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,


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

Public Comment Requested on National 911 Data System RFI

In support of the goal to improve emergency communications for our nation’s citizens, the National 911 Program has released a Request for Information (RFI) to gather input about the establishment of a nationally uniform data system to document 911 Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) call data and data related to the operation of local and State 911 systems.

A nationally uniform 911 data system, once developed, would provide essential information to assist strategic planning, governance decisions, and improvements to the 911 system and its operations at all levels of government. These data would also be useful to private sector companies providing services to local and State 911 agencies.

NHTSA, on behalf of the National 911 Program, invites all interested parties, including public and private agencies, academic institutions, PSAP managers, associations, public interest groups, local and State 911 authorities, CAD vendors and developers to submit comments and ideas on all aspects of the development, implementation and operations of a nationally uniform 911 data system. A number of topics relevant to 911 data can be addressed, including:

Significant changes that have occurred in 911 and PSAP related data systems at the national, State and local levels during the last ten years

  • How the implementation of a nationally uniform 911 data system will be the most useful
  • Data elements that may be considered essential to information handled by telecommunicators and by CAD systems
  • The ways in which the proposed data system could contribute to improved coordination at the local, regional, State and national levels
  • The challenges that would have to be overcome to implement a nationally uniform 911 data system

All interested parties will have 90 days to provide their input. Comments may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal by going online and clicking “Submit a Formal Comment,” as well as by mail or hand delivery to: Dockett Management Facility, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, West Building, Room W12-140, Washington, DC, 20590.

For further information, contact Laurie Flaherty with the National 911 Program at Laurie.Flaherty@dot.gov or (202) 366-2705.

TRDaily Reports: NPSTC Pleased with Cross Border Accord

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council today applauded an agreement between the FCC and Canada to facilitate public safety communications along the U.S.-Canada border.  “This is excellent news for public safety on both sides of the border,” NPSTC said. “The continuing efforts of NPSTC and CITIG  [Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group] supported by DHS’s Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) and the Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) will enhance public safety interoperability in a very tangible manner.”

Courtesy TRDaily



DHS Demos Integrated First Responder Safety Tech; John Merrill Comments

The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate has demonstrated methods to integrate technologies as part of a program that aims to help protect first responders as they perform their duties.

DHS said Tuesday it combined physiological and environmental sensors, video stream from body-attached cameras and unmanned aerial systems and hybrid communications tools during the demonstration that required law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical technicians to coordinate.

The demonstration is part of the Next Generation First Responder program that aims to develop standards for public safety agencies commercial products and modify technologies in order to fulfill their mission goals.

“The proliferation of miniaturized sensors, affordable UAS and Internet of Things devices can make a tremendous impact on first responder safety, connectivity, and situational awareness,” said John Merrill, NGFR program manager for DHS.

“However, if the technology doesn’t seamlessly share data, it loses its viability within the public safety sector,” added Merrill.

DHS plans to conduct future demonstrations with the goal to incorporate additional technologies and see how they integrate with the NGFR system.


S&T Snapshot: DHS S&T Demonstrates Integration of First Responder Technologies



Integration of FR Technologies

More ruggedized protective equipment. Reliable and interoperable communications. The capability to filter vast amounts of data. These are all things the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) program envisions  to ensure  future first responder are better protected, connected and fully aware. First responders who are better protected and have the right information at the right time will be safer while they execute their mission of protecting their community.

To achieve this vision, S&T’s NGFR program recently held a demonstration highlighting innovative technologies that combined to improve communications and situational awareness of first responders during disasters and critical incidents. The demonstration integrated physiological and environmental sensors, streaming video from body cameras and unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and hybrid communications devices during a simulated emergency scenario calling for a coordinated response from law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

“The proliferation of miniaturized sensors, affordable UAS and Internet of Things (IoT) devices can make a tremendous impact on first responder safety, connectivity, and situational awareness. However, if the technology doesn’t seamlessly share data, it loses its viability within the public safety sector,” said S&T’s NGFR Program Manager John Merrill.

The NGFR program focuses on creating an interoperable environment by outlining the standards required for seamless integration of technology. These standards allow responders to employ off-the-shelf commercial products, adapt ground-breaking technologies that meet responder mission needs, and visualize technologies yet to be invented – all with the assurance they will fit into the predefined NGFR architecture. Further, the modular and extensible design is intended to work for responder organizations in different environments, with different budgets, and contrasting mission requirements.

“To accommodate all responders, we are working to offer organizations a variety of interoperable, plug-and-play technologies that provide the capabilities they need for a price they can afford,” said Merrill.

This demonstration is the first in a series of NGFR integration demos to be held during the life of the program. Future demonstrations will integrate additional technologies as they mature, define and test how commercial capabilities can plug-and-play into the NGFR system, and invite the first responder community to test and evaluate the latest NGFR program technologies.

Responders interested in participation in future demonstration events or evaluating technology solutions should email the NGFR program at first.responder@hq.dhs.gov.

AG Lynch Mum on Encryption Role in Orlando Shooting

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing today that she was not yet “able to provide insight” into whether Omar Mateen, the perpetrator in the killings of 49 people last month in a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., had used encrypted communications in connection with the attack, and whether the Justice Department has had any problems gaining access to any social media accounts he may have used.

“We are still reviewing a vast amount of evidence” of the murders, Ms. Lynch said today in response to questions from committee members, adding she was “not able to provide insight on encryption at this time.”   Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey has been a strong advocate in recent months of finding a government-industry solution to the inability of the FBI to access the contents of encrypted communications in the pursue of criminals and terrorists.

Questioning at today’s hearing was dominated by DoJ’s investigation into the use of a private e-mail server by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and the conclusion presented last week by Mr. Comey that he would not recommend prosecution of Ms. Clinton for any criminal wrongdoing in connection with her use of the server.

At today’s hearing, Ms. Lynch declined to offer comment on a question by Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) regarding whether it should be assumed that the private e-mail server used by Ms. Clinton had been hacked by hostile nation-states, and whether such a hack would be comparable to leaks of National Security Agency intelligence gathering methods by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden.

Mr. Comey told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week (TRDaily, July 7) that the FBI uncovered no evidence that Ms. Clinton’s private e-mail server had been hacked, but that FBI was able to discern that attempts had been made to hack the server. – John Curran, john.curran@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily

FCC Adds New Warning Codes to the Emergency Alert System

News Release. News Media Contact: Rochelle Cohen at (202) 418-1162, email: Rochelle.Cohen@fcc.gov  PSHSB

https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-340243A1.docx, https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-340243A1.pdf

Full Text of the decision:  AMENDMENT OF PART 11 OF THE COMMISSION’S RULES REGARDING THE EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM.   Amending Part 11 of the Rules to add new weather-related event codes. (Dkt No.  15-94 ). Action by:  the Commission. Adopted:  07/06/2016 by R&O. (FCC No. 16-80).  PSHSB