NTIA, University of Colorado Sign Test Bed Agreement

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced today that it has signed a five-year cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the University of Colorado at Boulder for the development of a wireless test bed. “NTIA’s Boulder-based Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) will work with the university to install spectrum monitoring sensors throughout the CU Boulder campus, with data to be available to both parties for spectrum management research,” according to a new release. “The project will enable measurement of wireless spectrum and system occupancy and spectrum utilization, testing and evaluation of spectrum sharing scenarios, and validation of radio wave propagation models. It also will help to develop early interference detection, interference mitigation, and spectrum forensics techniques.” Continue reading

FCC Order Requires Electronic Filing of State EAS Plans

The FCC released a report and order today mandating the electronic filing of state Emergency Alert System (EAS) plans, a step that the agency says will reduce burdens on state officials while enabling federal and other stakeholders to better access and use the data. In the order in PS docket 15-94, the FCC established the Alert Reporting System (ARS). It said the ARS “will create a comprehensive online filing system for EAS by combining the existing EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) with a new, streamlined electronic system for the filing of State EAS Plans. ARS will replace paper-based filing requirements, minimize the burdens on State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs), and allow the FCC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other authorized entities to better access and use up-to-date information about the EAS, thus increasing its value as a tool to protect life and property for all Americans.”

The adequacy of state EAS plans has been discussed in the wake of a false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii in January (TR Daily, Jan. 16).

For example, at a Senate field hearing in Hawaii last week, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the FCC should make sure that state EAS plans that are filed with the Commission are up to date (TR Daily, April 5). “The Hawaii plan was over a decade old,” she said. Continue reading

FCC Releases Final Report on False Hawaii Missile Alert

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau today released its final report on a false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii in January (TR Daily, Jan. 16), concluding “that a combination of human error and inadequate safeguards” were contributors to the error and making about a dozen recommendations to prevent future occurrences anywhere in the U.S.

The false alert was sent via the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and by wireless emergency alert (WEA) by a shift warning officer at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) who thought the alert was real instead of only a test. It took the agency 38 minutes to send a corrected alert, although authorities used social media and the news media to get the word out earlier that the alert was not real.

The Public Safety Bureau presented a preliminary report to Commissioners on the incident on Jan. 30 (TR Daily, Jan. 30), and at a Senate field hearing in Hawaii last week, an official outlined the conclusions and recommendations in the report released today (TR Daily, April 5).

“As set forth in greater detail below, the Bureau finds that a combination of human error and inadequate safeguards contributed to the transmission of the January 13 false alert,” according to the 28-page final report. “Neither the false alert nor the 38-minute delay to correct the false alert would have occurred had Hawaii implemented reasonable safeguards and protocols before January 13, 2018, to minimize the risk that HI-EMA would issue a false alert, and to ensure that HI-EMA would be able to issue a rapid correction of any false alert that was delivered to the public.”

The report also said that “it took HI-EMA until 8:20 a.m. (HST), 13 minutes after the initial alert, to provide the public with the first authoritative announcement over social media that this was a false alarm, and 38 minutes to issue a correction using EAS and WEA.” Continue reading

Snapshot: CAUSE V Digital Operations Team Responds to Tacoma Train Derailment

How well can you tell facts from fiction on social media? How about in a crisis?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) concluded the fifth Canada-U.S. Enhanced Resiliency Experiment (CAUSE V) event last year, in partnership with Defense Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS), running drills with local response communities involving the hypothetical eruption of Mt. Baker, an active volcano in the Pacific Northwest said to be long overdue for an eruption. As part of the simulation, a group of digital disaster services volunteers from Whatcom County, Washington and the Township of Langley, British Columbia, Canada practiced separating fact from fiction on the web, with the mission of keeping responders informed during the event.

“We had positive results experimenting with social media in CAUSE IV, so the volcanic eruption scenario was a good fit for the added twist of identifying false or misleading information,” said Denis Gusty, the Program Manager for CAUSE series at S&T FRG, “The local stakeholders were on board with the idea, so we ran with it.”

Alisha King, an emergency manager with the State of Washington, coordinated and taught hands-on training sessions for the volunteers in social media analysis, including open-source intelligence gathering and identification of misinformation, which were sponsored by the S&T First Responders Group. Together she and Eli King, an emergency manager at the University of Washington and fellow Team Lead, identified the long-term benefits of a more formalized virtual operations group. Whatcom County volunteers then joined forces with professional emergency managers and public information officers to form the Cascadia Virtual Operation Support Team (VOST).

“You can easily turn to recent events—Hurricane Harvey, for example—to see how the public turned to social media for help,” said Gusty, reinforcing the need for a VOST, “More and more people today are turning to social media for news.”

Though many of the Cascadia VOST had limited social media experience prior to this S&T-supported training, they became quickly adept at distinguishing relevant pieces of information amid a squall of tweets, news releases and other items that needed vetting before they could be considered actionable. Their skills were put to the test in this fifth S&T CAUSE/DRDC CSS experiment, but if experience is the best teacher, the VOST members became experts soon after.

On December 19, when an Amtrak train derailed and spilled onto a highway in DuPont, Washington, the Washington Department of Transportation reached out to Cascadia VOST and WaTech (the centralized technology agency for the State of Washington) for assistance. Less than a month after training, the Cascadia VOST activated in real time, for a real-world emergency.

Although not a volcanic eruption, the need for this group of vetted and trained digital operations team was immediately clear in response to the derailment.

“It’s wonderful to see the work of DHS S&T live on after CAUSE V and provide valuable and tangible benefits to local communities,” said Alisha King, pointing to how the Cascadia VOST has continued to train together in subsequent local exercises. During November’s Apple Cup, a rivalry football game between the University of Washington Huskies and the Washington State University Cougars, VOST members provided key intelligence that was used to brief law enforcement at the event.

The initial motivation behind forming Cascadia VOST was a widespread phenomenon called “Truth Decay” which is defined as a blurring of lines between opinion and fact, due to cognitive bias interacting with the rise of social media and other fundamental changes in information systems. “Truth decay is by far one of the most concerning contributing factors to the normalization of extreme misinformation,” says King.

This was evident at the outset of the Amtrak derailment, as news outlets began reporting a death toll twice the actual one; they had reported that six people had died, when in reality there were only three deaths, and more than 100 injured.

In addition to the inaccurate figures, the VOST was concerned about other leaks: law enforcement works to protect names of victims and minors involved in situations like these, so the team had to be wary of false identifications or faulty reports involving responders and passengers. Having developed methods and skills for deciphering online rumors, the VOST members were quick to flag unreliable content, helping Pierce County, Washington Department of Transportation and Amtrak mitigate any unlawful or prematurely distributed information.

But how did they spot potential misinformation within flood of online content?

Fortunately, VOST members received specialized S&T-sponsored training, which taught them to use algorithmic vetting of suspicious claims or posts.  For example, the longevity of an account is weighed against the volume of content posted, the topics historically favorited and rebroadcast are assessed, and reverse-image search is used to determine message validity. Accounts with a hyperbolic bend, a history of spewing conspiracy theories or using highly politicized rhetoric are scrutinized.

“Content coming out from these accounts can be very appealing to actual humans who sympathize with it,” said Alisha King, “Radicalized content is very appealing to people with radical views. Unfortunately, the more prevalent these extreme messages become, the more likely they are to be rebroadcast by someone who thinks they are real.”

Getting the facts of a train accident is difficult on its own, but add the jangle of thousands across the internet with varied and unverified claims, and this task demands a razor-thin fact-filter: “Reverberation of untruthful noise can start to drown out truthful signal, which starts to normalize extreme views to moderate observers,” Alisha King added.

This team was able to research, communicate and record their findings through a variety of Google-based tools and spreadsheets, Slack (a cloud-based collaboration app), and fact-checking websites like Snopes, which allowed local responders to enter the situation with greater awareness than before, and assisted public information officers in addressing rumors and misinformation quickly before they could gain traction.  Content was crowdsourced, then either validated or flagged as false, which especially served the different state, city and county response teams, all in a hurry to update the public with accurate and relevant information as soon as possible. VOST reports were also provided to brief Amtrak’s executive staff on public perception, timeline, and rumors regarding the incident.

Cascadia VOST served as a universal fact-curator for organizations involved, working tirelessly to ensure optimal, informed decision-making on the part of responders. Though still a relatively new group, their vital role in both the train derailment and S&T’s CAUSE V experiment may have established the Cascadia VOST as a disaster response fixture in the region. Both Pierce County, where the derailment occurred, the Washington Department of Transportation and Amtrak have commended Cascadia VOST for its efforts and expressed enthusiasm about continued collaboration.

National coverage of the VOST response and its effectiveness has allowed efforts toward resilience to spread organically across the region. Their participation in CAUSE has inspired the formation of a bi-state VOST between Oregon and Washington. Currently, members of the Cascadia VOST, many from Whatcom County, are on-deck to activate for the 2018 Special Olympics, planned protest events, and numerous drills and exercises across the state.

S&T’s CAUSE has been a series of efforts to improve resilience in areas along the U.S.-Canada border where the impact of a disaster would be shared by the two countries, but where the response is limited by a lack of cross-border wireless signals and the jurisdictions of separate government response teams. S&T has collaborated with emergency and disaster managers from areas of the United States and Canada to facilitate preparedness in these communities which, instead of driving far out of their way to seek help, are better served if they can easily contact responders just across the border.

When asked about the future importance of SMEM groups like Cascadia VOST, Denis Gusty said, “I think as long as the public continues to use the technology, emergency management needs to implement its capabilities into their response plans. Social media and the use of digital volunteers will continue to play an important role in emergency response.”

The link between CAUSE and VOST is just one example of how different response communities can influence each other through collaboration. Bringing communities together with the mission of resilience can be contagious, and as CAUSE demonstrates, it transcends borders.

Continue reading

Denver Post Reports: Jeffco emergency responders prepare for future county crises by combining forces to improve response times.

After years of planning, eight Jefferson County emergency response agencies have come together to adopt a new communications system designed to speed up help to residents and provide immediate backup for local agencies responding to a crisis.

Dispatchers from police departments and fire stations throughout the county will now be housed together in Lakewood as part of one singular entity known as Jeffcom 911.

Preparations for the consolidation began in 2013 after a group of Jefferson County law enforcement officials began brainstorming the possibility of a dispatching system that would save time and money.

By the end of this month, all 911 calls in Jefferson County will be directed to the same location. Officials believe this will foster stronger channels of communication, reduce the risk of dropped calls and potentially save more lives.

Read complete article here: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/03/23/jeffcom-911/

Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, April 5, 2018

For the past two weeks I have been sidelined with a nasty infection I appear to have brought home as a souvenir from IWCE in Orlando. Many important things happened during this time so this week I will recap some of them and attempt to catch up. Some of the news has to do with the fact that FirstNet completed its Evolved Packet Core (EPC) for use by only the first responder community, Verizon says its core is up and running and the FirstNet core is “vaporware,” the FirstNet Authority tasked FirstNet to build out public safety band 14, AT&T has stated that the FirstNet network build-out will happen a lot quicker than five years, and much more.

FirstNet Core:  Let’s start with the FirstNet core. The core of an LTE network is the brains of the network. AT&T has been offering up all of its LTE spectrum with full priority and pre-emption for public safety and now the redundant brain of the network is also up and running. This means several important things. First, the public safety network is really end-to-end and available for public safety only, and the core is hardened and separate from AT&T’s customer core, ensuring Public safety traffic will remain separate and apart on the overall AT&T LTE network and band 14 (the FirstNet spectrum). The core is the final step in the end-to-end encrypted LTE network. Because public safety devices have their own SIM identification number, they are instantly identified as members of a network riding on a network. Public safety users, while on the same LTE spectrum AT&T is using for its commercial users, are segmented so public safety users have priority, better data encryption, and access to the public safety core. Even when AT&T’s secondary (commercial) users are sharing bandwidth they have no access to the FirstNet core or any way to intermingle with FirstNet users.
Read the Entire Post Here Continue reading

FCC Raises OpEx Cap for RoR Carriers Serving Mainly Tribal Lands

Over the partial dissents of the two Democratic Commissioners, the FCC today raised the cap on operating expenses recoverable through federal high-cost support for carriers that “predominantly serve Tribal lands … in recognition that they are likely to have higher costs than carriers not serving Tribal lands.”

The FCC had imposed the recoverable opex limit on rate-of-return carriers in a 2016 order which was “calculated by comparing each study area’s opex cost per location to the regression model-generated opex per location plus 1.5 standard deviations,” the FCC noted in a report and order adopted March 27 and released today in Wireline Competition docket 10-90.  In a further notice of proposed rulemaking released with the 2016 order, the FCC had asked whether the opex limitations should be modified for carriers serving tribal lands.

Under today’s order, the limit will be raised to 2.5 standard deviations above the per-location opex generated by the regression model, the order says. Continue reading

Industry, Public Safety Groups Seek FCC Guidance on 911 Apps

The wireless industry, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, and the National Emergency Number Association have asked the FCC to issue guidance on 911 apps for smartphones “and supplemental data solutions” to ensure there is proper coordination of their use among 911 stakeholders.

According to a filing yesterday in PS docket 07-114 reporting on an ex parte meeting, representatives of APCO, NENA, and CTIA and its largest carrier members talked with representatives of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau about “the evolving 9-1-1 ecosystem in which smartphone apps and supplemental data solutions can offer features and capabilities designed to supplement and, in some cases, supplant information provided by wireless carriers with 9-1-1 calls. These supplemental data solutions can offer Automatic Location Information (ALI), routing information, or other data relevant to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for a wireless 9-1-1 call. To maintain the integrity, reliability and resiliency of the evolving 9-1-1 system, the parties encouraged the Commission to issue guidance to ensure that such solutions are reliable and secure for all stakeholders.”

The filing continued, “Recently, companies have begun offering supplemental data solutions to PSAPs to trial in live 9-1-1 environments with real, actual 9-1-1 calls, without the knowledge of the wireless providers operating in trial areas. Evaluating such solutions in live environments may yield important data, but doing so can have consequences for live 9-1-1 calls if not carefully coordinated among 9-1-1 ecosystem stakeholders. For this reason, the parties encouraged the Commission to issue guidance so that any testing, trialing or use of 9-1-1 apps or supplemental data solutions do not have unintended consequences that may adversely impact existing 9-1-1 capabilities or create confusion among PSAPs or members of the public.” Continue reading

House Democrats Seek FCC Action on Cell-Site Simulators

The ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce, Foreign Affairs, and Homeland Security committees called on the FCC today to crack down on cell-site simulators.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), Eliot L. Engel (D., N.Y.), and Bennie G. Thompson (D., Miss.) cited news reports that the Department of Homeland Security has said in a letter that it is aware of “anomalous activity” in the Washington area and outside the region “that appears to be consistent with” the use of cell-site simulators, otherwise known as international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catchers (TR Daily, April 4).

“Press reports surfaced earlier this week that the Department of Homeland Security had identified suspected, unauthorized cell-site simulators operating throughout Washington.  More troubling, it appears that these cell-site simulators could be gathering intelligence on unwitting Americans on behalf of foreign governments. If these reports are true, it marks an incredible security vulnerability in the seat of the Federal government,” the Democrats said in their letter. “[N]o action has been taken to date to actually address this problem.  With foreign actors now potentially taking advantage of the Commission’s inaction, the FCC should act, consistent with applicable law and regulations, to investigate these allegations and address any unlawful use of cell-site simulators in the Capital and anywhere else they are used in U.S. soil.” Continue reading

NTIA Revamps BroadbandUSA Website

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration today launched its revamped BroadbandUSA website, broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov. “Working through the Broadband Interagency Working Group, NTIA created the site to enable federal agencies that support broadband connectivity and digital inclusion to publicize resources through a one-stop online portal,” it said.

“The site is intended to help communities and their private local exchange carrier and Internet service provider partners find resources and funding to support their local broadband efforts by providing information on federal resources, with links to federal grant programs that may fund broadband deployment and adoption projects. The online portal supplements ongoing BroadbandUSA work to help local and state governments, industry and nonprofits obtain the tools they need to expand broadband connectivity and promote digital inclusion.”

Courtesy TRDaily