The Communications World is Constantly Changing
A couple of things are worth mentioning in this report. At the local level the Active911® product has been very well received and at the national level the FirstNet™ program is getting a lot of attention as we look toward the future of emergency service communications.
The Fire/EMS community has taken advantage of the addition this year of Active911® to the dispatch toolbox. This product which is optional to each agency allows the agency to contract with an outside vendor (Active911®) for the purchase of an email forwarding service in conjunction with the use of a smart phone application. A few of the law enforcement agencies (or individual officers) have also signed up for the service.
Our Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) vendor, Computer Information Systems Inc. (CIS), at no charge to CCCDC or to the individual agencies, set up an automatic email distribution system connected to the CAD unit assignment function. The email server is secure to the product application not to a “normal” email address. When dispatchers enter calls for service to an agency the system automatically generates an email to Active911® that results in an email going out to subscribing smart phones detailing selected CAD information.
Additionally, Active911® connects the address to an open source mapping software pinpointing the location on their smart phone application. Responders utilizing the application can also see other responders (that have the application running) locations as they arrive on the scene. Campbell County users are among the early clients of Active911® and as such Active911® has continued to increase the functionality of their product using Campbell County for their beta-testing of additional applications. They have provided links that place fire hydrant locations on the map and most recently committed to attempting to tag pre-fire planning information to address locations at no additional cost to our agencies.
As with any smart phone application the dependability and usefulness of Active911® is conditional to the quality of service afforded the subscriber by their individual wireless carrier. Consequently, service in any given location at any given time cannot be guaranteed. In general, peak times and times of large scale emergencies when the public network is overloaded the function of the smart phone application will likely be compromised.
It is important for all to understand that mission critical communications equipment such as traditional VHF pagers operating off of the locally owned proprietary radio system offer an entirely different level of dependability. There is some concern that individuals will rely too heavily on an Active911® alerting system that does not have the reliability required for primary emergency service needs. This system is designed and offered for ancillary use only, not primary use.
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet™) as an independent authority within the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA), to provide emergency responders with the first high-speed, nationwide network dedicated to public safety. CCCDC Director Edmondson was selected to take part in a regional workshop for FirstNet™ as part of the Kentucky delegation in Washington D.C on May 15 and 16, 2013.
FirstNet™ will be built using LTE, the most advanced wireless technology available today. FirstNet™ fulfills a fundamental need of the public safety community for a single, mission-critical communications system. Overseen by representatives of public safety, government and the wireless industry, FirstNet™ is an independent entity within the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
At this time the primary focus of the FirstNet™ program is data communications via broadband networking. The use of this system for voice communication is seen as a possible future application as technology continues to improve. It is believed that traditional Land Mobile Radio (LMR) use will continue to be the backbone of public safety communications for the foreseeable future.
The Kentucky Public Safety Work Group (FirstNet™ workgroup) which includes a number of representatives of first responder disciplines, the Commonwealth Office of Technology and various other stakeholders selected by the Kentucky State Police communications group has been formed. This group will host several local workshops across the Commonwealth in calendar 2014 with the intention of soliciting input relative to the usefulness of such a project and willingness of agencies to commit time and resources to such a program.
During these initial workshops hosted by the Public Safety Work Group the emphasis will be sharing information with first responders about the possibilities of the FirstNet™ system. The workshops will focus on perceived and/or experienced mobile data usage by the various responders in an effort to perform at least a basic current and future needs assessment. Additionally, this group will be charged with primary responsibility of identification of local resources that could be utilized in statewide connectivity such as tower sites, existing broadband networks, LMR and other forms of connectivity.