September 28, 2016–The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications wants help from the public safety community as it updates the national baseline assessment of public safety communications capabilities, OEC Deputy Director Chris Essid said today at the quarterly meeting of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) in Washington. Mr. Essid noted that the new assessment, which is required by Congress, will update an assessment conducted in 2006. OEC plans to develop an improved framework that allows it to determine both the available and needed public safety communications capabilities.
“We need your help,” Mr. Essid said, both in providing input on what questions OEC should ask and in encouraging first responders to respond to outreach from OEC. “We need to first and foremost ask the right questions, and get the right information,” he said.
Beginning in March 2017, OEC plans to begin analyzing the data collected, with analysis and reporting scheduled to be completed in November 2017. In its report to Congress, OEC plans to highlight public safety communications capability levels and gaps and identify areas where it can target resources. Mr. Essid also briefed NPSTC members on other OEC activities.
He noted that the National Governors Association has selected five states to participate in a policy academy on emergency communications interoperability (TRDaily, April 7). The states are Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Utah, and West Virginia. The academy kicked off with a workshop in Alaska in July; workshops have since been held for the other states. Recommendations for action will be prepared for each state and released in late winter, Mr. Essid said. “This could have a really big impact moving forward,” Mr. Essid said. He observed that a 2006 NGA policy academy lead to the creation of OEC, the National Emergency Communications Plan, and an interoperability funding grant program, among other things.
Mr. Essid also said that OEC recently launched a statewide governance and planning effort to provide states support on strategic planning and technical assistance. A new approach is scheduled to be presented at an October joint meeting of the SAFECOM Program and the National Council of Statewide Interoperability Coordinators.
Mr. Essid also said that OEC is conducting pilot observations during urban planned events as part of its Interoperability Communications Capabilities Analysis Program. The events are in Honolulu, Hawaii; Carmel, Ind.; Los Angeles; Washington; and Austin, Texas.
Also at today’s meeting, the NPSTC board approved a name change for the LMR to LTE Migration Working Group to the LMR LTE Integration and Interoperability Working Group. Also, meeting attendees were told that the Broadband Emerging Technologies Working Group and the Broadband Deployable Systems Working Group plan to have reports ready in November. NPSTC also discussed a planned survey as part of a review of its strategic plan. Decision-making is expected at the January 2017 board meeting.
Also at today’s meeting Sridhar Kowdley, program manager for the First Responders Group at DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate, discussed a five-day electronic jamming exercise that was held at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in July. The goal was to assess various equipment that has been used to jam public safety systems, identify training gaps and strategies for mitigation, and share best practices. “We’re seeing a proliferation of a lot of jamming devices that are coming in from overseas,” Mr. Kowdley said.
About 225 people attended the event, bringing a myriad of communications gear, and 61 agencies were represented. “Some of them don’t look like jammers at all,” he said. The exercise used 53 commercial jammers and one Department of Defense jammer. The exercise included 70 first responder scenarios, “everything from a traffic stop to a major hazmat-type of situation,” Mr. Kowdley said. A report for law enforcement authorities and a declassified report for the public are expected to be released before the end of the year, he said. He said that first responders participating were surprised at how these commercial jammers worked, saying that many had assumed they could not jam public safety communications. But they did. They recognized “they have a gap in training” and would “have to rethink their communications plans” and identify mitigation strategies, Mr. Kowdley said.
A follow-on exercise is expected to be held in the latter part of 2017 to test anti-jamming technologies and evaluate first responder jamming mitigation techniques. The Science and Technology Directorate plans to issue a request for information concerning anti-jamming technologies, Mr. Kowdley said. “We have to also address policy issues,” he added. – Paul Kirby, email@example.com