APCO Emerging Tech Forum Focuses on Innovation for Public Safety

November 7, 2014
(L to R) Oregon SPOC Steve Noel, California SPOC Karen Wong, Washington SPOC Bill Schrier, and FirstNet's Director of Government Affairs Ed Parkinson at APCO's Emerging Technology Forum.
(L to R) Oregon SPOC Steve Noel, California SPOC Karen Wong, Washington SPOC Bill Schrier, and FirstNet's Director of Government Affairs Ed Parkinson at APCO's Emerging Technology Forum.

By Ed Parkinson, FirstNet Director of Government Affairs

The technology hub of Silicon Valley was an ideal setting for APCO International’s Emerging Technology Forum this week in Northern California. The meeting generated a lot of “outside the box” thinking and new ideas around the use of broadband technologies for emergencies, disasters, and large public gatherings. In addition, the FirstNet team was pleased to have several opportunities to engage with the more than 225 state, local, and private sector representatives attending the forum and provide updates on planning for the nationwide public safety broadband network.

The first day of the Forum focused mostly on current and evolving technological solutions that could benefit the public safety community, such as social media, “big data,” Next Generation 9-1-1, and mobile applications. Representatives from state and local governments offered a number of best practices and creative ways for sharing timely and data-rich information before, during, and after emergencies.

I found the panel on mobile broadband trends during disaster preparedness and response to be particularly interesting, including a presentation on effective social media strategies during emergencies by Jeannette Sutton, who is an Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky and Director of its Risk Sciences Division in the College of Communication and Information.

Jeanette has been studying social media behavior during emergencies, and a lot of her findings were relevant to the emergency managers, telecommunicators, and first responders in the audience. Also, Kristin Hogan, who is the External Affairs Specialist for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, talked about the various communications solutions the city uses to disseminate alerts, warnings, and notifications to the public during emergencies and large events.

FirstNet Board member Jeff Johnson kicked off the second day of the Forum with a keynote presentation that addressed FirstNet’s major achievements from the past year and previewed our strategic priorities for the year ahead and beyond. In his discussion of the state consultation process, Jeff noted that the 9-1-1 community was represented at all five state consultation meetings to date. “We have learned a lot from these meetings and are still learning,” he told the audience.

Jeff also explained how FirstNet would be moving into “procurement mode” in the coming year. As FirstNet works on its acquisition strategy for the nationwide network, Jeff emphasized that sustainability and cost effectiveness would be two key considerations in the development of the Request for Proposal for the network. “The public safety broadband network has got to self-sustain, no matter how we build it,” he stressed.

After Jeff’s keynote, I joined the state single points of contact (SPOCs) from California, Oregon, and Washington on a panel about the state consultation and planning processes. I started by reviewing FirstNet’s approach to the consultation process and then stepped through the key phases that will lead to a state plan for the network in all 56 states and territories. I also talked about some of the key findings to date in the five states where FirstNet had conducted initial consultation meetings.

Oregon is one of the states where we have held a consultation meeting, so it was great to have the state SPOC Steve Noel on the panel with me to provide his state’s perspective. Steve talked about the need for extensive outreach and education at the local level, including the benefits of identifying and working with “local champions” to help spread awareness throughout the public safety community about the potential benefits of the network. “You can never do enough outreach,” he said.

California SPOC Karen Wong followed with a detailed presentation about some of her state’s unique network considerations, such as the size of the state, how its geography presents coverage challenges, and the types of disasters that California must plan for and respond to, such as wildfires and earthquakes. Karen said that because the state is so large and diverse, they have been holding townhall events throughout California with public safety representatives from urban, rural, and remote locations, as well as tribal nations. Karen said the townhalls are helping the state prepare for their initial consultation meeting with FirstNet in the coming year. For FirstNet, it was encouraging to hear that our participation in the California townhalls has helped local agencies understand the process better.

Karen, Steve, and Washington SPOC Bill Schrier also reviewed their states’ primary governance bodies that oversee emergency communications planning. It was interesting to see how different they were in terms of operation, yet how similar they were in ensuring representation from all levels of government, including tribal nations, and all the major public safety disciplines. Bill summed up his work in Washington state by saying the main goal is to get the “best possible design for FirstNet to meet the needs of Washington first responders.”

I would like to thank APCO for inviting FirstNet to participate in many of the discussion at the Emerging Technology Forum. We appreciated the opportunity to provide attendees with the latest information on our organization and the strategic program roadmap. It was also great to catch up with so many state and local representatives in attendance from Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Wisconsin, California, Washington, and other locations.


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