Saving the Public Safety Trust

Mar 15, 2011

The face of public safety is changing because information and ­communications technologies are permitting First Responders to understand the environment facing them on a mission. For example, if firefighters or police had a complete picture of the event as they were about to respond, they would be better able to deal with the challenges once they arrive on scene. An EMS call could potentially save more lives, for instance, if the paramedics could send high resolution images of the injury to an attending but remote medical specialist.

First Responder Chiefs unanimously support preserving communications spectrum for technologies that will enhance the ability of responders to perform during these critical situations.

Do we trust our governments to work things out so that when there is a need to protect, respond, or recover from an emergency, the resources will meet modern expectations of technological efficiency?

With an issue like reserving communications spectrum for public safety, this trust issue arises: there is a limit to the available communications space that can be used for high bandwidth applications for public safety. Should public safety get the dedicated space or should the telecommunications companies have it to re-sell as profit motives dictate and competition allows? This issue is with us today, brought about by the recent availability of the 700 Megahertz broadband spectrum for mission critical public safety data.

Government allocates the limited spectrum of available communications space, or bandwidth, based on a balance of public policy versus tax revenue opportunities. With the introduction of digital ­television in the U.S. and Canada, the old analog spectrum has become available. This space has the ability to carry signals and applications that are key to an effective First Responder force that needs to communicate with video, voice and data programs that greatly enhance capacity such as interoperability and situational awareness.

Spectrum is a limited resource of which public safety professionals and volunteers from coast to coast deserve a slice. As suggested by many experts – 20 MHz of the total 700 MHz band should be dedicated exclusively for police, fire, EMS and civilian response force elements, to increase operational capability for numerous public safety needs. This indeed is a case of public trust – do we trust that the government will place our need for safety above the revenue base that big ­Internet suppliers could provide, based on their profit orientation?

FrontLine Security supports the notion that, where there is an opportunity for elements of society to contribute to public safety, that opportunity should be seized. The government can facilitate that effort, and it must.

The people who have been entrusted with ensuring our safety are using their expertise and experience to design solutions to do their jobs better. When it comes to technology, the leadership of First Responders’ associations unanimously endorse the development of broadband data highways that will allow technology solutions to improve operational capacity.

By achieving broadband data interoperability for the public safety community, many of the challenges we have seen in the past with failed interconnections in times of a crisis will be alleviated. Moreover, the 700 MHz spectrum allocation to public safety will allow for such things as high speed communications, data rich transmissions, and heretofore unrealized potential for search and rescue inside buildings and over long distances.

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stated, “This is crucial to allow responders from varying jurisdictions and disciplines to communicate with one another when they converge at an emergency, or when incidents span several jurisdictions.” First responders must have access to common applications in any situation or location.

In the United States, the FCC regulates the airwaves and allocates spectrum. In Canada, that function is performed by Industry Canada. What happens in one country affects the other and will continue to do so in the future. As bilateral security and trade arrangements currently under negotiation between Canada and the United States get ironed out, cross border security will be decided on an interoperable basis. Sharing a common spectrum would indeed accommodate public safety interests on a continental basis.

Edward R. Myers is the Editor of FrontLine Security magazine.
© FrontLine Security 2011