By David Buchanan, Director of State Consultation
Maryland is known for its unique state flag, the Chesapeake bay, blue crabs, and being home to many national institutions and icons, such as Babe Ruth, John Hopkins University, and the Star Spangled Banner, to name a few. The state also hosts one of the largest and most popular sporting events of the year: the Preakness Stakes thoroughbred horse race draws more than 100,000 people to Baltimore each May.
In horse racing, it’s important to get off to a good start. Perhaps that explains why Maryland has been so fast out of the gate with its preparations for the public safety broadband network. Under the leadership of the Maryland Statewide Interoperability Program and its Director, Ray Lehr, the state has been at the forefront of outreach and planning for the network.
Yesterday’s consultation meeting was not the first nor the last time FirstNet and the Maryland interoperability team will work together on the state’s efforts to build a public safety broadband network. This spring, Maryland submitted a comprehensive checklist to FirstNet that allowed us to familiarize ourselves with the key topics and issues to address yesterday.
One of the main goals of the checklist is to improve our understanding of state specific issues to maximize these initial consultation meetings. Having this background allowed us to cover a lot of ground during the daylong meeting yesterday in Annapolis – including key questions around governance of the network, eligible network users in the state, and the need for the network to be reliable during natural disasters.
The issue of reliability received considerable attention given the state’s experience with a variety of natural disasters. Since 2000, Maryland has had 11 disaster declarations – including 7 storms, 3 hurricanes, and 1 tornado. In addition, the state plays host to a number of large planned events every year, including the Preakness Stakes. Maryland officials emphasized the benefits of having a secure and reliable network that could improve safety and security at these events, during which commercial cellular networks often become congested and unreliable for public safety users.
The FirstNet team and I were impressed with the preparation that Maryland had put into this meeting. It was clear that they had spent considerable time working with state and local public safety officials to identify Maryland’s priorities at this stage of the state planning process. This helped us get to the core of their decision-making process and exchange actionable information.
In addition to meeting with state and local representatives from Maryland’s public safety and information technology communities, it was also an honor to have Governor O’Malley visit the consultation meeting and spend some time engaging with FirstNet leadership about the network. FirstNet appreciates the Governor’s interest and leadership on the public safety broadband network in Maryland.
FirstNet would like to thank Ray Lehr and his team for helping organize the meeting. Everyone who I have spoken with who attended the meeting felt it was a productive session that moved Maryland’s planning efforts to the next level. For FirstNet, it also was helpful in terms of refining our approach to future consultation meetings with other states and territories.