Category Archives: FirstNet

Keeping the Fires of FirstNet Burning

keep-the-firstnet-fires-burningKeeping the Fires of FirstNet Burning:  What We Need in the FirstNet Board

The United States Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, will shortly appoint (or re-appoint) four members to the fifteen member Board of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

What should Secretary Pritzker seek in candidates for these appointments?   I believe she should find FirstNet Evangelists.

Let me explain.

For the original Board, appointed in 2012, we needed entrepreneurial, “get it started, get it done” Board members with a sense of urgency.   We found those, to some extent, in folks like Sam Ginn and Craig Farrill, private enterprise businessmen who had built cellular networks.  FirstNet struggled in that first year, however, for a couple reasons:  Sam and Craig ran smack dab into the federal government entanglement of bureaucracy and risk aversion.   The Board also struggled with “get it started urgently” versus “consult with public safety” to design the network.   FirstNet made mistakes in hiring professional staff – Bill D’Agostino as Executive Director and Ali Afrashteh as Chief Technology Officer.  Neither had any public safety experience, and each had personal foibles and weaknesses (such as the lack of ability to speak coherently in public) which contributed to the difficulties FirstNet encountered in 2013.

Luckily, FirstNet is mostly back on track, thanks to the leadership combination of private company entrepreneur Sue Swenson and all-around utility player and Acting General Manager T. J. Kennedy.

Today the FirstNet train is definitely steaming down the track and the timetable for its future stops on that railroad to public safety wireless nirvana are visible.  I think those milestones are probably:

  • FirstNet issues RFP – early 2016 (official date Dec. 31, 2015)
  • RFP responses received – late 2016
  • RFP evaluations finished in 2017 – successful vendors known internal to FirstNet
  • FirstNet and state staff incorportate the RFP results into Plans for each state – 2017
  • State Plans finished and sent to Governors – late 2017 and 2018
  • First deployments occur – late 2018?

But there is a huge disconnect in this timetable.

Most states have been actively engaging their stakeholders for two years or more.  In Washington we’ve attended or conducted over 180 meetings over two years with police and fire chiefs, Mayors and city managers, cops and firefighters and transportation officials.   We’ve told them FirstNet is coming, we’ve listened to their problems and concerns, we’ve generated excitement and skepticism.

But shortly very little will be happening visible to these key FirstNet stakeholders.   From mid-2015 to mid-2017 FirstNet is going to be focusing on their RFP, getting vendor responses, evaluating them.   This is all internal stuff, bureaucratic process, federal procurement details.   And it must be kept (mostly) secret.

How do we keep the “Fires of FirstNet” burning for our public safety stakeholders?

Two years from now, when the apparent successful vendors are chosen, we’ll need those stakeholders to help FirstNet build its State Plan.  Can we keep interest knowing nothing will really be delivered for three more long years?    In three years there will be many elections.  Mayors and County Commissioners and other leaders will change.  Probably a third of our police and fire chiefs will resign, retire or be replaced.

How do we keep those Fires alive during this hiatus?

PIE-windshield graphic

A Fire Commander Displays a Map on His Windshield

First, we have to paint a future vision protecting the public in a FirstNet world.   This vision could include inspiring video such as this one about fighting wildfires with excellent information and great technology.  It will include the Internet of Things where sensors in the world and devices on responders (such as body-worn video) are used in response.  It could just be a simple catalog of the many powerful and interesting apps already being used by some responders in their work.

But a vision is useless without inspiring Evangelists to paint that vision.

That’s where the FirstNet Board comes in.

The FirstNet Board

The FirstNet Board

FirstNet needs a Board with inspiring leaders and a proven track record innovating in technology.  Sue Swenson and Vice-Chair Jeff Johnson are two examples of innovators with an ability to inspire.  Former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas and Kevin McGinnis are also terrific Evangelists for the FirstNet message with elected officials and tribal nations, respectively.  There may be others on the Board who get out and spread the word, but most Board members seem to be invisible to those of us working in the field.

Every future Board member must have the time and ability to articulate this vision.

Furthermore Board members should mix it up a little.  Typically the commercial members of the FirstNet Board speak to conferences of vendors and commercial companies while the public safety members speak to associations and conferences of public safety officials.  Public safety associations need to hear from those commercial members, and, at the same time, those commercial members need to listen to public safety officials visibly and publicly at their conferences.   Sue Swenson does this, but we need more commercial Board members willing to bring the vision to public safety and listen to first responders, thereby helping to shape the vision.

Active, engaged FirstNet Board members mean the Fires of FirstNet will continue to burn while the federal bureaucracy grinds through its procurement process.

(This post was updated on August 7 to acknowledge the engagement of Board members Douglas and McGinnis.)

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The Internet of First Responder Things (IoFRT)

IoT-toasterThe “Internet of Things” or IoT is a common buzzword in the technology community these days.  It refers to the increasingly prevalent distribution of sensors throughout the natural world, and the connection of those sensors – as well as other machines – to the Internet.

The running joke is that IoT is about putting your home refrigerator, thermostat, washer, dryer, microwave, range, TVs, computers, smart phones and even toasters on the Internet, or at least connecting them so they can talk to each other.  Now what a toaster would say to a TV, or what the conversations between a washer and a dryer might include, could certainly make for a lot of talk show jokes and lists on a David Letterman show (should he return).

But clearly creating such an “Internet of Household Things” or IoHT would be quite useful.  Take, for example, the urgent water crisis in California and throughout most of the West.   If you could add sensors to every water fixture in the house, and then connect those sensors to computers and smartphones, you could determine where your water is being used and take steps to cut back use.   Going one step further, if those water sensors also had valves, you could control your household water use from anywhere in the world.  So when your teenager’s shower has gone over five minutes in length, you could abruptly get a notification and then shut off the water (or turn on the cold water full blast) from your hotel room in Hong Kong.

How might this Internet of Things concept apply to First Responders – the paramedics and firefighters and police officers who respond to our 911 calls?

I recently had a twitter conversation about this with Ray Lehr, former fire chief in Baltimore, and former FirstNet State Point of Contact (SPOC) for Maryland.  Ray suggested we should start talking about the Internet of Life Saving Things (IoLST) which I morphed into a possible Internet of First Responder Things (IoFRT).

There are many applications for the IoFRT, and I’d guess they fall into several buckets:

  • First Responder Personal Things – the sensors and equipment which would be on or near a First Responder to help that officer do the job and keep the officer safe.
  • 911 Caller and Victim Things – these sensors would help alert 911 centers and responders to problems so First Responders can quickly and accurately respond to calls for assistance.
  • Information and Awareness Things – these sensors and machines would improve public safety by monitoring the natural and built environments.
SPD-cars-and-uniforms

Seattle Police Body Worn Video

“First Responder Personal Things” would include a variety of sensors and communication devices.  Body worn video cameras – so much in the news recently after the events in Ferguson, Missouri – are one example of an IoFRT device.  Most such cameras today record their video and hold it in the device.  But if wirelessly connected to the Internet (by, say, FirstNet), a police commander, 911 center and other authorized users could see the video in real time to advise and support the officer.

A police officer’s badge or other apparel might have a small radio which broadcasts a signal unique to that officer, which allows many other communication devices (smart phone, radio, tablet computer) to automatically recognize the officer and therefore allow access to restricted databases such as criminal history.  A similar situation for a paramedic would allow her/him access to restricted patient files and healthcare history.

A police officer’s weapon could have a sensor which only allows it to be fired if it is personal possession of the officer.  Firefighters – especially those fighting long, sustained, wild fires, would have an array of sensors to monitor heart rate, respiration, ambient air quality, etc., alerting the firefighter and incident commander to firefighters who are overworked or in dangerous situations.

“911 Caller and Victim Things” would include those sensors on a victim or in their home or place of business which help to monitor and protect them.   Medical sensors are an obvious application:  people with a history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes or other conditions would have such sensors which would immediately alert them and their healthcare providers to impending problems.  Such sensors might further alert 911 centers for dispatch of emergency medical technicians to an immediate problem.

Vulnerable people in high crime areas might have sensors or video cameras which could be activated at a moment’s notice when they come into dangerous situations.   Many homes and businesses are now equipped with video cameras, movement sensors and other sensors.  A 911 call from the premise (or other activation by the owner) could give 911 centers and responding officer’s immediate access to the telemetry and video from those cameras.

Finally, General Motor’s OnStar gives us a premonition of the technology which will go into vehicles in the future.  Vehicles which communicate with roads or automatically notify 911 centers after an accident, to include transmission of telemetry and video are definitely in the future.

“The Internet of Information and Awareness Things” is both more fascinating and frightening.  Applications to support 911 response can be harnessed to many of these “things”.

Seattle-police-video-drone

Seattle Police Demonstrate a UAV aka “drone”

For example, Video surveillance cameras are becoming less expensive and more ubiquitous.   Surveillance camera systems deployed by cities and counties receive significant scrutiny and attention from the ACLU and city/county councils such as the brouhaha surrounding Seattle’s attempted deployment of a $5 million system.  The use of unpiloted aerial vehicles with cameras is just starting deployment.  But most such cameras are in the hands of businesses and private individuals, as demonstrated by the identification the Boston marathon bombers.  Powerful new technology tools are becoming available for automated analysis of video, for examples automated license plate recognition, facial recognition and object recognition.  We aid and abet this analysis by gleefully tagging faces in our Facebook photos, all of which Facebook uses to build its database of known faces.  The largest license plate recognition databases are in private hands.  In the near future every human being is likely to be recognized and tracked (and NOT by governments) whenever we are outside our own homes.

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was created.  Fearing potential chemical, biological and nuclear terrorist attacks, it deployed a network of sniffers and sensors in cities and other potential targets.  Similar technologies and networks could be deployed to support first responders.

For example, every load of hazardous material being transported by road, air or rail could be tagged and tracked.  Every hazmat container stored in a building could also be identified and tracked, with firefighters watching them pop up on a tablet computer app when they respond to an event in the building.

We could even tag every can of spray paint or every cigarette lighter as the combination of those two items, plus a healthy dose of stupidity (which, alas, cannot yet be tagged) contributes to major home fires like this one.

It is now easy to imagine a world like that depicted by George Orwell in his novel 1984, where surveillance is both nefarious and ubiquitous, fueled by a government (probably controlled by private companies) out of control.

Like so many other choices faced by our early 21st Century society, the Internet of First Responder Things hold both great promise and some peril.   Elected officials and chiefs of responder agencies will have many decisions to make over the next few years.

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Filed under 911, FirstNet, government operations, Internet of Things, Seattle Police

Live Long and Prosper?  Impressions from the SPOCs Meeting

spock

A SPOC?

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) conducted its first-ever meeting of “state points of contact” or SPOCs (pronounced like “Mr. Spock”) in Reston, Virginia, this past week.   Here are some of my impressions from the event.

Every state or territorial governor has appointed a SPOC – there are 55 all together.  SPOCs range from public safety radio systems managers to policy wonks to state Chief Information Officers (CIOs) to The Adjutant General (i.e. Commander of the National Guard), depending on the state.

FirstNet was created by Act of Congress in February, 2012 – over three years ago – and most SPOCs were appointed in 2013.  Yet this is the first time we’ve all been invited to meet together to share experiences and hear and advise FirstNet itself.

A Subtle Shift in Tone

SPOCs are a skeptical bunch.  In past regional and “initial consultation” meetings we have expressed a number of reservations about FirstNet. In those meetings many of our questions were aggressive, almost accusatory. In this meeting I detected a subtle shift in tone.

SPOCs and others at this meeting asked questions in a supportive and generally curious way.  In many cases SPOCs actually chimed in with suggestions to improve FirstNet’s process and project management.  For their part, FirstNet staff were more welcoming and accepting of such suggestions than I’ve seen in the past.  There is still a tendency for FirstNet folks to “go legalistic” – hide behind the Law which created the Authority.   But that is less pronounced than in the past.

Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.   This is Bruce Tuckman’s model which describes the phases which most organizations and projects go through.  Perhaps we are shifting from “storming” to “norming”.

At some point I hope FirstNet moves from Norming to Performing:  you’ll know that time has arrived when SPOCs start to refer to FirstNet using the pronoun “we”.   That is, instead of saying “you should do this, FirstNet” you’ll hear “we should try this approach”.  That time is still months or years away.

firstnet-roadmap-larger

Roadmap or Timeline to FirstNet

What’s the Timeline?

As we SPOCs talk to fire and police chiefs and other potential users of FirstNet, we always get two questions:  what will it cost and when will it happen?

Amazingly, the “what will it cost” question is easy to answer.  FirstNet’s leaders say again and again that FirstNet’s monthly subscription fee has to be about the same as what commercial wireless companies charge police and fire departments today.  That appears to be about $40 to $60 a month for an “all you can eat” (unlimited data) plan.

Guesstimating the timeline is somewhat more problematical.   After all, we are now more than three years into the 10 year life of FirstNet.   However just in the last month the timeline has become clearer to me.  Here’s the Bill Schrier (NOT official) guesstimate:

  • April, 2015 – Draft Request for Proposals (RFP) issued
  • July 31, 2015 – Initial dump of data collection (number of users, kinds of devices) due to FirstNet from states – this will be another input into the RFP
  • December, 2015 – RFP issued seeking vendor(s) to deploy the network
  • Sometime in 2016 – RFP responses due
  • Late 2016?? – RFP evaluation complete
  • Sometime in 2017 – “state plans” issued by FirstNet to each State. The state plans will include coverage and cost information from the apparent successful RFP vendor(s). Governors have 90 days after the state plan is issued to either accept the plan or decide to build on their own
  • Sometime in 2018? – expect the first network deployments

This timeline may be too optimistic – I’ve often been accused of being a Pollyanna in my guesstimates.  And we should never underestimate the power of the non-FirstNet federal bureaucracy to find issues and obstacles to slow progress.

Pushing Forward with Outreach

Some states have been quite aggressive in their outreach plans.  Iowa has one of the very best plans.  Iowa has a FirstNet point of contact in each of its 99 counties (would those be County Points of Contact or CPOCs?).  Iowa has held face-to-face meetings with responders in almost all the counties and is forming committees in each of its six homeland security regions.  Iowa has also received some of the best media coverage, such as coverage by Cedar Rapids TV stations for its meeting with responders in Linn County.

On the other hand, some states have not even started to talk to their responders about FirstNet.  Usually that’s because the Governor is skeptical of FirstNet as “another bureaucratic Federal agency” or is concerned that FirstNet won’t be able to deploy the network at all, reflecting poorly on the State’s own outreach effort and therefore the Governor.

A major question for most SPOCs is how rapidly to push our efforts to contact responders.  It is hard – and perhaps cruel – to get responders and their agencies excited about a network which is still largely undefined and won’t be deployed for at least three more years at the earliest.

opt-in-or-out-keysClosing off Options

The Act which created FirstNet explicitly required a network plan for each state.  The Act allows the Governor of each state to “opt in” to that plan or “opt out” and have the state itself build the radio access network (RAN) – that is the towers, transmitters, fiber and microwave links etc.    At first it may seem that “opt in” should be the easy choice.  Opt-in costs a state almost no money, and doesn’t really obligate the state to commit any resources or even use FirstNet.

But, of course, no one has a real idea what FirstNet’s “state plan” will look like. First responders and SPOCs in each state will put a lot of time and effort into helping FirstNet construct that plan.  But how can a network with only $7 billion in capital to deply be able to match the coverage, capacity, apps and functionality of commercial networks which spend $20 billion or more a year to upgrade and operate their networks?  What if financial constraints mean the FirstNet state plan falls far short of responders’ expectations?

There are a number of good answers to these questions, but they are largely irrelevant.

No elected official – especially State Governors – wants to be told “this is your only choice”, that is, to “opt in”.  And no Governor will want to “opt in” to a state plan which the fire and police chiefs, Mayors and County Commissioners in a state believe is inadequate to meet their needs.

One good solution to this dilemma is to fully explore what it would take for a state to “opt out” and construct the radio access network itself.   In discussions at this meeting, many SPOCs and FirstNet staff believe that only a handful – perhaps 5 or 6 – of the mostly densely states could feasibly opt out and expect income from user fees and spectrum use fees to pay for the state’s own network.

But how do we know that’s true?  Ideally, states would use coverage modeling software and financial modeling software, plus the expertise of cellular industry consultants to build and test a variety of scenarios.   The result of such models could be an “opt out” plan for the state.  But those results would also be independent reviews and opinions on FirstNet’s own plans, thereby strengthening those plans.

Furthermore I believe the results of such modeling would quickly demonstrate the costs and obstacles a state would face in constructing the RAN itself.  Those identified issues would convince state officials and Governors that opting-out is financial folly.  Therefore most Governors will be much more comfortable in their opt-in decision.

However, NTIA has recently decided no federal grant monies (SLIGP) can be used to explore any option other than “opt in”.  FirstNet itself recently asked for review of its interpretations of the Law (“second notice”), and those interpretations also tend to restrict the ability of states to explore options to build their own.  It is clear NTIA does not want states doing coverage and financial modeling, even though such work would result in improved FirstNet plans for each state.

This ill-conceived decision by NTIA can be added to the list of other mistakes that agency has made to impede public safety’s pursuit of a nationwide public safety wireless broadband network.

A Potpourri of Observations

  • Former Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont is a phenomenal addition to the FirstNet Board. Governor Douglas keynoted the second day with a mixture of humor and substance.  He’s briefed newly elected Governors and 44 Gubernatorial Chiefs of Staff about FirstNet.  This is exactly the sort of support SPOCs need with their Governors.
  • FirstNet might allow representatives of state and local governments to help evaluate RFP responses. There are a lot of restrictions on this, but it would be a material step forward if someone other than federal government employees was involved.
  • firstnet-data-collection-larger

    Data Collection

    FirstNet is aggressively seeking to collect on-the-ground data to craft its RFP. It has asked states to query each potential user agency (for example:  police and fire department) asking about their current wireless broadband contracts, number of potential users, number and kinds of devices, coverage requirements and so forth.  (See slide 7 of this PDF.)  As with everything else FirstNet, this activity has been in progress for at least 18 months, but only released to states in March, with a demand for collection of the first data by July 31st.   I can only guess that the many layers of lawyers and approval processes internal to the Federal government elongated the timeline.

  • FirstNet is finally hiring employees in each of its regions (which mirror the FEMA regions) to more directly engage states in consultation. Steve Noel (Region 10) and Tim Pierce (Region 5) are the first two of ten to be hired.  Acting Chief Technical Officer Jeff Bratcher has also hired a great set of technical leaders for the Boulder-based FirstNet technical office.   FirstNet’s hiring timeframes continue to be atrocious – these positions were six months from announcement to getting Steve and Tim on board.  I understand the federal personnel management agency – after some spurring by Sue Swenson at March’s Senate hearing – is now allowing FirstNet to shorten some hiring processes to rapidly hire skilled staff.
  • To paraphrase George Orwell, “all states are unique – some are more unique than others”. I’m being facetious here:  we SPOCs tend to emphasize the unique challenges we each face, but, frankly, we’re not that unique.  Sure, Iowa doesn’t have tsunamis but it does have floods.  Washington doesn’t have hurricanes and Florida doesn’t have earthquakes (except sinkholes, of course).   Here’s my point:  we SPOCs need to start looking at what we have in common, how we can best support the wireless data needs of our responders, how we can work together to overcome our challenges in getting this network built, and stop raising stupid red-herring issues like procurement.  If we state government bureaucrats can’t figure out our own procurement laws to buy something vital for our first responders like FirstNet, we ought to be shot (to quote FirstNet Board Chair Sue Swenson).
  • The FirstNet Board needs to hire T. J. Kennedy as its Executive Director. The General Manager/Executive Director position has been vacant for a year now.  Kennedy has all the right background and leadership skills necessary to push this project forward, and he needs the ability to hire a deputy to help him.

A Final Thought

For the first time since the First Responder Authority was created in February, 2012, there now appears to be a clear path forward to build the network – see my timeline above.  There are many positive signs:  the aggressive move to collect data to properly craft the RFP, the impending release of the draft RFP, a promise to issue the final RFP by the end of the year, the hiring of regional staff such as Tim Pierce and Steve Noel, and the hiring of skilled technical leaders by Acting CTO Jeff Bratcher.

To some extent, the past three years with FirstNet has been like taking a train through a tunnel.  When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off.  You sit still and trust the engineer.  This meeting heartened me that there might be light at the end of the FirstNet tunnel.

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Filed under broadband, FirstNet, wireless

Will FirstNet become the next Healthcare.gov?

FirstNet-Innovate

FirstNet Must be Innovative

On October 1, 2013, the website healthcare.gov opened for business.   This website was the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA” commonly known as “Obamacare”).    ACA is one of the signature achievements of President Barack Obama.   Certainly the core of Obamacare would have the latest in innovative technology, interactivity and customer experience, right?

Healthcare.gov’s debut was a bomb.

But then healthcare.gov was resurrected.   Through an extraordinary effort the website was rapidly fixed and rebuilt by a top-notch team who were freed from most of the stultifying bureaucracy and regulations of the Federal Government.

Today another signature achievement of the Obama Administration – the First Responder Network Authority – appears headed down a path similar to the original healthcare.gov.   We can recognize the danger signs.   Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and other administration officials have the authority to free FirstNet from the shackles of “Fedgov” allowing it to innovatively accomplish its mission of creating a nationwide public safety wireless broadband network for our responders.

But will they act?

FirstNet must be Innovative

Martin Cooper and the first cell phone

Martin Cooper and the first cell phone

In the 1980s, Craig McCaw recognized the potential of cellular phone networks and, starting with a single small cable company in Centralia, Washington, built an $11 billion nationwide wireless network, earning the name “the wizard of wireless”.

Also in the 1980s a Harvard drop-out named Bill Gates purchased a piece-of-crap operating system named 86-DOS and used it to build a powerhouse company, Microsoft, which today still dominates the desktops of the entire world.

In the first decade of the 21st Century Steve Jobs took a company on the edge of bankruptcy and transformed it into the largest company in the world through three startling innovations: the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.

Today we have a company which has an opportunity to transform the operations of every government agency – local, state and federal – while at the same time radically improving the safety and security the United States’ 330 million people.   This company doesn’t need to invent anything new.  All it has to do is follow in the footsteps of Craig McCaw, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and adapt their innovations for government.

This “company” is the First Responder Network Authority – FirstNet.

FirstNet was born in 2012 from the hopes and dreams of cops and firefighters and paramedics and emergency managers nationwide.  But, increasingly, it is burdened with risk-adverse lawyers, saddled with outmoded rules and regulations, chained to the very insider Washington, D.C. bureaucracies so derided by Republicans, Democrats and everyday citizens.

FirstNet was created on February 22, 2012 and funded with $7 billion to build a nationwide public safety wireless network, following in the footsteps of pioneers of the wireless industry – people like Craig McCaw and Sam Ginn.    FirstNet was charged with creating a nationwide architecture and a plan to develop the network in each state.  The Governor of each state can then make a decision whether to allow that plan to proceed.

The evidence for FirstNet’s difficulties is abundant.

Three years later, FirstNet has less than 100 full-time employees, does not have a permanent executive director and – odd for a technology company – does not have a permanent chief technology officer.   Most of the full-time employees are transfers or on detail from other federal government departments – competent and dedicated to be sure – but few with recent experience, on the ground, with local and state government responder agencies.

Today – three years after the law created FirstNet – the agency plans to issue a draft RFP by the end of March, and perhaps a final RFP by the end of 2015.  Given the extraordinary complexity of such an RFP (“build a nationwide wireless network in 55 states and territories serving all local, state and federal first responders”), responses to the RFP probably won’t come in until mid-2016.  The evaluation of the responses might take another year, and the final state plans another 6 to 12 months after that.  It is likely to be 2018 – six years after FirstNet was created – before the network implements anywhere.  And, of course, there could be protests after the contract award is announced, lengthening these times.

In the meantime, the technology industry is innovating and changing at a record place.  While FirstNet writes an RFP in 2015, who knows what the wireless, smart phone, tablet computer, Internet-of-Things, connected and autonomous vehicle industries will look like in 2018?  Noted wireless industry Chetan Sharma thinks 5G networks will be implementing at that time, while FirstNet implements 2015 or earlier technology.

Is there a way to change the direction of this impending train derailment?

We have at least the one recent federal government derailment to guide us.

Healthcare.gov.

Healthcare.govLessons from Healthcare.gov

The Affordable Care Act had the noble vision of affordable healthcare insurance for all Americans.  It was passed by Congress in March, 2010, and implemented in October 1, 2013.  But the technology and website had numerous difficulties and problems.  While the original cost of the website was probably about $500 million, the overall cost after fixes probably reached $1.7 billion.

There are many reasons for this initial failure:  much-too-detailed requirements, many changes during the implementation, many subcontractors, no single prime contractor, diffuse oversight by bureaucrats in the federal Department of Health and Human Services (who, frankly, had no experience in managing such a pioneering project) and more.

But healthcare.gov, despite the technological failures of its initial roll-out, was rescued by a series of unorthodox – and innovative – measures by the federal government.    President Obama, recognizing this abysmal situation with his signature accomplishment, called in a group of geeks from Silicon Valley, many of whom had helped build the technology which won two of his elections.  To oversee the fix, he called in folks like Kurt DelBene, who had built Microsoft Office into one of the most widely used software products in the world.  (And DelBene has a lot of experience with bureaucracies – having engaged with one of the worst internally at Microsoft.)

This team both fought and made peace with the risk-adverse bureaucrats who oversaw healthcare.gov. They used innovative techniques like cloud services from Amazon Web Services.   They implemented agile development practices to do short sprints of software fixes and upgrades, a vastly different philosophy than the slow, painful, requirements-RFP-evaluation-development-implementation process used on most federal government projects.

And they fixed healthcare.gov in a matter of months.

18F

18F of the GSA

This one success has rippled through the federal government.   Innovative, agile, processes are starting to creep into the slow-moving federal bureaucracy.  The Government Services Administration (GSA) now has an agile development team with its 18F unit.   The White House has launched the United States Digital Service to serve as a tech “SWAT” to help struggling tech projects.   Even the staid, conservative, CIA has enthusiastically adopted cloud services and rapid development techniques (although, in fairness, it has been quite innovative in past with projects like intellipedia).

Today FirstNet.gov is heading down the same path as the original Healthcare.gov.

But can we fix it now, since we see the problems coming?

Absolutely.

The Fix

The Fix

The Fix

Here’s one roadmap to a fix:

More freedom and independence, not more regulations and oversight.   The reaction of a typical bureaucracy to any problem is to clamp down the restrictions – add more lawyers for legal review, more layers of approval, more oversight.   In the high tech, rapidly moving world of wireless communications and applications, that’s exactly the wrong approach, yet it is the one the federal government has taken.   The Obama Administration has proved itself to be fast-moving and innovative in many initiatives, and it needs to take the same approach with FirstNet.

Independent authority.”   Congress has already provided direction on this – it created FirstNet as an “independent authority” within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.  Congress wants FirstNet to be innovative and extraordinary, not just another Federal agency.

Adopt agile.  Every private technology company is using agile techniques to develop products and services.  Agile techniques have been adopted by 18F, the U.S. Digital Service and a few other agencies.  Christopher Webster and Max Romanik have written an ground-breaking blog post demonstrating how agile can be applied to public safety.  FirstNet too can adopt agile to transform its approach.

Full-time staff.  FirstNet has difficulties hiring full-time employees, probably due to the constraints of the federal personnel hiring process of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and to delays in obtaining security clearances. As an “independent authority” FirstNet should be granted relief from the OPM personnel processes allowing it to hire employees who have local and state responder experience, agile development skills and technical staff with recent experience in the commercial telecommunications industry.

Contract staffing difficulties.   Much of the expertise FirstNet needs will require salary levels beyond those available in the federal personnel system.   Recognizing this, NTIA has provided contracts and contract staffing for many of the technical positions.  However NTIA made a number of mistakes in these staffing contract procurements, resulting in a Department of Commerce Inspector General (OIG) investigation.   As a consequence, FirstNet has lost most of the individuals with technical expertise which it used in 2013-2014.  Hiring of replacement staff has been quite slow, probably due to onerous rules put in place by NTIA staff to prevent a repeat of the problems cited by OIG.   Conversely, healthcare.gov rapidly hired staff from the technology industry to rebuild its website.   FirstNet should be freed to adopt the same model.  As an “independent authority” FirstNet should be allowed to rapidly hire technical contract staff through legal contract mechanisms and using its own internal controls independent from external ones imposed by NTIA.

Roadmap

FirstNet Roadmap – Click to see more

Unknown FirstNet Business Plan.  The $7 billion funding available to FirstNet is not sufficient to develop and operate its network.   The maximum likely user base – five to seven million users – will be insufficient, through user fees alone, to operate and enhance the network.  FirstNet plans to leverage income from the secondary use of its spectrum by commercial entities which will provide services to consumers and businesses.  FirstNet leadership states there is a business plan to use these income sources to develop, expand, enhance and upgrade the network.  But the details of such a plan are unknown outside FirstNet’s Board and immediate staff.   FirstNet could engage and trust states to more completely develop this business plan to drive the RFP process and marketing of the network to public safety entities.

Remove the useless oversight.   FirstNet must render an annual report to Congress.   It’s most recent report – due out February 23rd – still has not been published.  Why?   Because it has to be reviewed by at least 10 different federal agencies!   Why are employees of the FCC and the Department of Justice and even the Department of Commerce reviewing that report?   What value is being added to the speed or quality of the project?  FirstNet is an “independent authority”.   Its customers are cops and firefighters and paramedics and other responders.  A bunch of federal bureaucracies should not stand between it and reporting to Congress or between it and first responders.

Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).  The FAR is a detailed, lengthy and often onerous regulation designed to guarantee fair procurements by the Federal government.   However the FAR also inadvertently discriminates toward single procurements from large nationwide companies with substantial legal and contracting staff resources.   Consequently smaller, innovative, local or regional companies often will not be successful in FAR-managed procurements.  Furthermore, the FAR effectively prevents innovative partnerships between FirstNet, private companies and states, local and tribal entities to build the NPSBN at a local or regional scale.  FirstNet, as an “independent authority” could be granted relief from certain aspects of the FAR to allow more innovative partnerships and local procurements.

Partnerships with early builders, tribal nations and states.  In any technology-based project, the idea of prototypes, beta and initial implementations are critical. Multiple projects (pilots, if you will), combined with active integration and expansion, will reap significantly more benefit than waiting for a single massive implementation project for the entire nation.   FirstNet could seek partnerships with the existing early builder projects (Adams County Colorado, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New Mexico and Harris County Texas) and their states to expand and enhance those projects to serve larger geographic areas and user communities.   Other states, multi-state regions, and tribal nations may seek to partner with FirstNet and private companies to build the network within their borders.  Such partnerships could serve other public purposes, e.g. providing high speed broadband to consumers and businesses (as secondary users) in underserved, rural and tribal areas.

FirstNetIs the Federal Government Bold Enough to allow FirstNet to Succeed?

FirstNet is a noble effort.  Its network, the cutting-edge devices it will put in the hands of responders and the rapidly evolving public safety apps which will be born in this ecosystem will transform very nature of response, investigation and recovery during public safety incidents and outages and disasters, just as smart phones and tablet computers have transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of consumers and business in the United States and around the world.

But is the federal government courageous enough to unleash FirstNet?  Gutsy enough to trust FirstNet’s Board and its management and its web of supporters in local and state government and private industry?   Trusting enough of Congress’ intent to make FirstNet a truly “independent authority” and then watch it succeed?

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FirstNet: More Choices than Just Opt-in/out

FirstNet LogoThis blog was originally posted on Medium.com on February 7, 2015

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created by Congress in 2012 and funded with $7 billion to deploy a nationwide wireless network dedicated to public safety. But Congress also attached many strings to FirstNet. One of the major requirements is the creation of a plan to deploy FirstNet in each state. That State Plan — created in consultation with public safety responders in that state — is then presented to the Governor of that State for an explicit decision: opt-in and allow FirstNet to proceed, or opt-out. Technically if the Governor “opts out” the state itself is supposed to build the network in the state, with some financial support from the First Responder Network Authority.

But are opt-in or opt-out the only “options”?

Hell no.

(Read the rest of this post on Medium.)

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FirstNet comes to the “Other” Washington

Washington's Initial Consultation with FirstNet

Washington’s Initial Consultation with FirstNet

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) came to the “other Washington” on October 16, 2014, and officially launched the design process for FirstNet in Washington.   We taught FirstNet a few lessons about the public safety needs in Washington State.   And we learned a bit about how FirstNet will design a network to serve responders in Washington.

“Consultation”

“Consultation” has a special meaning in FirstNet-speak.

We conducted the consultation meeting from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM at the Thurston County Fairgrounds outside of the State Capital, Olympia. About 180 responders and other stakeholders from around the state attended .

The purpose of this “initial” consultation was to launch a design process for FirstNet in Washington. We think this will take about 18 months, but that’s definitely a guesstimate based on a variety of factors, including how rapidly FirstNet can issue its RFP for vendor partners, get responses, and evaluate them.

During this consultation period FirstNet will provide technical expertise and other input to build a State Plan and design for the network in Washington. Responders in Washington will provide information about their needs for coverage, usage, devices, applications and other capabilities in order to improve public safety for the people of Washington. Responders will specify what sort of support they need in this world of rapidly mutating technology including smart phones, tablet computers, apps, wearable computers, tiny video recorders, the “Internet of things” and much more. And by “responder” we’re talking about anyone who has a role in responding to a public safety emergency and disaster: firefighters, cops, paramedics, electric and water utility workers, transportation workers, transit drivers, the Red Cross and Salvation Army and others. Even school teachers, alas, are too often first responders as we found out again at Pilchuck High School in Marysville on October 24th.

The end of this consultation process is a State Plan (capital letters) for FirstNet in Washington presented to Governor Jay Inslee, who will, after consulting with our state’s responders, either opt-in or opt-out of the plan. The State Plan, like all State Plans developed for the 56 states and territories, should include elements such as what parts of the state will be covered permanently, who will be authorized to use FirstNet in Washington, how much users will need to pay and many more elements about how the network will operate in our state.

How the Day Proceeded

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Watching the “FirstNet in Washington” Video

We started the day by showing the short version of our “FirstNet in Washington” video (see it here), which features Washington State Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) members discussing what FirstNet might mean for the State’s responders. This is a fairly dramatic video, with statements from Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste, Pacific County Emergency Management Director Stephanie Fritts (Pacific County is subject to both earthquakes and tsunamis), Quinault Tribe Technology Leader Randell Harris, West Pierce Fire Chief Jim Sharp, Whitcom 911 Director Patti Kelly, and Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan.

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Sandy Mullins, Public Safety Advisor to Governor JAy Inslee

We had welcomes from Sandy Mullins (pictured at left), who is Governor Jay Inslee’s advisor for Public Safety, and Michael Cockrill, the State’s Chief Information Officer (CIO). The FirstNet effort in Washington State is managed inside the Office of the CIO.

FirstNet General Manager T. J. Kennedy

FirstNet General Manager T. J. Kennedy

After the video, FirstNet General Manager T. J. Kennedy took the floor to provide a welcome from FirstNet. He described the significant efforts FirstNet is undertaking to prepare for, design and build this nationwide network, a daunting effort unparalleled in United States history. Kennedy mentioned the Request for Information (RFI) and Public Notice (PN) from which FirstNet hopes to gain input to drive its future plan.   The RFI seeks information to guide FirstNet’s 2015 RFP for the network.  The public notice seeks ideas about who should be able to use the network, among other topics.

Rich Reed, FirstNet’s Director of State Plans talked about some of the recent history of FirstNet, such as the regional meetings conducted in mid-2013. He described what went on at those meetings as “shockingly unimplementable” and that’s definitely true . The FirstNet Board members who led those meetings were far too optimistic on schedule and effort.

Rich Reed characterizes the information presently available as “what we know”, “what we don’t know” and “what we think”, and answers questions within that framework. For example, the law which created FirstNet contains 24 Congressional mandates. As another example, FirstNet’s shelf life is from 2012 to September 30, 2022, when the authority and funds end unless renewed by Congress.

Some other highlights of Reed’s talk:

  • FirstNet is keenly aware it must “earn the business” of each public safety agency by offering equal or superior products, services and support.
  • Consultation with States does not end when FirstNet delivers the State Plan to Governor Inslee (or any other Governor). Consultation will continue as FirstNet implements in the state, builds its network, and then expands it based upon the needs of the state’s responders.
  • Will there be one vendor partner or many partners to build out the network? This is unknown.
  • Will devices be able to talk to other devices via Bluetooth, boomer sites, small cells and so forth? All such technologies are on the table.
  • Reed, Buchanan and Kennedy also talked about the updated, streamlined, approach to State consultation which is shown in the image below:
FirstNet's Approach to State Consultation

FirstNet’s Approach to State Consultation

Needs for FirstNet in Washington

Four senior officials from local government presented practical examples of challenges and disasters they have faced in 2014, some of the communication problems they had, and how a robust wireless data network may be able to improve response and recovery in the future. The slide deck used in these presentations is on the Washington OneNet site here.

Okanogan County Wildfires and Floods

Mike Worden, Okanogan County

Mike Worden, Okanogan County

Okanogan County, and other counties in Washington experienced one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. Okanogan County suffered from the largest wildfire in recorded state history, measured in geography, the Carleton Complex fire. This fire raged in July and August 2014 and burned 400 square miles, destroying 237 homes and 55 cabins. The fire was ultimately extinguished partially as a result heavy rains, but those rains caused flooding and torrential stream flows, causing further damage. One death is attributed to the fire.

Okanogan County Senior Deputy Mike Worden (photo at right) discussed the interoperable communications challenges of the event. These included:

  • Over fifty to sixty miles fiber optic cable, mounted on wooden poles, was lost, cutting 911 service to many residents and connections to some commercial cell sites. At least one undergrounded fiber was cut when the fiber which ran under a bridge melted.
  • While the Sheriff’s Department has mobile data computers in deputy vehicles, most city police departments and local fire departments do not have such access to wireless data communications. No public safety land-mobile radio (LMR) sites were lost, although at least one site operated on generator during an extended power outage due to loss of electrical lines and service. One public safety site in Oroville lost coverage due to loss of phone lines which serve as backhaul to that site.
  • The Sheriff’s department used automatic vehicle location (AVL), mobile digital maps, instant messaging and electronic mail to coordinate evacuation of residences.
  • The Sheriff’s department tracked routes and locations which had now mobile data coverage and has maps to support improvement of that coverage.

After Worden’s presentation, he and the audience discussion extracted several lessons learned from this event:

  • All local and state agencies need to invest in mobile data devices (computers, smart phones, tablets) for their field officers to better share situational awareness and a common operating picture. Perhaps this use needs to be subsidized if local agencies cannot afford it.
  • Affordability of mobile data devices and ubiquitous use of them is key to responding both to daily incidents and major disasters like this.
  • Interoperability with state and federal agencies is also important to wildfire response. Such agencies include Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Washington State Patrol (WSP), Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR – which is primarily responsible for wildland firefighting), federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and federal National Forest Service (NFS) part of the Department of Agriculture.
  • Mobile data use by responders is, more and more, becoming a “necessity” rather than a “nice-to-have”.

Snohomish County State Route 530 Landslide

State Route 530 Landslide

State Route 530 Landslide

Scott Honaker, the Radio Officer at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management (DEM), discussed the challenges and lessons learned from that event.

The State Route 530 landslide occurred on Saturday, March 22, 2014. It destroyed 36 homes directly and 9 more by flooding. Forty-three people died in the slide. Everyone who could be rescued was rescued in the first 12 hours, but the recovery operations continued for six weeks with up to 1,000 responders deployed in the 1500 foot long, 4400 foot wide landslide area.

Some of the interoperable communications challenges detailed by Honaker included:

  • Lack of situational awareness was a challenge during the first 48 hours. Few responders realized the size or extent of the slide, and accurate data on the number of people missing took a week to assemble. Ironically some situational awareness was available from Navy, Snohomish, King County and private air ambulance helicopter pilots during the recovery phase, but there were few paths to accurately convey this data to incident commanders on the ground.
  • The slide severed a fiber optic cable connecting the town of Darrington to the outside world for communications. This cut Darrington off in terms of 911 calls, Internet and land-line telephone service. One commercial cellular provider, Verizon, retained connections. 911 Center staff quickly worked with Frontier communications to reroute 911 calls to a police substation in Darrington. Other commercial cellular providers lost connectivity due to the loss of the fiber line.
  • Volunteers were extensively used in the recovery operation. Many of them had friends and relatives whose bodies were buried under the debris; furthermore, these volunteers had the proper equipment (logging equipment, bulldozers) to move the debris.
  • Commercial cellular and land-line carriers – especially Verizon and Frontier, but also AT&T, provided extraordinary support during the event. For example Verizon assigned technicians to the event 24×7 and Frontier restored the fiber line to connect Darrington within three days.
  • Video downlinks from Snohomish and King County helicopters and Washington State Patrol aircraft were available, but only one or two receivers were available on the ground for receiving the video, and there was no way to distribute it via data communications to incident commanders and responder devices.
  • A detailed report on the land-mobile radio challenges and lessons learned is here.

Some of the lessons learned for FirstNet discussed by the audience include:

  • FirstNet must have operational capability to immediately respond on site with technical staff to support communications after a disaster.
  • It is extraordinarily important for all responders and responder agencies to have certain common applications on their mobile data devices to share situation awareness and communications during the response, but also the recovery phase after disasters.
  • Aircraft – helicopters, airplanes and drones – are very important to situational awareness, but communicating information obtained from such sources is difficult. This information includes video, LIDAR and other scanning technologies as well as voice and GPS data.
  • In a complex event, situational awareness must be distributed across a wide variety of teams involved in the response – local and state police, local firefighters, DNR, WSDOT, FEMA, city, county and state Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs), Urban Search-and-Rescue, search-and-rescue (SAR) volunteers, other volunteers (like loggers), National Guard, Coast Guard, and the Navy in this case. Common applications and/or common use of a network like FirstNet could vastly improve situational awareness during the critical first hours of response.

Seattle Seahawks Victory Parade

Seattle Police escort the Seahawks

Seattle Police escort the Seahawks

Captain Dick Reed attended the morning session of the initial consultation, but was called away before he could talk about communications challenges during the Seahawk victory parade. Some of those challenges have been detailed in the public media, such as this Seattle Times article.

The parade on February 5, 2014, drew an estimated 700,000 people to downtown Seattle. Cellular network providers tried to provide additional network capability via cell-on-wheels (COW) and similar apparatus. Nevertheless many cell phone calls and much wireless data communication was unusable for over three hours. Fortunately there were few major incidents. Many responders from multiple agencies came to mutual aid of the City of Seattle to support the event. LMR networks (King County 800 MHz radio) performed flawlessly, and in several cases citizens came to police officers or firefighters along the route to request aid, and those responders were able to use their 800 MHz trunked radio to summon aid. Nevertheless the mobile data computers, smart phones and tablet computers of all responders were affected just like citizens and parade observers.

The Seahawks Victory Parade experience supports the need for a dedicated network for use by responders.

Engaging Washington Responders in the FirstNet State Plan

Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza, Sandy Mullins, Bill Schrier, State Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle

Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza, Sandy Mullins, Bill Schrier, State Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle

Finally, as the FirstNet State Point of Contact (SPOC), I discussed how Washington OneNet and Washington’s responders will engage with FirstNet during the consultation process to develop the state plan (slides of the presentation are here).

Washington has engaged the Washington State University (WSU) Division of Governmental Studies & Services and the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) as subcontractors to continue outreach, education and data collections in support of Washington OneNet. WSU will be contacting first responder agencies and elected officials throughout the state to make them aware of the FirstNet design effort and engage them in developing the State Plan. Similarly PNWER will engage public works, utilities and similar responders in the effort. This work will kick off in earnest in January, 2015.

Washington will form three committees – a stakeholder committee, technical committee and operational committee. The Operational Committee will be led by Jim Pryor, retired assistant police chief in Seattle, and will consist of invited individuals who have performed as a public safety incident commander.

The Operational Committee will explore and make recommendations to the SIEC regarding operational aspects of FirstNet’s dedicated Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network in Washington State. The Committee will consider such issues as network management/prioritization during critical incidents and normal use; availability and use of multi-disciplinary applications on the network; establishing operational guidelines when interfacing with local, state, federal, and military entities; and, other topics that might be referred to the Committee to take advantage of the experience, background, and training of its members.

The Stakeholder Committee will be composed of elected officials and senior officials of responder agencies to consider questions such as coverage, where incidents occur, who is a “responder” and should be authorized to use the network, costs and affordability.

The Technical Committee will support FirstNet’s work in technical design – including deployable sites (e.g. sites on fire apparatus, drones, and similar platforms), in-building coverage, distributed antennas, throughput speeds, and micro-cell-sites, implementing priority and similar issues.

The goal of these Washington State efforts is not to “sell” FirstNet, but rather to get a design for Washington State which meets the needs of our responders and citizens.

What FirstNet Needs from Washington

FirstNet's Brian Hobson talks about coverae

FirstNet’s Brian Hobson talks about coverage

In the afternoon of the initial consultation, Brian Hobson (photo at right, with a coverage map) and Rich Reed of FirstNet described the sorts of information FirstNet needs to design a network and prepare a State Plan for Washington. They discussed:

  • The need to find incident management data such as computer-aided-dispatch (CAD), records management system (RMS) and 9-1-1 call data to map the location of incidents in the state, which in turn drives coverage mapping.
  • Coverage maps of the existing state and local LMR networks are a good starting point for coverage mapping.
  • FirstNet will do a phased build-out in Washington. What are the appropriate phases? Washington’s elected officials and responders need to define that. For example, Washington might want to do a reverse build-out with the areas with high need but poor coverage being the first to be built out.
  • Washington might consider how to manage feedback loops and processes for managing further expansion of the network.

Next Steps for Washington State

  • Continue outreach & discussion with responder agencies and Tribes.
  • Begin collection of data elements. These include information such as names of potential user agencies, a point of contact in each agency, the potential number of FirstNet users in each agency, applications which are presently in use, and so forth.
  • Consider coverage, capacity, users and other input Washington has for the FirstNet State Plan.
  • Work with FirstNet staff on the State Plan.

Next Steps for FirstNet

  • Hire staff members in Federal Region X (Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho) to support work on the state plan.
  • Develop template of specific user data and information, which states should collect to support the development of the State Plan.
  • Assimilate input from the RFI and publish a draft RFP, probably in first quarter of calendar year 2015, to solicit vendors and partners to build the network.

Challenges for a FirstNet State Plan in Washington

East and West. While we had a good attendance from around the state, it was hard to get representatives from Eastern Washington. Washington, like most states, has a “divide”, and in our case it is “east of the Cascade Mountains” and “west of the mountains”. When a meeting is held on one side, attendance from the other falls off. We also are using our state-and-local implementation planning grant (SLIGP) funds to pay for travel, lodging and per diem of public officials who attend the meeting, but they still need to be away from their day jobs, a real challenge for smaller cities and rural counties who do not have a lot of staff.

Shoalwater Bay Police Chief Robin Souviner

Shoalwater Bay Police Chief Robin Souviner

Indian Country. We had 7 representatives from Indian tribes, including Mike Lyall, Vice-Chair of the Cowlitz tribe and Robin Souvenir, Police Chief for the Shoalwater Bay Tribe (photo at right). The Cowlitz have a huge reservation in the central part of the state and the Shoalwater Bay Tribe is in Pacific County, vulnerable to tsunami and also in the shadow of a cliff, with poor commercial cell coverage. Nevertheless we have 29 federal recognized tribes in the state – and some additional tribes beyond those – so we have more work to do to engage our tribes who are federal governments. Besides the Cowlitz, other tribes in the state cover a large geography and are economically and culturally important to our state. We have much more work to do to engage them all.

Urban, suburban and rural first responders. We had good participation from rural and suburban agencies, including police, fire and emergency medical, plus 911 centers (PSAPs) and emergency managers. We didn’t get a lot of responders from larger cities such as Spokane, Seattle and Tacoma, although we had good participations from their counties – Spokane, King and Pierce.

Lessons Learned

Washington OneNet offers a number of lessons and suggestions for other states who are going to conduct an initial consultation.

Prepare user stories/case studies. The user stories and case studies are a phenomenal chance to engage Firstnet about the unique challenges of the state and its responders. But it is also helpful for the state’s own responders to hear about the issues faced by other responding agencies in the state. Washington, unfortunately, has had too many disasters, just in 2014, and therefore faces many mobilizations and challenges. Other potential disasters loom, including a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, lahars, volcanic eruption and terrorism due to a long international border and a long coastline.

T. J. Kennedy talks with retired Seattle Assistant Police Chief Jim Pryor

T. J. Kennedy talks with retired Seattle Assistant Police Chief Jim Pryor

Hallway conversations are half the event. “Virtual meetings” like WebEx and Go-to-Meeting will never replace meeting people at a live event. T. J. Kennedy and other FirstNet staff really “worked the room” meeting with Washington State responders, as did Washington OneNet staff. Kennedy’s background as a first responder makes him a powerful ambassador for FirstNet and a great person to engage police and fire chiefs, as well as elected officials. These individual and personal touches are the foundation for future engagement to build the State Plan. (Photo at right: T. J. Kennedy talks with retired Seattle Police Assistant Chief Jim Pryor).

Summary

If the design, planning, construction and implementation of the First Responder Network in the State of Washington is a 26 mile, 385 yard, marathon, the initial consultation we conducted on October 16th is the first 100 yards.   We’re off to a running start, but there’s a long, sometimes difficult, sometimes enjoyable, 26 mile, 285 yards to go.   The general road map to the final network is in place, but the hills, valleys and curves are yet to be plotted and overcome.  Over the next several years responders from throughout Washington will work with FirstNet to create a State Plan and then will see it to implementation.   At that point each city, county, police and fire department, electric utility, public works and other responder agency will need to decide if the new FirstNet will meet their specific needs. Getting to a great design will be a major portion of the effort.

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Oregon’s FirstNet Consultation – Impressions

Oregon-consult-med-10-08-14

Oregon’s Consultation

In February, 2012 the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created and funded with $7 billion by Congress to build a nationwide wireless network for responders to daily incidents and larger disasters.  I sometimes call it a cellular network to connect the smart phones and tablets of cops and firefighters, but, really, anyone who responds to disasters will probably be able to use it.

FirstNet is required to consult with state governments about its plans, and then develop a design and plan for each state.   This state plan will include what parts of the state will be covered, who can use the network in the state, and what the costs will be.

FirstNet is starting to launch the consultation and design process, state by state.  I was fortunate to be present on October 8th when FirstNet staff conducted their initial consultation with officials in the state of Oregon at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) in Salem.   Steve Noel, Oregon Statewide Interoperability Coordinator (SWIC) hosted the meeting.  This is the third initial consultation of 56 states and territories where FirstNet will be constructed.  The State of Washington is next up for an initial consultation, which occurs on October 16th.

Here are a few of my impressions from Oregon’s consultation.

I was most intrigued to hear real-world examples of communications needs from Oregon’s responders.

Chief Mike Duyck from the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, vice-chair of the Oregon State Interoperability Executive Council, eloquently spoke about the communications needs and possibilities of FirstNet.     He spoke about “geo-fencing” physical addresses, so when responders were called to a specific address, they would know if people with arrest warrants or histories of violence lived or frequented nearby locations.   He talked about crowdsourcing off-duty responders who are physically close to major incidents, video conferencing physicians from the scene of a medical emergency, and interconnecting traditional public safety land-mobile radios with smart phones and other cellular devices.  All-in-all, his talk was an eye-opening vision of the future of public safety communications from an active, engaged fire chief.

Cheryl Bledsoe of Clackamas 911 discusses the Mall Shooter

Cheryl Bledsoe of Clackamas 911 discusses the Mall Shooter

Cheryl Bledsoe from the Clackamas County 9-1-1 office talked about the combined use of land-mobile radio, cell phones and social media like twitter responding to the 2012 Clackamas Mall shooter.

Bledsoe, who is a prolific tweeter herself, said the first tweets from terrified citizens at the mall occurred more than two minutes before the first 911 call (see also Huffington Post article about that here).   She also related how a senior official of the Clackamas Sheriff’s department got the first word of the shooting from his daughter via a cell phone call.  She was watching social media and noticed news of the shooting, then called her dad.  My lesson from this story:  public safety needs to continue to embrace and enhance its use of smart phone apps and social media, and even the two-way use of platforms like twitter (Seattle Police are one of the best at two-way tweeting.)

Jackson County Vehicle

Jackson County Vehicle

Some of Oregon’s first responders are actively adopting commercial high-speed mobile data networks for innovative use today.   Sheriff Mike Winters, Sergeant Rick Kennedy and Jenny Hall from the Jackson County Sheriff’s department (tweeting here) brought their communications vehicle and demonstrated their use of wireless video.   They showed live video from their communications center 150 miles away, and talked about the use of live video from helicopter feeds as well as fixed locations.  They are hungry for more bandwidth and eagerly await the implementation of FirstNet to help with that.  All Jackson County deputies use smart phones which include both GPS location (so they know where other deputies are located) and applications like an interconnection to their Land-Mobile Radio network.   They also can access video from schools in the county (when authorized by the school).

David Buchanan, Rich Reed and Brian Hobson led the FirstNet team meeting with Oregon.   David has blogged about his observations here.    I was impressed by the team’s attentiveness to the concerns of Oregon’s responders, and by their honesty.   Rich Reed, FirstNet’s director of state plans, says “there are some things we know, many things we don’t know, and some things we believe” about how FirstNet will roll out nationwide.   By coming to Oregon and other states they are hoping to expand the “things they know”.

Oregon-firstnet-consult

Rich Reed addresses Oregon’s Responders

A few other observations, in no particular order:

  • FirstNet staff emphasized again and again that the network needs to be self-sustaining – FirstNet has to find sources of income to match its operational costs and investment needs. At the same time it must be affordable to responder agencies, many of whom do not use commercial networks today, or only use them in a limited fashion.
  • Oregon responders urged FirstNet to make the per-device cost equal to or less than the costs they presently pay to commercial carriers.
  • Police Chief Rock Rakosi, chair of the Oregon SIEC, eloquently spoke about the need to provide coverage for rural agencies, even though there will not necessarily be significant income for FirstNet from a rural build-out.
  • Some of those present in the room cited the need for subsidies for responding agencies with very limited budgets and potentially for volunteer firefighters or search-and-rescue volunteers.
  • Rich Reed discussed the challenge of getting FirstNet’s band 14 chips into commercial devices. He noted the new iPhone 6 has 20 different LTE spectrum bands/chips but not Band 14.
  • Karl Larson of the City of Portland raised the need for procurement contracts and vehicles in each state, so that cities, counties, state agencies and other responder entities could legally procure FirstNet services and devices.
  • Brian Hobson said FirstNet has acquired Mentum Planet modeling software to help it design coverage for states.
  • Each of the 56 states and territories who will be FirstNet partners has a “State Point of Contact” or SPOC.  Steve Noel invited SPOCs from each state bordering Oregon to attend this event, and we all did:   Rob Feeley of Idaho, George Molnar of Nevada, Karen Wong of California and my team from Washington.
  • Another critical success factor is adoption by public safety agencies and other responders.
  • According to FirstNet’s market research, sustainability is achievable as FirstNet doesn’t have to make a profit, support high overhead costs, pay spectrum licensing fees, turn a profit to (or satisfy) shareholders.   (Schrier’s note:   although FirstNet does have to satisfy its public safety user base, who are a tough crowd).

I’m looking forward to FirstNet’s coming to Washington on October 16th to have a similar dialog with our public safety leaders and other responders.  More details about that event on Washington OneNet’s website here.

(This post was slightly updated on October 15, 2014, to add the comment from Chief Rakosi and correct a minor spelling error.)

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