MEMPHIS – The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is making a $2 million grant to Tennessee’s Public Television Stations to fund a pilot project that will deliver private, secure communication between first responders and their management teams in case of an emergency or natural disaster, according to Commissioner David W. Purkey.
Arnold Hooper, Tennessee’s Wireless Communications Director for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, says the grant will be used to install datacasting equipment and software that will leverage a portion of the broadcast transmission of each Tennessee public television station to deliver encrypted public safety video, files, alerts and other data along with regular programming. This new capability will allow public safety agencies to benefit from the existing infrastructure, licensed spectrum and ability to securely deliver content anywhere in the state to an unlimited number of specifically targeted receivers. All public safety content is secure and can only be accessed by personnel who have the credentials and receive equipment. The project will be completed in a 30 month timeline with initial stations being tested and placed into operation within six months of the grant. This first statewide datacasting system will be a model for regional and even national deployments in the future.
Using the datacasting capability and fiber connections already in place among the six Tennessee Public Television Stations, communication between police, fire, medical and government personnel can be targeted within the areas affected by a severe, life-threatening emergency or natural disaster. The six TN stations are Memphis (WKNO), Martin/Lexington/Jackson (WLJT), Nashville (WNPT), Cookeville (WCTE), Knoxville/Sneedville (East TN PBS) and Chattanooga (WTCI).
“Jim Rout and I served together as County Mayors,” Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner David W. Purkey said. “His credibility is so solid that when he and the PBS folks briefed this project to us after the Sevier County Wildfire Incident, we became excited about working with public television to improve emergency communication and information sharing throughout the state. Deputy Governor Jim Henry and Commissioner of Finance and Administration Larry Martin played key roles in helping me brief Governor Haslam about tapping our reserves to make the project happen. It’s recognized as the first statewide project of its kind in the nation.”
Vickie Lawson, President of East TN PBS and Chairman of the Tennessee Public Television Council (TPTC) said “I am honored that all six public television stations across the state, who diligently serve their communities each and every day, are working together on a project that will serve our entire state with this new datacasting communication for safety. We will be able to offer a piece of our airwaves to assist emergency state agencies, first responders and most of all help to protect and inform the residents of Tennessee. Thanks to the diligent work of the WKNO staff and Board and Commissioner Purkey’s office, all Tennessee Public Television Stations have another great opportunity to provide increased service to the citizens of Tennessee.”
Michael LaBonia, WKNO President/CEO and Project Director said “I would like to thank WKNO Board Vice-Chairman and former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout for his assistance in helping secure this grant. Working with Commissioner Purkey and his staff has been a tremendous pleasure. The coordination, communication and partnership over the last couple of years have led to the development and activation of this innovative datacasting project. The partnership between the Tennessee Department of Safety and the Tennessee Public Television Council (TPTC) is ideal because all six public television stations in the state are interconnected, have tall broadcast towers, backup generator power, 24-hour operations, and the spectrum available to make this project a reality. Datacasting technology should enhance existing emergency management systems already in place and become one more step in helping keep people safe in an emergency. We are happy to be able to add this new technology to our existing infrastructure and look forward to working with Safety and Homeland Security in Tennessee.”
“Public television stations around the country have demonstrated our ability to provide critical information through datacasting to first responders in emergencies as diverse as flood warning and response in Houston, search and rescue of missing persons in rural Grant County, Washington, over-water emergency communications miles offshore from Chicago and Boston, massive crowd control in Washington, D.C., enhanced 911 responsiveness in North Carolina, and much-improved early earthquake warnings in California,” said Patrick Butler, President and CEO of America’s Public Television Stations (APTS). “We hope the State of Tennessee’s groundbreaking grant to Tennessee public television stations to build a statewide emergency communications network founded on this datacasting technology will serve as a model for other statewide collaborations between public television and the public safety community throughout America.”