October 22, 2015
The annual APCO show had plenty of sessions and presentations that were of great interest to public safety professionals. Perhaps no speaker was more anticipated than Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler, who voiced his opinion on the current state of next-generation 9-1-1 (NG911). Like so many of us involved in public safety, the FCC chair feels the pace of NG911 is too slow and needs to be expedited before the safety of police officers, firefighters, emergency response personnel, and the public in general is put at risk.
Speaking to members of the nation’s largest public safety association, Wheeler made it clear that while there is much to be encouraged about in terms of technology and the adoption of new rules – including more focus on text-to-9-1-1 service, improving the accuracy of location data in wireless 9-1-1 calls, and 9-1-1 system reliability – a lot of work still must be done. Most notably, Congress must step in to accelerate the process with legislation designed to help move forward the essential shared mission of public safety.
In the four months preceding APCO 2015 in August, the FCC issued nearly $40 million in penalties for outages that left millions of people unable to reach 9-1-1 for hours at a time. As Wheeler plainly put it, “I cannot imagine a more harrowing experience than desperately needing to call 9-1-1 because a loved one needs medical attention – only to pick up the phone and hear nothing.”
To prevent that from ever happening, Wheeler spoke of a federal task force that is expected to establish guidelines before the year-end for public safety answering points (PSAPs) migrating to NG911. Wheeler had more to say about PSAPs, specifically how the federal government should get involved in the national mapping process. We agree that the maps our PSAPs use to identify the location of callers can’t stop at the county or state line. The RF spectrum that carries emergency messages doesn’t understand geography, so we shouldn’t be confined to geographic boundaries developed decades ago.
Wheeler (pictured right) said local municipalities must resist the temptation to take funds intended for improving NG911 and diverting it for other programs. Along those lines, a few weeks after Wheeler spoke, the National Association of State 911 Administrators published a white paper that outlined several funding models states have at their disposal when planning how they will support the rollout of the IP network. The group offered four suggestions:
- Keep the current funding model and add fees for prepaid wireless and other services
- Impose a general sales tax
- Add a fee to health insurance plans
- Use a state universal service fund
Those were two of the main NG911 themes discussed by Wheeler and there is some synergy between the two. As Wheeler noted, maintaining two infrastructures (legacy and NG911) increases costs and complexities. The sooner the transition can be fully made, the better off everyone will be. It is our current interim period that is a big concern.
To ensure communications are not lost, it will be imperative to maintain the quality of both legacy and next generation networks. That will require test tools that can conduct measurements on both analog and digital signals. While that sounds as if multiple instruments (read: extra cost) will be necessary, it is not truly the case. The LMR Master™ S412E Land Mobile Radio Modulation analyzer can address both network scenarios. It is the only truly portable solution for analysis and mapping of P25 TDMA Phase 2, ITC-R Positive Train Control, and FirstNet Public Safety LTE, providing a durable single-instrument solution to the legacy/next generation 911 testing dilemma.
With handheld tools such as the LMR Master, issues associated with public safety networks can be monitored and corrected before they result in dropped calls that can jeopardize the safety of public safety professionals and the citizenry. An application note on measuring signal strength of P25 networks is available that can provide insight on reducing such a possibility.