Public Safety and the Connecting North Carolina State Broadband Plan

Broadband connectivity affects almost every aspect of our lives, whether you are student doing homework, an entrepreneur growing a business, or an emergency responder saving lives.

Our state houses thousands of emergency responders and hundreds of local, state and federal response agencies. Fast and reliable communications systems are essential to their operations. Ensuring that those systems are coordinated for efficiency and collaboration is critical in seeing those agencies

As the Internet of Things (IoT), community cameras, vehicle cameras, body cameras, NextGeneration911 (NG911), and the National Public Safety Broadband Network continue to develop and become more pervasive, it will be imperative for communication systems to be interoperable and dependable.

We’ve all seen the pictures and videos of police officers talking on their “walkie talkies” and calling some unseen person on the other end of the radio to “run a license plate.” That unseen person may take a couple of minutes to check the license plate and vehicles status on their slow computer back at the dispatch office.

Over the past few decades, NC channeled federal and state funds into building the Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders (VIPER), one of the largest interoperable mobile radio systems in the country. However, mobile data does not transfer over VIPER’s network.

Add to that the fact that commercial mobile data networks are not designed with public safety needs in mind. These networks don’t require backup generators in case power loss, security standards for the transmission of mission critical data or personal health information, or prioritization during emergencies or large events like festivals, races or concerts. Making sure that responders can transmit their data efficiently and reliably is a must.

One of the biggest issues facing the state’s first responders is access and coverage in remote areas. In these areas, responders depend on commercial build out, which won’t happen without users to pay for the network.

FirstNetNC

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 established responsibility for building and operating a Nationwide Public Safety Wireless Broadband System (FirstNet). FirstNet will be a national 4G LTE wireless data communications cellular network providing emergency responders with a robust data interoperability capability.

This network will prioritize data transmission for emergency responders and will provide coverage for sparsely populated and urban areas. In North Carolina, the FirstNetNC effort, housed within the North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office is charged with the education and outreach of the project to first responder agencies throughout all levels of government in the state.

When completed, FirstNet promises to offer high-speed wireless data connectivity for emergency responders to augment their current radio systems. Although agencies are not mandated to join the network, the success of the network will depend on the number of users. FirstNetNC’s focus on education and outreach is essential to build awareness of the opportunity and benefits of joining the network when it is built.

Moving Forward

As we move toward tomorrow’s public safety correspondence, increased coordination and leadership from the state will be critical. Dispatching police, fire and EMS emergency responders won’t be depending only on voice radio any longer.

Public safety is quickly advancing into the 21st century—a century that requires information highways every bit as capable as the physical highways of the 20th century. The flashing lights on police, fire, and EMS vehicles prioritize safety vehicles on NC roads. Similarly, public safety will need priority of data transport on the new information highways of the 21st century to ensure their life-saving services are delivered efficiently and effectively.

In order for those highways our public safety personnel need, they will have to be secure and large. Otherwise, they will not support the effective execution of public safety missions.

Here are the recommendations around public safety in the Connecting North Carolina State Broadband Plan

RECOMMENDATION 1: The state should continue to work with its federal partners on the national effort to build a state-wide, interoperable data network.

PS1.1 Continue to support the FirstNetNC office by utilizing this resource for any information related to the FirstNet effort.

PS1.2 The state should create an office for Public Safety Communications Technologies within the DIT to work closely with: The Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN), Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services (CJLEADS), the North Carolina 911 Board, and the DIT Broadband Infrastructure Office -FirstNet North Carolina. This office would support the Department of Public Safety, Department of Health and Human Services – Office of EMS, Department of Insurance – Office of State Fire Marshall, and the many public safety agencies throughout the state especially smaller entities that are not able to explore emerging communications technologies.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The state should continue to pursue and fund the Next-Generation 911 initiative using existing funding.  

RECOMMENDATION 3: The state should work with all public safety and first responder agencies to continue eliminating silos and encourage sharing networks.

PS3.1 Continue support for the SWIC position under NCEM.

PS3.2 The state should consider elevating the SIEC to a formally recognized body of communication subject matter experts representing various disciplines across the state. No funding is needed to implement this.