By Keone Kali, FirstNet Region 9 Lead
Last year, Typhoon Soudelor devastated parts of the Northern Mariana Islands territory (CNMI), leading to widespread damage, power outages, and months of recovery work. Due to the continued strain on the CNMI’s public safety community and public infrastructure, the territory and FirstNet decided to hold a smaller, more intimate initial consultation meeting on Guam. A four-person delegation from the CNMI met FirstNet’s representatives at the Guam Homeland Security / Office of Civil Defense (GHS) headquarters in Hagåtña, and the delegation attended the Guam consultation meeting the following day.
Discussions focused first on the public safety benefits of a dedicated and hardened broadband network for the territory. CNMI is served by an underwater fiber-optic communications cable, which was cut in early July due to a storm surge, leaving the entire territory with only a few satellite phones and a damaged microwave radio system to communicate with Guam and beyond. The break has since been repaired, but it was a key discussion point on the importance of reliable communications in the territory.
The group also talked through FirstNet’s baseline coverage maps and current coverage barriers, including the CNMI’s unique geographic considerations and its high number of historic sites. There was also discussion around the possible need for and location of additional coverage. The territory has a large number of off-shore plane and shipwrecks, making it a popular destination for divers. These and other unique tourist destinations are often remote and lacking in communications infrastructure. CNMI officials also shared examples of when commercial data networks became congested and failed public safety— including during Typhoon Champi and recent tsunami warnings—and how a mass texting capability would have been benefitted the territory’s responses.
I want to thank CNMI Statewide Interoperability Coordinator Kilroy Guerrero and the rest of the delegation for making the trip to Guam to meet with us, as well as for taking part in the Guam Initial Consultation. I also want to thank Guam Single Point of Contact (SPOC) Brad Hokanson and GHS Program Coordinator Leigh Pereda for graciously hosting the meeting at their headquarters. We could not have made this happen without their help.
FirstNet is dedicated to meeting the territory’s public safety needs and we look forward to working with CNMI in this round of consultation.