National Guard March 2012 : Page 28
Broadband By William Matthews First responders, including the Guard, have long struggled with emergency communications. Legislation passed last month may provide a real solution hen a local TV reporter showed Maj. Gen. James hoyer how he could use a video camera and an iPhone to send live video back to his broadcast station, the West Virginia adjutant general was impressed—but also chagrinned. “Why can’t we provide that to our 28 W | emergency responders?” hoyer asked. Why can’t Guard troops readily who’ve been called to respond to a flood send video of the flood damage to the governor? Why can’t the troops get detailed weather updates, river flow data, highway reports and other critical information on demand? “Why is it that a 16-year-old kid with a smart phone can have better communications than a police of-ficer?” hoyer wonders. he’s not the only one. new York city Police commissioner Raymond Kelly posed that same question to the Senate commerce committee last year during a hearing about building a nationwide broadband network for first responders. Finally, congress passed legislation last month to create such a network in a portion of the broadband radio spectrum formerly used by UhF tele-vision stations. In a research paper on “broadband solutions for public safety,” com-munications giant alcatel-lucent envisioned a broadband network that would enable streaming video for surveillance and monitoring, make it possible to transmit digital images Na tional Guard
First responders, including the Guard, have long struggled with emergency communications. Legislation passed last month may provide a real solution<br /> <br /> WHen a local TV reporter showed Maj. Gen. James hoyer how he could use a video camera and an iPhone to send live video back to his broadcast station, the West Virginia adjutant general was impressed—but also chagrinned.<br /> <br /> “Why can’t we provide that to our emergency responders?” hoyer asked.<br /> <br /> Why can’t Guard troops readily who’ve been called to respond to a flood send video of the flood damage to the governor? Why can’t the troops get detailed weather updates, river flow data, highway reports and other critical information on demand?<br /> <br /> “Why is it that a 16-year-old kid With a smart phone can have better communications than a police officer?” hoyer wonders.<br /> <br /> He’s not the only one. New York city Police commissioner Raymond Kelly posed that same question to the Senate commerce committee last year during a hearing about building a nationwide broadband network for first responders.<br /> <br /> Finally, congress passed legislation last month to create such a network in a portion of the broadband radio spectrum formerly used by UhF television stations.<br /> <br /> In a research paper on “broadband solutions for public safety,” communications giant alcatel-lucent envisioned a broadband network that would enable streaming video for surveillance and monitoring, make it possible to transmit digital images From disaster sites and allow automatic vehicle location via GPS.<br /> <br /> The network would enable computer-aided dispatching, provide Internet access, e-mail and text messaging in the field, offer access to databases, maps and geospatial intelligence, allow remote diagnosis of equipment problems and more.<br /> <br /> According to the Obama administration, which last year issued the President’s Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative, building a modern emergency response network could dramatically cut the cost of communications equipment.<br /> <br /> By adopting commercial standards, the cost of public safety radios could be cut from $6,000 a unit to $500, according to a White House fact sheet. Indeed, many of today’s privacy “land mobile radios” could be replaced by smart phones, tablet computers and other mass-marketed devices.<br /> <br /> As early as 2004, back when smart phones were little more than a dim idea, the 9/11 Commission emphasized the importance of creating a nationwide public safety broadband network so police, firefighters and other emergency responders—including the National Guard—could communicate effectively with one another.<br /> <br /> The commission, which investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks, cited serious communications failures among emergency responders. Among them, firefighters in the World Trade Center’s South Tower could not receive evacuation orders that were issued over police radios, and more than 100 firefighters died when the tower collapsed.<br /> <br /> Similar communications incompatibilities plagued rescuers trying to respond when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.<br /> <br /> They were all on different channels With different equipment,” says Alan Caldwell, a senior advisor in government relations to the International Association of Fire Chiefs.<br /> <br /> Fire chiefs, police chiefs, sheriffs and other emergency officials across the nation began pressing Congress to approve a nationwide public safety broadband network.<br /> <br /> Two years after Katrina, the Federal Communications Commission issued a revised plan for the 700 Mhz band that proposed both a nationwide broadband network for public safety and new wireless broadband services for consumers.<br /> <br /> By early 2012, there were 12 different bills in Congress that would set aside a chunk of the broadcast spectrum for a public safety network, reported the Public Safety Alliance, which represents 2 million first responders across the United States. But only two of them were showing any signs of life.<br /> <br /> One passed the House of Representatives in December, but it was denounced as “disastrous” by many first responders.<br /> <br /> Although it would assign 10 more megahertz of broadband in the 700 Mhz band to public safety, it would also require first responders to give up narrowband spectrum that they now use for voice communications.<br /> <br /> The narrowband spectrum is “used for mission-critical public safety interoperable voice communications in at least 35 states,” the Public Safety Alliance said in a letter urging lawmakers to reconsider.<br /> <br /> A competing bill passed by the Senate Commerce Committee required no such spectrum “give back.” <br /> <br /> The two bills and the whole matter of a nationwide public safety network Revolved around portions in the 700 megahertz swath of the radio frequency spectrum.<br /> <br /> Until 2009, this part of the spectrum was assigned to UHF TV channels 60 through 69. But a 2005 law required television to abandon analog broadcasting on those channels and move to other parts of the spectrum, clearing much of the 700 Mhz band for use by mobile wireless communication.<br /> <br /> Ten megahertz of the newly opened spectrum—from 758 to 763 Mhz and from 778 to 793 Mhz—was tentatively designated for public safety broadband communications. It is referred to as D Block, and it sits next to two other sections of the spectrum that had earlier been allocated for public safety broadcasting—763 to 768 Mhz and 793 to 798 Mhz.<br /> <br /> In the same frequency neighborhood, there are 12 megahertz of narrowband frequency set aside for Mission-critical public safety voice communication.<br /> <br /> Some argued that the amount of spectrum to be set aside for public safety was excessive.<br /> <br /> And others asked why public safety agencies don’t simply use commercial networks like Verizon.<br /> <br /> Many do. According to the Department of Homeland Security, public-safety agencies use commercial wireless services for functions ranging from text messaging and digital image transmission to license plate queries.<br /> <br /> The National Guard also uses commercial networks. While battling floods in 2011, for example, some Guard units in the Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota used Verizon’s portable “Cell on Wheels” temporary cellular nodes and were issued Verizon cell Phones so they could send voice messages and encrypted, password protected text messages and photos from the flood zone to their command centers.<br /> <br /> But there are problems with relying on commercial networks. During emergencies such as hurricanes, tornados and floods, cell phone towers are knocked oine, electricity goes out and commercial communications fails. And during emergencies such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and recent earthquakes, commercial networks are jammed by cell phone callers.<br /> <br /> In West Virginia, the Guard now is able to use a stateside interoperable radio network that enables troops in The field to talk to a joint operations center from anywhere in the state, Hoyer says.<br /> <br /> But he wants to take the next step—to be able to transmit data as well as voice. “Data” is a catch-all term that refers to video, photos, maps and other digital information.<br /> <br /> During a “major incident,” Caldwell says, commanders like Hoyer want to be able to send and receive “huge amounts of data.” Besides streaming video, they want ready access to digital building plans to guide rescuers, and digital maps showing fire hydrant locations. They want to Be able to tap into remote databases and use links to GPS for tracking personnel and vehicles at disaster sites.<br /> <br /> “All this can stream at once because we’ve got the bandwidth”—assuming that D-Block bandwidth would be allocated to emergency responders and money is made available to build the network, Caldwell says.<br /> <br /> And building a nationwide public safety broadband network would place all public safety agencies in that same favorable portion of spectrum. During emergencies, “the National Guard, the sheri , the department of forestry will all be operating the same type of handsets on a single frequency,” Caldwell says.<br /> <br /> For Guardsmen, a nationwide broadband emergency network would mean their communications gear would be compatible with other emergency responders, whether they were operating locally, in a nearby state or across the country.<br /> <br /> “You’re all on the same network, and no matter where you go, the network is available,” Caldwell says.<br /> <br /> But building such a network requires more than dedicated portions of the radio spectrum. It will also take billions of dollars. The Guard, for example, would have to buy new communications gear to send and Receive data, Hoyer says.<br /> <br /> Both bills Congress considered last month addressed the money issue.<br /> <br /> The Senate’s Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, S. 911, called for setting aside D-Block spectrum for public safety, and making $11.75 billion available.<br /> <br /> That bill was passed by the Senate Commerce Committee last June and received wide support from police and fire fighters, the National Governors Association, the National Guard and other public safety and emergency response organizations. But the full Senate never voted on it.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the House passed the Jump starting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act, written chiefly by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.<br /> <br /> The House bill, too, would designate D Block for public safety use, and would make up to $6.5 billion available.<br /> <br /> But the Walden bill’s narrow band spectrum “giveback” provision was fought vigorously by public safety organizations.<br /> <br /> In hopes of moving the public safety broadband network forward, the supporters of Walden’s bill attached it as an amendment to the House version of legislation that would extend the temporary payroll tax cut.<br /> <br /> Then in negotiations with the Senate, a compromise was reached to delay the narrowband giveback for 11 years. The final bill would provide $7 billion received from spectrum auctions for building the public safety network.<br /> <br /> The tax-cut extension passed Feb. 17 and was signed by President Barack Obama Feb. 22.<br /> <br /> With that, D Block of the 700 Mhz band was allocated to public safety.<br /> <br /> “From the standpoint of an adjutant general, this is about having my guys ready for homeland defense,” Hoyer says. “It’s going on 11 years since 9/11. The time has come.”<br /> <br /> William Matthews is a Springfield, Va.- based freelance writer who specializes in military matters. He can be contacted via email@example.com.<br /> <br /> NGAUS ACTION <br /> <br /> NGAUS has been a vigorous proponent of allocating the D Block in the 700 Mhz band of spectrum to public safety. The well-documented difculties that hindered the response to the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the need for interoperable voice and data communications among the National Guard and the community of civilian rst responders. Several state and federal initiatives—some of them led by the Guard—have improved interoperability in recent years, but the need remained for a dedicated wireless network.