NGA Rep Highlights Learned from Emergency Communications Initiative

April 11, 2017–A representative of the National Governors Association today highlighted lessons that he said other states can learn from last year’s policy academy on emergency communications, which involved five states (TR Daily, April 7, 2016). The states that participated were Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Utah, and West Virginia.

During a webinar today organized by the National 911 Program, Michael Garcia, a policy analyst in the Homeland Security and Public Safety Division of the NGA’s Center for Best Practices, said that the policy academy, which was a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications, produced the following four lessons learned: It is important to (1) sustain a governance body for emergency communications in each state, (2) leverage and publicize each statewide communications interoperability plan, (3) engage the legislature, including by finding a “legislative champion,” and (4) empower and elevate statewide interoperability coordinators (SWICs) to foster collaboration.

Mr. Garcia said each state had its own goals regarding improving emergency communications.For example, Hawaii and Alaska both wanted to create governance bodies to advance emergency communications, he said. Alaska has made progress through a draft administrative order that he said the governor will hopefully sign soon, while legislation drafted in Hawaii is currently being considered by the legislature. If the legislation doesn’t pass, the governor is expected to sign an executive order, he said.

In Illinois, the goal was to centralize various governance bodies into one entity. The first step was to make the SWIC a full-time position, which has just occurred, Mr. Garcia said.

In West Virginia, officials created a transition document for its new governor to outline the capabilities of the state’s radio network and the importance of funding the statewide interoperability executive committee. Legislation that passed this past weekend would do that, he said.

Mr. Garcia stressed the importance of education, noting that a legislator in one state told him he thought that the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) system would replace next-generation 911 (NG-911). He said a paper summarizing the work of the policy academy and the lessons learned should be released in the next couple of days. A spokeswoman for the NGA said it is likely to be released early next week.

Utah SWIC Gordy Coles said the biggest problem facing his state is securing funding to upgrade its aging radio and microwave network. He said many leaders were under the impression that FirstNet would immediately replace mission-critical land mobile radio networks, something that is not expected to occur for years. He said the misconception points to the need for education. He said the 27-member Utah Communications Authority was too large. He said a new law (SB 198) recently signed by the governor restructured the board. It will now have nine members. There will also be a 19-member operations advisory committee with first responders, and there also will be seven regional advisory committees.

The legislation also changed the fee structure in a way that will allow a bond to raise the $140 million that is believed necessary to upgrade the network, he said.

Also during today’s webinar, Evelyn Bailey, executive director of the National Association of State 911 Administrators, and Randie Jones, 911 coordinator for the state of Arkansas, stressed the benefits of 911 data collected each year by the National 911 Program. The National 911 Profile Database shows “how things are changing over time,” Ms. Bailey noted, and provides baseline data elements, such as 911 call volume and the number of public safety answering points (PSAPs), and progress benchmarks, such as the procurement of NG-911 system components. The data is aggregated at the statewide level and reported to the National 911 Program annually.

States can use the data to field questions from legislators, policy-makers, and state boards about how their states compare with others and can use it to improve service, including by securing additional funding, Ms. Bailey said. States can also use the information to see how they are doing at the local level, including deployment of text-to-911, she said.

“All of this enables them to tell a more complete story,” she added. Ms. Jones agreed that the data is valuable, saying it helps her educate elected officials and 911 administrators, understand patterns across localities, and plan for NG-911 deployment.  —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily