EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – February 5, 2003

Wireless Public SAFEty Interoperable COMmunications Program

Susan Moore
SAFECOM Program Manager
Federal Emergency Management Agency

Avagene Moore, CEM
Moderator, EIIP Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available upon request to [email protected]

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! On behalf of the EIIP, Amy and I are pleased to see each of you here today. Our session today is a discussion about Project SAFECOM, one of the Federal Government's 24 e-gov initiatives. (Project SAFECOM = Wireless Public SAFEty Interoperable COMmunications Program)

We are pleased to introduce our guest today, Susan Moore, SAFECOM Program Manager for FEMA, the managing federal partner. Ms. Moore moved to FEMA effective October 1, 2002 from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) headquarters where she specialized in telecommunications policy for the Office of the Chief Information Officer. She has 20 years experience in information technology and telecommunications management in private industry as well as the Federal Government. Please see Ms. Moore's bio on the EIIP Virtual Forum homepage after the presentation.


Susan Moore: Hi. I am happy to have the opportunity to share a little information about SAFECOM with you.

SAFECOM is one of the President's top three electronic government initiatives created to accelerate the convergent integration of wireless communications networks used by public safety organizations across all levels of government (state, local, and federal). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the managing partner for the SAFECOM program. Contributing partners include the Departments of Justice, Treasury, Agriculture and Defense.

Customers include federal, state, tribal and local agencies working as partners to address the difficulties associated with public safety radio network incompatibilities, and the need to develop better business processes for the cross-jurisdictional and cross-disciplinary coordination of existing systems and future networks.

The scope is broad. The customer base includes over 44,000 state and local public safety agencies and organizations [National Institute of Justice, Advanced Generation of Interoperability for Law Enforcement (AGILE) http://www.agileprogram.org/].

BACKGROUND: Public safety personnel need interoperable wireless communication tools while mobile in order to provide effective and coordinated responses to incidents and large-scale events. Recent data indicates that most public safety agencies have limited confidence in their ability to perform in regional response situations requiring mutual aid (54 percent) or task force communications interoperability (66 percent).

While large-scale events dramatically illustrate the need for regional communications interoperability, routine public safety operations that occur daily can also be severely hampered by a lack of interoperability. However, even during these routine public safety incidents, more than a third of public safety agencies (36 percent) have limited confidence in their ability to interoperate.

Key issues that hamper public safety wireless communications today include:

* Antiquated systems and a general lack of available funding for system integration;

* A lack of open standards and the use of proprietary equipment that limits communications among differing systems;

* Incompatible frequency assignments; and

* A need for new operational constructs that support multi-agency response and resource sharing.

In short, the Nation is heavily invested in existing infrastructure that is largely incompatible.

THE SAFECOM VISION: Federal, state, and local agencies will continue to acquire, develop, operate and maintain their own networks as directed by their individual oversight bodies and as funding permits. No one organization can begin to address the individual needs of over 44,000 organizations.

Through the combined efforts of stakeholders and representative organizations, a national program can establish a framework for evaluating and recommending 'best of breed' integration technologies for implementation by agencies.

SAFECOM deliverables include recommended standards, solution models and grants for integrating disparate networks. SAFECOM's role is to provide public safety agencies with the knowledge, leadership and guidance needed to help them achieve short-term interoperability and long-term compatibility.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Rick Tobin: Are you familiar with the EPIC System in Singapore, and have you assessed it as a viable model?

Susan Moore: Rick, we have not looked specifically at EPIC. Where can we find an overview?

Rick Tobin: I would recommend the Central Government of Singapore. Also, Art Botterell, known to many here, is working on it. I'll give you Art's info separately.


Roman Kaluta: Throughout the nation our public safety partners are putting together plans to integrate disparate radio systems but are lacking funding. Is there any timetable as to when grants will be available to assist our public safety agencies in the integration of proven solutions?

Susan Moore: On the grants issue – SAFECOM has a work package as part of our Program Management Plan specifically focused on grants, working directly with the federal grant making bodies. SAFECOM does not receive grants money directly. We must work with the individual grant organizations according to their schedules.


Pam Roussel: My question is twofold. Specifically what grants are available for short-term interoperability and long term compatibility? Are there grants available for construction of buildings for housing OEPs with other governmental facilities?

Susan Moore: We are working with individual grant making bodies to encourage them to include interoperability equipment and services. The timing on releasing grants varies depending on which grant making organization you are interested in working with. SAFECOM is focused specifically on solutions that allow first responders to communicate with one another during emergency operations. We are not focused on facilities construction.


Milford OEM: Could you please define "Wireless" as it pertains to SAFECOM (radio, cell phones, MDT's, etc.)? Is SAFECOM a government, private, or joint entity?

Susan Moore: Wireless refers to transmissions using spectrum, regardless of the device. SAFECOM is one of the President's Electronic Government, Federal Initiatives. SAFECOM receives funding for program management operations from participating Federal partners.


Elden Laffoon: Has SAFECOM considered integrating the Amateur Radio Service's ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) into their national strategy? All are trained to handle communications traffic during disasters.

Susan Moore: Today, SAFECOM is focusing limited resources specifically on public safety radio network connectivity.


Jeff McClaran: What are your thoughts on satellite phones, especially since they have dropped significantly in price?

Susan Moore: Satellite is used by public safety agencies for a number of different operations. For some requirements, especially those where public safety radio network coverage is an issue, satellite may be the best solution.


Mark Starin: What can SAFECOM and other jurisdictions recommend regarding frequencies that link various dispatch centers, EOCs, and response agencies? For example, 155.475 MHz is used quite a bit here in New Hampshire but with mountainous terrain low band works somewhat better; i.e., a low band equivalent to 155.475 MHz. Any work on low band frequencies?

Susan Moore: Mark, typically dispatch centers link frequencies if they have the right capability. Yes, SAFECOM is interested in linking UHF and VHF bands – whatever public safety agencies use.


Roman Kaluta: In my travels, previously with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) AGILE Program and now with JPS, the whereabouts for the referenced 3.5 billion for state/local/federal first responders and communications interoperability assistance/equipment through FEMA is a burning question. I understand SAFECOM's investigation into recommended solutions is ongoing and that a number of proven solutions are now recommended. However, the underlying question remains when will some type of support be made available to address the communications needs? Is there any timeline for the funding or a report on recommended solutions?

Susan Moore: Roman, I wish I had the answer. SAFECOM does not hold the purse strings on that funding. All we can do is encourage the grant making bodies that receive it to support our efforts.


Steve Cochrane: Though technology is always an issue, I have found at the local, state and federal level that the biggest issue is planning and training. For some reason people fail to plan adequately for integration of other communication systems into their network and never train on how to manage the network when it is integrated during an incident or exercise. Is SAFECOM addressing these issues as well? Planning and training interoperability is really my question.

Susan Moore: Thank you Steve! SAFECOM is about more than integrating technology. We are planning "convergent integration" which includes many of the issues you have identified. SAFECOM plans to encourage grant makers to tie grants to training, preparation, support, etc. of interoperable equipment.


Amy Sebring: When you refer to grant-making bodies, to whom are you referring?

Susan Moore: ONP (Office of National Preparedness), ODP (Office of Disaster Preparedness), COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services), BJA (Bureau of Justice), etc. There are many more, but I don't have the list in front of me.

Amy Sebring: Thanks, wanted to clarify for the record. Most of these are moving to the Department of Homeland Security.


David Gilliam: When new opportunities arise, how does SAFECOM get the word out to the 44,000 stakeholders?

Susan Moore: Outreach is one of SAFECOM's biggest challenges. We are developing an outreach plan. We are interested in any suggestions you or others may have regarding communications channels.


Mark Starin: Any suggestions on linking multiple responders other than crossband repeaters?

Susan Moore: SAFECOM has a short-term task where multiple responders and crossband repeaters are being evaluated for their interoperability effectiveness.


Peter Casals: Is SAFECOM working towards establishing multiple region-specific integrated networks or a single national standard for public safety wireless communication?

Susan Moore: Peter, we will begin the process of gathering requirements for an integrated architecture that will begin shortly after our move to the Department of Homeland Security. We will be looking for input from the practitioner community across jurisdictions and disciplines throughout the country.


Roman Kaluta: NIJ - AGILE has an interoperability test bed at the Alexandria Police Department with proven technology, policies/procedures, MOUs and agreements. The system is up and running and information is available through NIJ.

Susan Moore: SAFECOM has visited the Alexandria Police Department, and they are doing great things. We believe that they have a great model.


Milford OEM: Who identifies the stakeholders? And how do we get added to the list?

Susan Moore: Our requirements focus is on the customers, the first responders. We have many activities that require stakeholder input as well. Please send me your contact information and a little background about your interests.


Susan Moore: I'd like to thank everyone once again for your interest.

Avagene Moore: We are at the close of our hour today. I would like to announce our new EIIP Partners this month:

*ImageCat, Inc. with EIIP POC, David Kehrlein, Vice President GIS Operation, Web site is http://www.imagecatinc.com .

*Digital Forensics and Emergency Preparedness Institute (DFEPI) at the University of Texas at Dallas, EIIP POC James C Staves, Web site http://www.utdallas.edu/research/dfepi/ .

Anyone interested in being a formal Partner of the EIIP, please see http://www.emforum.org/partners/criteria.htm .

We will have the transcript of today's session posted by late afternoon. Please look for it then.

Thanks to everyone for participating today - you have been a great audience! Please help us thank Susan for her presentation today. Susan, you did a great job! Thank Ashley Baker as well - she assisted Susan today.

The EIIP Virtual Forum is adjourned!