By Jeremy Zollo, FirstNet State and Local Outreach Branch Chief
Last week, I had the privilege to participate in the North Carolina FirstNet Stakeholders meeting in Raleigh. The meeting was led by North Carolina’s newly appointed single point of contact (SPOC), Allan Sadowski, who gathered more than 40 state, local, and tribal participants to discuss FirstNet and the path ahead in planning for the public safety broadband network in the state. Attendees included the State Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chris Estes, and two members of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), Richard Taylor from the National Association of State 9-1-1 Administrators, and Jonathan Olson from the National EMS Management Association.
Following introductions, I provided an update on FirstNet’s organizational structure and the consultation process. I talked about the importance that FirstNet is placing on consulting with the states and territories to understand their current communications challenges and how they use wireless broadband today. Following my presentation, the attendees engaged in a dialogue about potential users of the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN), the process for states to decide whether to opt-in or out of the NPSBN, and expectations for the state’s initial consultation meeting being scheduled in April.
Richard Taylor then led an engaging conversation about Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) and potential synergies between NG911 and the NPSBN. Richard also showed the group the Washington OneNet video, “What is FirstNet”, to demonstrate what he thought FirstNet means to North Carolina and the public safety community. While I have seen the Washington OneNet video several times – including at Washington’s Initial State Consultation meeting – I didn’t fully realize how powerful and universal that message was until I was sitting in a conference room on the opposite side of the country, watching it resonate with an audience from the North Carolina public safety community.
Keeping with the conference theme, the morning’s presentations focused on potential benefits of the public safety broadband network for the state’s public safety community. Deputy Allen Smith from the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office provided insight on some of the challenges they experience with commercial services, particularly during the summer season, when the population spikes in areas along the shores of the state. He said the broadband network would present an opportunity to enhance their broadband capabilities and complement their current land mobile radio (LMR) system.
Greg Hauser, Charlotte Fire Department Division Manager and Vice Chair of North Carolina’s Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee, led a discussion that focused on the importance of addressing operability needs during the planning for the network. Later, after indulging in some famous North Carolina Barbeque for lunch, Captain James Blanks from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol gave a presentation on North Carolina’s Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders (VIPER) Statewide 800MHz trunked Radio system. This 206-site system currently has more than 71,000 users from federal, state and local agencies.
North Carolina CIO, Chris Estes, closed out the briefing portion of the meeting by presenting on current broadband activities within the State. He also talked about how FirstNet could play a vital role with the State’s North Carolina Digital Infrastructure Initiative. Following the CIO’s briefing, the SPOC, Allan Sadowski, and Angie Bailey, Director of North Carolina Broadband Division, led a productive dialogue with meeting attendees on topics such as outreach and governance and how the State can best prepare for their initial consultation meeting.
Thanks again to Allan Sadowski and all of the North Carolina participants for providing FirstNet with an opportunity to participate in their meeting. I enjoyed hearing from many local first responders about their communication needs and challenges and catching up with Allan and his team, who are doing a tremendous job preparing for and educating the state about the public safety broadband network.