By TJ Kennedy, FirstNet Acting General Manager
The final session on the last day of a conference has the potential to be flat: attendees often have one hand on their suitcases and – no matter how topical and informative the conference panels, general sessions, and the exhibit hall are – most conference-goers are more concerned about making their return trips home. However, that wasn’t the case yesterday afternoon during the FirstNet Town Hall forum at the APCO 2014 Conference and Exhibit. The room was at capacity, and there was a lively dialogue between FirstNet officials and more than 100 representatives from the 911, first responder, and vendor communities.
I kicked off the town hall by explaining the value of working with organizations and associations like APCO and how FirstNet is fortunate to have an active forum – the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) – that enables us to engage with a large swath of public safety and state and local government officials on a regular basis. Under Harlin McEwen’s leadership, the PSAC and its members have helped FirstNet enhance our understanding of a number of pressing policy, operational, and technical issues affecting emergency communications, including public safety’s use of land mobile radio (LMR) and broadband technologies.
In summarizing key areas of progress since last year’s APCO conference, I talked about how FirstNet’s relationship with the PSAC has grown, as have our partnerships with the 56 states and territories through coordination with the single points of contacts, statewide interoperability coordinators, and state governance bodies. We’ve moved from talking about hiring a staff to actually bringing on a team of outreach, consultation, and planning professionals who have participated in more than 100 engagements involving 20,000 stakeholders since the beginning of this fiscal year.
In addition to having a talented staff, we have also made progress implementing the strategic program roadmap that the FirstNet Board approved in March of this year. This has moved us forward on several fronts, including consultation with the states and territories and work on our acquisition strategy. Collectively, all of these developments have enabled FirstNet and the public safety community to have a more substantive dialogue about deploying the public safety broadband network than we were having a year ago.
Still, we realize there is much work to do. The FirstNet team and I appreciated the constructive feedback we got throughout the week about how far we’ve come and where we need to be at this time next year, when the annual APCO Conference and Exhibit comes to Washington, D.C.
For this year’s conference, FirstNet participated in excellent discussions about identifying synergies with the deployment of Next Generation 911 (NG911) and the future integration with the public safety broadband network. We talked a lot about innovation and the important role that public safety-focused applications will play in driving first responders to subscribe to the network. Both NG911 and the network are helping drive more innovation and competition for public safety, and that was on display in the Exhibit Hall.
We also spent a significant amount of time with state and local representatives who were in attendance. Many of them inquired about their initial consultation meetings, the development of state plans, and when we might anticipate lighting up the network in their state or territories. All of these are good, fair questions that we have been fielding elsewhere, too.
I explained during the town hall that while FirstNet is still working toward establishing more specific timelines for some of those issues, it’s important to realize we have a process for getting us to these benchmarks, and that FirstNet is moving as quickly as possible toward providing more specifics around them. Further, some states and territories will be moving faster than others at this juncture, so we will get a better feel for timeframes after the state consultation process moves further along.
Finally, there were several inspirational speakers at this year’s conference who emphasized the importance of leadership and perseverance during challenging times – including Captain Richard Phillips and local football star Archie Manning. Their keynote presentations included strong messages and motivating advice that were applicable to the public safety community’s mission.
But I would like to end on a point made by one of APCO’s management team, who jumped in when someone asked Ed Parkinson and me a tough question during the town hall about our business planning efforts. In encouraging everyone not to lose sight of the goal we are all working toward, Jeff Cohen stated “FirstNet has to work for the sake of the country.” I commend Jeff and APCO’s commitment to the FirstNet mission and congratulate them for hosting an outstanding conference this week.