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FirstNet: Reviewing 2015 Progress and 2016 Priorities

As we look back on the past year, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is pleased by the many accomplishments that have been made in 2015. We’ve taken many important steps forward in our efforts to deploy a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) and put life-saving technology into the hands of first responders.

In 2015, we completed initial consultations with 55 states and territories, which began in July 2014, receiving valuable feedback from first responders across the United States—from the Northern Mariana Islands to Florida—to help shape the design of the network. It’s great to see FirstNet gaining momentum, as public-safety stakeholders throughout the country ask the types of questions that they should.

States and territories, through their governor-appointed single points of contact (SPOCs), collected and submitted public-safety data, providing FirstNet with a better understanding of the areas lacking coverage. I encourage you to contact your SPOC to learn more about what your state or territory is doing and how you can contribute to the process.

We need to know how first responders prepare for and respond to emergencies of all sizes to improve communications, coordination and situational awareness during emergency response operations. Many initial-consultation participants provided specific case studies about how a dedicated NPSBN would be invaluable in supporting the changing operating environment for firefighters and ensuring their timely and efficient response to emergencies.

In New Mexico, during a combined response effort to fight the Ruidoso, Little Bear Fire, responders learned firsthand the necessity for reliability to improve the safety of responders when their communication networks all failed. In Vermont, we learned about the how the Hartford Fire Department relies heavily on data applications that require a strong broadband connection as well as computer-aided dispatch data that’s sent via a mobile application to laptops in fire trucks.

Putting data into the right hands, at the right time, has potential to transform how first responders operate, and FirstNet is continuing to pursue this goal. We’re working together with state, local, tribal and federal agencies on research to improve firefighting operations.For example, FirstNet is moving forward on researching and analyzing different indoor location technologies at its technical headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. FirstNet views in-building coverage as a critical part of public-safety users’ needs in the field; solving in-building coverage will improve operations and the safety of first responders.

Our outreach and consultation team participated in more than 220 engagements, involving more than 27,000 stakeholders in fiscal year 2015. I was glad to hear from many of you at Fire-Rescue International and other engagements throughout the year about your thoughts and ideas about the future NPSBN. We'll continue our nationwide outreach and consultation in 2016—expanding on the discussions from 2015 to ensure coordination with the public-safety community in urban and rural locations, including island states, territories and tribal lands.

The Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC)—composed of representatives from public safety and state, territory, local and tribal organizations—is providing advice and recommendations to FirstNet on a variety of topics, most recently in the areas of public-safety grade, priority and preemption and user equipment. IAFC Communications Committee Chair Chief Gary McCarraher is a member of the PSAC.

We also welcomed senior advisors who specialize in the fields of fire and emergency medical services to the FirstNet User Advocacy Team. Mike Worrell, former PSAC member and former Phoenix Fire Department division chief, and Brent Williams, formerly of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, joined FirstNet in October 2015.

Earlier this year, the FirstNet board of directors approved key elements of its RFP to deploy the NPSBN, including a national acquisition approach that creates opportunities for national and regional partnerships—which incorporate rural telecommunications providers—to build and operate the NPSBN.

Also this year, FirstNet released a special notice on cybersecurity to solicit input from industry, public-safety and other interested parties on key considerations and concerns with respect to how cybersecurity should be designed, established and sustained as the foundation of the network. We appreciate the feedback we received from the states, major public-safety associations, tribal interests, utilities, federal agencies, individuals and private-sector entities in planning for a robust and usable cybersecurity framework for the network.

With the appointment of Mike Poth as FirstNet’s CEO and TJ Kennedy as president, FirstNet has developed a leadership team with the right blend of public-safety and technology experience required to make the network a reality. We’ve moved with strategic urgency—gathering input from industry and public safety—to put out an RFP that will help us determine a network partner.

Collectively, these and other developments from the past year have helped foster an inclusive, transparent and productive dialogue between FirstNet and the public-safety community at all levels of government. We’re aware of the major challenges that still exist to ensure reliable connectivity—our nation's fire and EMS personnel often lack critical information and interoperability that could be vitally important to saving lives and property.

As we look ahead to 2016 and beyond, I'm confident we're on the right path toward building a broadband network that will serve America's firefighters, EMS providers and other emergency responders. I encourage IAFC members to become active in the process—if they haven't done so already—by participating in the association's FirstNet-related initiatives and those in your state or territory. Chief McCarraher is an excellent source of information about FirstNet.

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