January Infrastructure: Emergency Telecommunications

Our guest at this month’s Infrastructure Committee meeting was Sean O’Brien, Coordinator of the Barnstable County Regional Emergency Planning Committee, who came to discuss plans for emergency telecommunications infrastructure. The committee is a coalition of law enforcement, fire service, health care, public health, public works, EMS, military, and other affiliated agencies.

Among other things, the Emergency Planning Committee has been working towards the capability of a 700 MHz system. Sean says we have very limited bandwidth dedicated to our public safety, and limited capabilities accessing information over wireless – particularly on the Outer Cape.

“One of the things we had looked at was giving first responders additional capabilities,” Sean said. “For instance, a doctor who is able to look in the back of the ambulance.” Another example he gave was of a mutual aid fire call. An apparatus with real-time video in the vehicles would allow first responders to see what’s going on at the scene.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)* is in the early stages of distributing funds to states for early planning and engineering. Barnstable county has early studies done for sites across the Cape, some of which now have installed boxes, shelters and generator pads. Sean said as we move forward, these sights will work hand in hand with a regional dispatch system.

First Net is a program that came out of Congressional legislation to deal with problems encountered during 9/11, Katrina, and other disasters, when first responders were not able to communicate because they were using different frequencies and technologies. Money has been made available to the states to do the planning, and one of the things the Barnstable County Regional Emergency Planning Committee does is to coordinate grant funding. The FCC is dealing at the state, not local level.

Institutions need to educate themselves and see how they fit into the state system, with some combination of public and private funds.

Separate from FirstNet, the Barnstable County Sheriff’s office received a grant to grow their 911 call center. The Sheriff’s department has already been working with hospitals and first responders on the CMED (central medical emergency dispatch) system, including pushing GIS maps out to the different departments. For emergencies, multi-agency communication is set up at Sheriffs office.

Regulations have not caught up to current technology. In addition to more bandwidth, we need a system that’s dedicated to public safety. During a disaster, everyone is on the network. We have to segment the traffic, no matter how fast technology moves ahead. The committee’s plan will eliminate dead spots, allowing direct communication with ems and fire.

“We want to see a lit system of 700 MHz come down here,” Sean said. “This technology will save lives.”
*”The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) as an independent authority within NTIA, to provide emergency responders with the first high-speed, nationwide network dedicated to public safety.”

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