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From the Manager: A Proactive Strategy for a Unified Public Safety Network

TJ Kennedy, Acting General Manager, FirstNet

In 2012, Congress passed legislation to create the First Responder Network Authority, known as FirstNet. Its mission is ambitious but necessary—to ensure the construction of a national broadband network for the use of public safety. As acting general manager of this enterprise, I am honored to be able to oversee the implementation of the final recommendation of the 9/11 Commission—a mission that is going to fundamentally change the face of public safety communications.

For too long, firefighters, police officers, emergency dispatchers, and others have endured a patchwork quilt of communication systems that, while effective in localized incidents, are not interoperable. We know that during the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the multiple responding jurisdictions at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not immediately able to speak to each other. We know a lot of work has been done at the local level to enhance communications abilities within departments. But the connections between departments have been lacking. FirstNet bridges those gaps.

That brings us to the question “Why FirstNet?”

The answer is simple: interoperability, security, and affordability. Our priority is to ensure first responders have this tool. But it’s not just about the connection. This will be highly secure, going far beyond any security measures now in place by commercial carriers, and it has to be done in a way that makes financial sense for all of the 56 U.S. states and territories. That’s why we are now engaged in a robust process to meet with all of our partners in the state and tribal jurisdictions in order to understand what assets and infrastructure now exist and how best to build upon them. Our goal is to partner with entities that can most effectively help FirstNet become the resource it absolutely must be to support our first responders.

We recognize that we cannot make this work without the support and embrace of the public safety community and public-private partnerships. As we begin to evaluate requests for information sent out last year, we will better determine what it’s going to take to begin building FirstNet. That means there will be opportunities for the public and private sectors to come together in ways that will benefit our partners and result in the build-out of FirstNet. We are looking at the possibility of sharing carrier sites. We are looking for financial partners, and there will certainly be rural partners, where they make sense. Antenna sites could be shared, for example, along with equipment such as generators and battery back-up modules. So, the opportunity for partnerships is virtually endless as we begin designing and, ultimately, building our network. Naturally, we’ll look to police chiefs and public safety providers, along with stakeholders such as the IACP, to help guide our course and relay valuable input from the field.

We remain hard at work building the foundation of this organization, having recently released the authority’s preliminary strategic roadmap—a course of action designed to ensure the building and management of the network. The roadmap will assist in developing a definitive business plan, along with comprehensive state-based outreach and consultation plans. Outreach is a critical part of what we do. We’re not just communicating with state and local governments, but we’re gleaning the knowledge and experience of the telecom industry as well. We need to know about all available assets so that we can construct a system that works for everyone, keeping in mind our priority of enhancing operations for first responders.

We will share our proactive strategy with our key constituents—public safety agencies, local governments, the U.S. Congress, the administration, and the media. We feel that this approach is critical as we progress through our program roadmap.

As we complete the tasks laid out in our strategic roadmap, the ultimate FirstNet network solution and anticipated business plan will narrow and become clearer. At this time, we expect to reach several key milestones over approximately the next year—achievements that will serve as appropriate checkpoints to ensure that we are on track within our roadmap and within the expectations of our stakeholders. Topping the list of those priorities is the initiation of our public notice and comment period, allowing interested parties an opportunity to engage directly with FirstNet and help shape certain program procedures, policies, and statutory interpretations. This action will play an instrumental part in preparing for network, equipment, and service proposals, plus push the authority towards the rollout of formal state consultations, a key move that will precede the building of the nationwide network.

The history of FirstNet is all about innovation. For five years, public safety personnel and stakeholders have found creative ways to stand together and convince legislators of the need for a nationwide broadband network dedicated to fire, police, EMS, and other safety providers. Congress found innovative ways to craft and pass the legislation that created FirstNet. And today, the complexities of this project demand that we continue to find innovative ways to complete our mission. Once this network is in place, it will not only transform how public safety responds to disasters, but also change how everyday work is performed, making public safety more effective and the United States safer. On behalf of the board of directors of FirstNet, I want to thank IACP and its members for the feedback they’ve provided to date and the continued interest in FirstNet’s progress. Through this work, we will make the United States safer, we will save lives, and we will give our first responders the tools they need to protect us.♦

Please cite as:

TJ Kennedy, “A Proactive Strategy for a Unified Public Safety Network,” From the Manager, The Police Chief 81 (May 2014): 18.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXXI, no. 5, May 2014. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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