Author: Ron Hewitt, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) Director
I would like to start by thanking everyone who attended the recent SAFECOM and NCSWIC meetings held in San Antonio, Texas, in May. I heard great things about the discussions coming out of the joint meeting, your individual sessions, and the committee meetings.
The Communications Unit (COMU) Working Group Leadership recently traveled to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) to hold a two day in-person meeting. During the course of the meeting, they reaffirmed the need for a federated governance model, which includes agencies involved in emergency communications and the communications unit environments, as the best arrangement for identifying and developing solutions to current communications problems. Additionally, they identified options for a new Incident Command System (ICS) structure to better reflect the current requirements and responsibilities of the communications unit and allow for expanded information technology responsibilities and enhanced curriculum of the current positions. In the coming months, the Working Group will be drafting a mission statement outlining COMU 2.0 and a timeline for developing the COML 2.0 that will be presented at the November 2017 Joint SAFECOM and NCSWIC Meeting.
In April 2017, the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices released a white paper with recommendations and lessons learned during the 2016 Policy Academy on Enhancing Emergency Communications Interoperability. OEC plans to incorporate best practices and recommendations from the Academy into Technical Assistance (TA) offerings and Statewide Communication Interoperability Plan (SCIP) workshops.
In support of the SAFECOM/NCSWIC Emergency Communications Governance Guide of September 2015, OEC launched new Enhanced SCIP Pilot Engagements based on observations from the NGA Policy Academy and stakeholder feedback, to provide a more intensive review of states’ needs involving governance, technology, and lifecycle funding sustainment with an eye on the emergency communications ecosystem. OEC is conducting Pilot Engagements in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and Wisconsin. To date, OEC has observed broader participation from stakeholders representing all points of the ecosystem; more in-depth discussions on the desired state of governance, technology, and funding sustainment; and a recognition of the need to sustain land mobile radio (LMR) and plan for new technologies at the same time. OEC has also seen increased collaboration within states and localities and across neighboring borders.
On June 9, 2017, OEC released the Fiscal Year 2017 SAFECOM Guidance for Emergency Communications Grants (SAFECOM Guidance). The SAFECOM Guidance is updated annually to provide current information on emergency communications policies, eligible costs, best practices, and technical standards for state, local, tribal, and territorial grantees investing federal funds in emergency communications projects. This document aims to ensure emergency communications standards and policies across federal grant programs provide a consistent approach to improving emergency communications nationwide. Key changes to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 SAFECOM Guidance include additional cybersecurity resources, FirstNet guidance on broadband projects, and implications of data information sharing. As in previous years, OEC developed the FY 2017 SAFECOM Guidance in partnership with SAFECOM and NCSWIC, working closely with the Joint Funding and Sustainment Committee members to develop new content and update investment priorities. OEC also consulted federal partners and the Emergency Communications Preparedness Center to review policies and encourage adoption across federal grant programs.
OEC currently has 210 TA engagements open, including ongoing work from FY 2015, 2016, and 2017. Seven workshops focus on planning for Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1), and 13 focus on developing governance plans for the COMU. All but eight states or territories have submitted requests for FY17 technical assistance.
The SAFECOM Nationwide Survey (SNS) is making its way through the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) process. Testing was completed in June, and our strategic communications efforts are underway. OEC tested the survey content with state, local, and federal responders over a four-week period and received positive feedback during this time. I would like to thank those who provided media or membership points of contact within your agencies or jurisdictions; OEC hopes to work with them to help elicit additional responses. If you have not yet provided a point of contact, or have additional thoughts on how we can engage the broader public safety community, please reach out to SNS@hq.dhs.gov. Additionally, SNS documents are available on the SAFECOM website with information about the survey’s overview, target population, development, public safety partner benefits, and release.
OEC is currently working on a high-level project plan for the 2019 NECP. The 2019 NECP will expand upon the ecosystem concept introduced in 2014 to bring better granularity to the engagement and planning processes for expanding emergency communications capabilities. Additionally, the new NECP will be informed by much of the work OEC has completed over the past several years in addition to current projects, including the SNS. OEC will begin soliciting interest to participate in working groups to plan, draft, and gain acceptance and approval of the new NECP soon.
OEC continues to support interoperability between the United States and Canada and is working to improve the communications landscape among states along the northern border. The Canada-United States Communications Interoperability Working Group (CANUS CIWG) hosted a meeting in Buffalo, New York, on June 20-21. The meeting brought together federal, state, local, and tribal stakeholders from both sides of the border to discuss a wide array of issues to include spectrum management, NG911, mutual aid, and other issues challenging or enhancing cross-border communications. OEC’s border program is also supporting the fifth Canada-U.S. Enhanced Resiliency Experiment (CAUSE V). This experiment tests emerging communications technologies along the northern border, most notably broadband technologies, allowing American and Canadian officials to provide mutual aid during incidents requiring a cross-border response.
The Southwest Border Communications Working Group (SWBCWG) held an in-person meeting in Sacramento, California, May 23-24. In early 2017, the SWBCWG established a focus group to continue identifying gaps in public safety communications voice and data operability and interoperability within 100 kilometers (roughly 60 miles) along the southwest border. The next SWBCWG in-person meeting will be held in Weslaco, Texas, September 12-13, 2017.
Lastly, OEC continues efforts to establish and build collaborative relationships with federally-recognized tribes. OEC is developing governance profiles with participating tribes to better understand tribal emergency communications operations, resources, and interoperable emergency challenges, and to identify opportunities to help tribes assess and improve their communications interoperability capabilities. To date, nine profiles have been completed and five are in progress. In May, OEC published an article in the spring edition of TribalNet Magazine, explaining its efforts to assist with tribal emergency management planning to improve response and recovery efforts through TA, Priority Telecommunications Services, and the communications governance profiling effort.
Public safety communications is going through unprecedented change, more so than any time in our Nation’s history, with the deployment of next generation networks. These multimedia capabilities bring significant opportunities, but also new risks (e.g., cybersecurity, data storage, privacy, and data/icon/application standards). I look forward to working with SAFECOM and NCSWIC to mitigate these risks to ensure information seamlessly flows from the citizen to all appropriate public safety responders.
I would like to thank everyone for their continued support. Progress in public safety communications interoperability would not be possible without your hard work, dedication, input, and recommendations.