By TJ Kennedy, FirstNet Acting General Manager
This morning, I had the opportunity to kick off the APCO Conference and Expo’s Distinguished Achievers Breakfast with an update on FirstNet’s efforts to build a nationwide public safety broadband network. During my presentation, I emphasized the importance of working with organizations like APCO to ensure that we are making the most out of our opportunities to modernize emergency communications. We must work collaboratively to make FirstNet a success. The network will revolutionize how first responders communicate and share information to save lives and protect themselves during emergencies.
I also reviewed progress that FirstNet has made over the past year and previewed the opportunities that lie ahead as we build the network in coordination with all 56 states and territories. The states’ Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) are playing key leadership roles in preparing their states for the enormous task of deploying the public safety broadband network.
The speaker who followed me knows a thing or two about leadership and overcoming challenges: Captain Richard Phillips, who provided an inspirational account of his five day capture by Somali pirates in 2009. In addition to telling his story, Captain Phillips offered motivation and advice that resonated with the thousands of dispatchers and first responders in the room.
First, the captain spoke of the importance of perseverance and the ability to work under pressure. “You are stronger than you know,” he told the audience on several occasions. This is a concept that telecommunicators and first responders are familiar with, as their jobs require them to make life-saving decisions every day and take brave actions while under duress.
Captain Phillips also made an excellent point about maintaining strong leadership during difficult situations and emergencies. “Never give up,” he advised. “Keep calm and commit yourself to seeing it through.” He discussed that a well trained professional team can overcome anything.
I thought he made a great point about the importance of training and holding drills to be confidently prepared for emergencies when they do happen. "If you're going to fail, do it during practice,” he said. The public safety community is well versed on the need for regular training and exercises on communications policies, procedures, and equipment. In fact, the SAFECOM Interoperability Continuum developed by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications identifies training and exercises as critical elements for successful communications among disciplines, agencies, and jurisdictions.
This will become even more critical as new technologies and capabilities are added to the responders’ communications toolkit. When the public safety broadband network and NG911 are operational, the nation’s dispatchers, firefighters, and emergency response personnel are going to require both initial and ongoing training to efficiently manage the increased volume and variety of data coming into PSAPs and then process and sent out to first responders.
This year’s APCO Conference has one more day to go, but it’s already been a successful show. I would like to thank the APCO team for giving me the opportunity to present at today’s keynote and share the stage with the inspirational and compelling Captain Richard Phillips.