Emergency Communications Course, dated July 2013, page 79

•  AUXFOG Book Review from the ARRL: www.arrl.org/ares-el?issue=2014-03-19#toc07