FCC Examines Enterprise Communications Systems’ 911 Capabilities

The FCC today launched a notice of inquiry to examine how well 911 calls are handled by enterprise communications systems used in businesses, hotels, educational institutions, government entities, and other buildings.  “Consumers have a right to expect that a 911 call made from anywhere in the country will be routed to the appropriate 911 call center, along with precise, accurate location and callback information so that they can be found by emergency responders,” Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Chief Lisa Fowlkes said during today’s FCC meeting. “This is no less true for 911 calls made within office buildings, educational campuses, and hotels served by enterprise-based communications systems.”

The notice of inquiry in PS docket 17-239, the FCC said, notes that there have been reports that, in some cases, enterprise communications systems may not support direct 911 dialing, route calls to the nearest 911 call center, or provide accurate location regarding the caller’s location.

“In an emergency, it shouldn’t matter whether you’re calling from your house, an outdoor park, or an office building,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “You should be able to reach first responders quickly, and those first responders should be given the information they need to assist you.”

Among the aims of the notice of inquiry, the FCC said, was to determine why enterprise communications systems “appear to be lagging.” Continue reading

Helping Responders Recognize, Report, Respond and Resolve Jamming Incidents

The Siren is a publication of the First Responders Group (FRG), Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC).

When asked about the most significant piece of equipment or tool a first responder needs on a day-to-day basis, Assistant Chief of Operational Support Rodney Reed with the Fire Marshal’s Office of Harris County, Texas, answered without hesitation, “A responder’s most important tool is his or her communication device. It’s what provides the awareness we need to accomplish our mission when responding to an emergency. It is ultimately what serves as our lifeline and determines whether we make it home or not.”

First responders face a growing threat of interference caused by jamming, which can leave them without vital communications or critical situational awareness. To help combat this issue, last year, the NGFR First Responder Electronic Jamming Exercise assessed jamming vulnerabilities in responder communications systems at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. NGFR continued the effort this year with the 2017 First Responder Electronic Jamming Exercise (JamX 17), which focused on evaluating solutions to increase communications resiliency by helping responders recognize, respond to, report and resolve jamming incidents.

JamX 17 took place at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho. There, representatives from NGFR, NUSTL and S&T’s Behavioral, Economic, and Social Science Engine (BESS-E), along with agencies such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Marine Corps Warfighter Laboratory, joined nearly 300 participants from public safety agencies and technology developers from across the country. Of those participants, local first responders represented communities with nearly 24 million Americans.

Reed, who attended the 2016 exercise, was excited to come back to discover new basic mitigation strategies. “Last year’s exercise helped us to recognize that there is potential for intentional or unintentional interference on our devices. I believe it was an eye-opener for a lot of responders who attended,” Reed said. “This year, we get to learn about basic strategies that may help first responders out in the field while responding to an emergency. This information is invaluable.”

DHS S&T Acting Under Secretary William Bryan attended JamX 17 and was awed by the passion displayed by first responders and DHS participants. “For the first responders who are charged with protecting our communities, communications are a lifeline. Americans rely on first responders, and responders rely on their ability to communicate,” said Under Secretary Bryan during re-marks for the JamX 17 VIP event. “S&T is committed to ensuring that responders have the tools they need for consistent, uninterrupted communications– it’s mission critical.”

FRG and JamX 17 participants are working diligently to analyze the data and develop after action reports, as well as clear tools for DHS components and state and local public safety organizations. FRG is also working on an outreach and education campaign to expand the impact of the program from 24 million Americans to the entire country. For the men and women who work diligently to protect American lives, it is important that FRG strengthen the capability to mitigate and overcome this threat.



Testing New Technology to Enhance Communications for Rural Responders

The Siren is a publication of the First Responders Group (FRG), Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC).

Across the nation, rural first responders face numerous challenges as they respond to incidents in their environments – especially when it comes to communications and connectivity.

In June, FRG partnered with Grant County, Washington, first responders to assess their existing communication tools and introduce new technologies designed to address capability gaps. This effort, known as the Grant County – DHS S&T Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) Apex Program Technology Experiment (TechEx), provided responders the opportunity to test the interoperability of deployable communication hubs with their existing communication tools.

The experiment was the culmination of a year-long partnership that began with an assessment of Grant County’s technology-based challenges, which highlighted operational gaps while communicating in rural and mountainous terrain. Grant County offered the perfect backdrop for the TechEx due to its resemblance to 55 percent of rural areas within the United States. Like many rural environments, its small responder community is tasked with responding to incidents in a vast geographical area. Grant County’s 55 full-time deputies patrol over 2,800 square miles of rolling hills and farm-land. What makes the county unique, however, is its famous outdoor music venue, the Gorge Amphitheatre. Almost every weekend each summer, the county’s population of almost 93,000 grows to almost 120,000 as music goers and campers descend upon the amphitheater.

The TechEx was held over a two-day period and was based on a routine concert scenario at the amphitheater. Sixty participants from law enforcement, fire and emergency services participated in the event. The concert scenario featured three vignettes simulating incidents to prompt response from law enforcement and emergency responders using NGFR technologies, including missing persons, an altercation at the campsite and a fire at the gorge.

For Grant County responders, perhaps the most significant capabilities the TechEx presented were situational awareness and location reporting, as well as the ability to transmit video from the Sheriff’s Office Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to their command centers.

“I think the most amazing part about the whole experiment was the ability to sit at the command center and watch our deputies, fire departments and EMTs respond to these incidents,” said Chief Deputy Darrik Gregg. “Being able to use our UAVs in this way means that we have eyes in places we didn’t have before – all while sitting at command.”

Upon completion of the experiment, NGFR anticipates integrating lessons learned toward further development of an interoperable environment – creating an architecture intended to work for responder organizations with different environments, budgets and mission requirements.

“What we learned by using this technology is how much safer and informed our responders and incident management team members will be,” said Sheriff Tom Jones. “DHS has really focused on making our sometimes-dangerous jobs much safer, especially for rural responders who many times don’t have access to such advanced resources.”

FRG’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) led the testing and evaluation component, along with technical experts from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, Nation-al Institute for Science and Technology, ArdentMC, IS4S and SpectraRep.

The TechEx is the first experiment integrating new and current technologies to enhance real-life, rural capabilities. Future experiments will work to integrate more technologies as they mature, aim to define and test how commercial capabilities can plug-and-play into the NGFR system, and invite more first responders across the nation to test and evaluate NGFR program technology.


DHS Asks FCC to Retain International Circuit Capacity Reports

The Department of Homeland Security has asked the FCC to retain its requirement that providers file international circuit capacity reports for undersea cable operations.

“Regarding the Circuit Capacity Reports, the information contained within the reports about existing and planned capacity, while only provided on an annual basis, is critical to national and homeland security functions central to NPPD’s mission and OCIA’s [Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis’] core functions,” said an ex parte filing in IB dockets 17-55 and 16-131 by DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate. “The information from the Circuit Capacity Reports, when combined with data from other sources, provides OCIA a unique and more complete overall communications network picture. DHS uses these data to protect and preserve national security and for emergency response purposes. The resulting analysis is also relied upon in the classified setting to influence key national security decision-making.”

DHS added in the filing that it “does not currently acquire circuit capacity information from commercial sources, as commercial research services are not seen as high confidence sources for this specific subset of telecommunications data. More importantly, the break out of ‘owned,’ ‘IRU,’ and ‘leased’ capacity is not available by any other means, including commercially-available research services. Given these considerations, NPPD recommends that the Commission continue to require the filing of Circuit Capacity Reports for undersea cable operations as the data are important for national security and emergency response purposes regarding this critical infrastructure. NPPD takes no position regarding other streamlining of the Circuit Capacity Reports.”

In March, the FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking proposing to eliminate international traffic and revenue reports and to streamline international circuit capacity reports in the agency’s part 43 rules (TR Daily, March 23). In May, providers expressed support for the proposals (TR Daily, May 22). —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily

Commerce Nears Release of Funding Levels for FirstNet Opt-Out States

The Commerce Department neared release today of funding level determinations for states that opt out of having AT&T, Inc., the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) network partner, build their radio access networks (RANs). “We are very hopeful that that’s going to break loose either this afternoon or tomorrow,” Marsha MacBride, associate administrator-Office of Public Safety Communications for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said during a luncheon today organized by the Federal Communications Bar Association’s homeland security and emergency communications committee.

“It’s still in finalization within the department.” FirstNet last week delivered final, updated state plans (TR Daily, June 19), but the official 90-day clock for governors to decide whether to opt out has not yet begun because states and territories have not yet been notified how much RAN construction funding they would get if they successfully opt out.

Courtesy TRDaily

FirstNet to Prepare Supplemental PEIs

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) said today that it plans to prepare a supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) and “conduct scoping for the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.  The Supplemental PEIS will address the processes FirstNet will follow for National Environmental Policy Act (‘NEPA’) compliance and assessing potential impacts at the site-specific scale.”

In a “Federal Register” public notice, FirstNet noted that it “has prepared, and is in the process of publishing, five regional Final PEISs. … Now that FirstNet has selected a network partner for building out the NPSBN and the draft revised implementing procedures have been published, a Supplemental PEIS will be prepared that will (1) incorporate the final version of FirstNet’s revised implementing procedures and will assess any changes to potential impacts to the human or natural environment at the programmatic level as a result of those revised procedures and (2) will describe the processes FirstNet will follow in accordance with NEPA to assess potential impacts at the site-specific scale using impact significance criteria to be developed using a resource-appropriate framework,” FirstNet added. “The scoping period for this notice will begin on September 25, 2017 and will end on October 24, 2017. Submit comments on or before October 24, 2017.”

Courtesy TRDaily


More than 90% of Cell Sites Still Out in Puerto Rico

More than 90% of cell sites in Puerto Rico remained down today due to widespread damage caused by Hurricane Maria, the FCC said. The outage data came from information submitted to the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), which has been activated for all counties in Puerto Rico and all districts in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The report continues to warn “that many communications providers have not yet reported in DIRS, so outage information almost certainly is not complete. Overall, however, it appears as though there has been a little improvement to communications networks in Puerto Rico since the hurricane departed. For example, 22.3% of the cell sites in the vicinity of San Juan are now operational (as compared to just 18.1% yesterday).”

“Overall, 91.2% (slightly down from 92.5% yesterday) of cell sites are out of service,” the report said. “All counties in Puerto Rico have greater than 75% of their cell sites out of service. 34 (down from 37 yesterday) out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100% of their cell sites out of service.” Continue reading

NBC Today Show Reports: 911 outages imperil public safety in Cincinnati and elsewhere, by Jeff Rossen and Jovanna Billington

When Matt Woods saw a possibly drugged driver going down the street “like a bat out of hell,” he dialed 911. He says he “called for five minutes — no one would answer.” Bernie Rademacher had a similar experience when she tried to report a car smashed up against a pole. “I called 911, two, three times, and they never answered. it just rang and rang.”

According to an internal city document obtained by NBC News, there have been 10 911 outages since June of 2016. The latest one, just this summer, lasted three hours and 30 minutes. “These 911 systems have been designed and built for landlines,” said Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black. “Now we’ve got the proliferation of cellphones.”

Read/view report here:


NPSTC Urges Public Safety to Complete Survey

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council urged members of the public safety community to participate in an upcoming SAFECOM survey. “The SAFECOM Nationwide Survey is a data gathering effort that will equip government officials and emergency responders with critical information to make decisions about future emergency communications policies, funding, and programs,” NPSTC said in an e-mail to stakeholders today. “The data collected will depict the capabilities necessary for establishing continuity of operable and interoperable communications.”

Courtesy TRDaily