OEC at IWCE: Day Three

Author: Ken Bradley, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) Office of External Affairs

International Wireless Communications Expo

The International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) is the leading event for communications technology, bringing over 7,000 industry professionals all in one place.  The Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) is partnering with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Science and Technology (S&T) at Exhibit Hall on today and tomorrow in Booth #3345.  Additionally, today OEC is partnering with its public safety partners in three sessions.

Got Comms? Recognizing and Mitigating Interference (Electronic Jamming)

What is interference?  Interference is any signal that seriously degrades, blocks, or repeatedly interrupts radio frequency signals.  There are two types of interference, unintentional such as cellular, radio, co-channeling, signal boosters and intentional such as illegal jammers and unauthorized transmissions. 

How do first responders recognize this interference?  Public safety needs to track reports of equipment malfunctions, characterize the interference using a spectrum analyzer, and collect data and report it to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Enforcement Bureau.  These methods will allow public safety to improve on recognizing and reporting interference to improve their communications systems. 

Unintentional interference is any radio frequency signal that isn’t deliberately created.  While intentional interference or jamming is devices that emit radio frequency signals, noise, over specific bands to overpower the intended signal.

Jammers are often used maliciously to mask a crime, such as burglary, vehicle theft, cargo theft, parole violations, drug/human trafficking or acts of terrorism.  The consequences of jamming include interfering with first responders, including law enforcement responding to a robbery or fire and EMS responding to a fire.  Jamming can also interfere with air support communications.

Legal Review- manufacturing, importing, marketing, sale or operation of jamming devices is illegal in the United States.  It is also illegal to interfere with any licensed radio communications authorized by the FCC or operated by the US Government.

DHS S&T along with OEC have hosted two First Responder Electronic Jamming Exercises (Jam X).  First in 2016 at White Sands Missile Range and in 2017 at Idaho National Labs.  During these exercises federal, state, and local first responders brought equipment from all over the country to assist in communications resiliency by causing interference and equipment jamming. DHS S&T is continuing to partner with OEC to develop a Resilient Communications Toolkit for communities across the country, which will include materials to help raise awareness of jamming threats, assess interference risks, and train responder to identify, locate, and mitigate jamming threats.  DHS will host the next Jam X in 2019 to evaluate how well resiliency recommendations were implemented and identify improvements.

How to Adopt Mobile Apps and Avoid the Interoperability Challenges of the Past: Standards or Regional Coordination

Public safety has experienced major interoperability challenges with the adoption of almost every new technology including land mobile radio, computer aided dispatch, and now broadband.  As broadband technology continues to expand beyond data exchange to voice, additional challenges are arising in a mobile data world.  Harris County, Texas, and the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) were amongst the early builders of broadband technology for public safety interoperability and are continuing to champion the needs for adopting standards to ensure interoperability.  Standards are often driven through competition, industry, and evolving solutions, but many still lack incentives to develop and implement standards. 

Standards in the mobility arena fail to keep pace with rapid technological change and lack incentives for adoption. However, tools exist to help achieve interoperability, such as the SAFECOM Interoperability Continuum and the SAFECOM Guidance on Emergency Communications (SAFECOM Grant Guidance).  Another tool to help drive standardization is through grant requirements, similar to Project 25 (P25) standard requirements in the SAFECOM Grant Guidance.  Considering grant funds have continued to diminish since 2008, public safety has had to find other solutions to assist with the lanes of the interoperability continuum- Governance, Standard Operating Procedures, Technology, Training and Exercises, and Usage.

To ensure applications are going to communicate with each other, you need to ensure that the end user is credentialed.  Identity, Credential, and Access Management (ICAM) challenges are effecting public safety communications and sharing information, to address this SAFECOM and the National Council of Statewide Interoperability Coordinator have established a working group to encourage the public safety community to leverage and adopt the Trustmark Framework in effort to achieve a federated ICAM solution.  There is still time to partner with our public safety partners to provide lessons learned from past projects to encourage interoperability in the mobile world.

P25 Security: New Standards, Applications, Interoperability

P25 system security and encryption has become increasingly important to protect mission critical communications from unauthorized listeners.  The protection of public safety communications systems involves a variety of considerations and solutions.  Of recent interest is the protection of P25 Control Signals or Link Layer.  Link Layer Authentication and Encryption help protect those signals within P25 systems.  On a broader note, OEC and the Federal Partnership for Interoperable Communications (FPIC) briefed on Best Practices for Encryption Key Management to assist public safety agencies who are considering encryption to implement those systems in the most efficient way and offered to explore further challenges through FPIC.  The FPIC offers several guidelines documents to help public safety agencies to sort through all the issues related to encryption.