August 27, 2012 By Bill Schrier
Another Chapter in the almost hundred-year saga of public safety wireless networks closed last week.
And on Monday, August 20th a new Chapter began.
For the last two years, twenty-one cities, regions and states have been laboring to build 4th generation wireless broadband public safety networks. With a handful of exceptions, that work is now ended.
The vision of many police and fire chiefs, as well as Congress and the FCC, has been to build a nationwide Public Safety wireless network. Congress set aside spectrum in the 700 MHz band for this purpose in 1998. The FCC tried various methods to finance and build the network. In frustration, these 21 jurisdictions asked for a waiver of the FCC rules to build the networks themselves.
Boston was the first City to ask for such a waiver. But the other jurisdictions included Seattle (I led the effort there), the Los Angeles region, New Mexico, New York City, Iowa, San Antonio and others.
Amazing, the FCC agreed to let us do it – to build those networks within our boundaries. Even more amazing, the Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) allocated over $382 million in stimulus funds (Broadband Opportunity Grants) to make it happen. Charlotte, Adams County (Colorado), Los Angeles, New Mexico, Mississippi, New Jersey and even Motorola (in the San Francisco Bay area) received such grants. Harris County (Houston) and Texas, Mesa (Arizona) and others planned to use their own funds.
We banded together as a group, called by the unwieldly name of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust Operator Advisory Committee (PSST-OAC – gee, it is also unpronounceable!). Every week we held conference calls, and several times a year we met face-to-face. I was privileged to chair this group for two years, from 2010 to the summer of 2012.
For those two years, until now, we’ve struggled to make the vision a reality. The FCC imposed many restrictions and requirements on us. The Commission was concerned, rightly so, that we build local networks which could eventually become part of a nationwide network. In other words, networks which are standardized and use a common protocol (long-term evolution or LTE).
Then, in February of 2012, Congress passed the Spectrum Act.
This law realizes a long-sought dream for public safety and other responders, and a major recommendation of the Commission which investigated the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center terrorist act. It allocated real money – 7 billion dollars worth. And it created a structure – the First Responders Network Authority – to actually construct the nationwide network.
But for those of us in the 21 local jurisdictions, struggling to build our own small pieces of the network in our communities, the Spectrum Act also created problems. NTIA was rightly concerned that if our projects continued, they might not fit in well with the new Congressionally-mandated network. NTIA placed a hold on spending Federal funds on LTE-related equipment until all this could be sorted out.
Finally, on August 8th, 2012, the FCC issued an order which will allow a few of our projects to continue. I expect Charlotte, Mississippi and Adams County, at least, will be able to make their networks operational. But for most of the rest of the 21 original waiver jurisdictions, the journey has ended – that order also ends our authority to use the spectrum. Another 35 jurisdictions around the country had also requested authority to use the spectrum, but their requests are denied now as well.
Harris County, Texas, has already made history – on about August 14th, they actually made their network operational. They have built the very first piece of the Nationwide Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network (NPSWBN). They have six sites and a few hundred units operational. And that closes this chapter of public safety wireless networking.
The Operator Advisory Committee (PSST-OAC) will morph and change into a different organization. But its accomplishments will remain. It created the numbering scheme which will be used to manage the entire nationwide network. It obtained the network identifier number (313-100) which will identify all the sites, equipment, devices and everything else used on the network. And it help create the standards which allow Harris County and Charlotte and Mississippi and Adams County to become operational.
On Monday, August 20th, at the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials’ Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank announced the members of the Board of Directors for the FirstNet Authority. That announcement opens the next chapter in this Saga.
Under Firstnet, over the next seven years, the small network now operational in Harris County will grow to 30,000 sites or more, and upwards of four million computers, tablets, smart phones and radios. It will grow from one part of one county to encompass all 3,068 counties in the nation.
I’m sad and a bit melancholy about the end of this era. I’ll miss the camaraderie of the leaders and staff of these 21 waiver jurisdictions and our federal partners.
But I’ll also be excited to watch, and, in some small way, support, FirstNet as it writes the next Chapter of public safety networking.
August 22, 2012 By Bill Schrier
Most of us have probably called 911 at some point in our lives to report a crime or a car accident. We take it for granted that the call will be answered efficiently and help will arrive quickly.
We forget, however, that calling 911 is something we learn to do. Even adults will overwhelm 911 after a minor earthquake with "did you feel that" calls. Calling 911 is a skill to be taught, knowing when to call and when not to call, staying calm, relaying the proper information. 911 For Kids is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping kids know about 911 and also prepare for other disasters and emergency response.
I attended an inspiring event at the APCO 2012 Conference in Minneapolis this week, where 9 year old Rodrigo Sanchez Sosa was recognized as a "local 911 hero". He called 911 when his 2 year old sister fell unconscious after a seizure. Dispatcher Lori Patrick and emergency medical dispatcher Tom Polzin took the call and guided him through helping his sister until an emergency medical team arrived.
Rodrigo, Lori and Tom were all recognized as "Local 911 Heroes" on Tuesday, August 21st, in a ceremony opened by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and sponsored by AT&T. "Local 911 Heroes" is a program established in 1999 to recognize people, especially kids, who perform in an extraordinary manner using 911 when faced with an everyday crisis. AT&T sponsors these "Local 911 Heroes" Awards all across the country.
This award also personally resonates with me. I had a young niece who insisted on calling 911 when my brother was writing on the floor in pain. A local volunteer ambulance crew in rural Iowa left their homes and workplaces to come, gather him up on his farm, and take him to a hospital where his heart attack was handled.
These "small" acts of heroism go on every day, in every one of our communities, large and small. Sometimes those of us who work in government take our 911 services and operations a bit for granted, just assuming they’ll always be there and will always work.
That's why these awards programs are so important, because they remind us that heroes dwell among us. And, perhaps, one of these days when one of us is in need, a "local hero" will be there to help.
August 14, 2012 By Bill Schrier
This past week Gizmodo/Wired Writer Mat Honan’s iPhone, iPad, iCloud (and probably iRaq) where all hacked and wiped clean after a hacker stole his password, aided and abetted by the help desks of none other than Amazon and Apple.
This little episode provided plenty of grist for the blogosphere this week, as tech writers far and wide trotted out their best advice for us common folk to avoid getting our finances and data drawn, quartered, toasted, fried and bobbed like an Apple on Halloween. Mr. Honan himself probably got the highest blog hit rate of his career, and Slate’s Farhad Manjoo wrote a serious column on the subject. My friend Glenn Fleischman of Seattle exposed his answers to all the common security questions, thereby saving hackers the trouble of a brute force attack on his own Internet presence.
Of course I have to partake of this Dear Abby Advicefest as well, giving government CIOs and employees some expert security advice on how to avoid being Mat-ed (not mated) or Honanized.
1. Always reboot without saving your files and never take time to make those pesky backups. Apparently Mr. Honan was following this advice to the letter, as he didn’t have backups of his data.
2. Make sure you choose a password extraordinarily hard to guess. Preferably one which uses a lowercase letter, an uppercase Cyrillic character, and middle-kingdom-sized Chinese hanzi character, a Roman numeral, and a special character with an IQ less than 80. Or, if you have a unique first name (like “Mat” as opposed to Tom, Dick, Harry or Bill) you can just use your first name as a password.
3. Completely trust the company making your devices, especially if they have a monopoly, and they have the most popular products in the market, and their name can be confused with a common fruit. If they say you can "find your fruit-phone" and remotely vaporize, slice and dice it like the promises of a Popeil Veg-O-Matic, and they further promise all your data is safe in their cloud with the gold lining (their gold, not yours), what more do you need?
4. Have all your password resets pointing to the same email address, and make that email address something easy for anyone to guess. Something like email@example.com using both your firstname and lastname. That way once you or the hacker have your email password, access to all the other jewels in your kingdom falls easily into place. (Yes, yes, firstname.lastname@example.org is indeed my personal email address. But I’m not worried about getting a lot more spam and malware to that email account, as I have spam-blocker software from a company which only has to issue security patches twice a month whether they’re needed or not.)
5. Turn on six factor authentication immediately. This means you’ll have to prove your identity using six different methods whenever you log into a website. Ideally, those methods would include:
a. A strong password like, well, ”Mat” – see above.
b. A retinal scan, preferably one conducted with a military-grade laser.
c. A sample of your DNA. Drawn from a fresh blood sample. After two days your thumb will look like a pin cushion.
d. A hard-to-guess personal attribute like your mother-in-law’s maiden name. Like Btfsplk. If you’re unmarried or your mother-in-law is unmarried or she kept her birth name, or your mother-in-law is a guy, you’re really in trouble on this one.
e. The key fob which opens your garage and perhaps fires missiles from a nearby nuclear submarine.
f. A toeprint from your company’s Chief Information Security Officer.
There are many advantages to six factor authentication. For one, it is so complicated you’ll never be tempted to use online services, and therefore cannot be hacked. For another, your authentication will always be within one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon.
Ok, ok, enough levity already. I don’t really mean to offend my favorite fruit company (gee, I have five fruit-iPhones on my personal plan), or Mat Honan, who I’m sure is as gifted a writer as he is poor at backing up his data, or my favorite hometown retailer, Amazon. We all make mistakes, especially in this rapidly evolving technology age. And we learn from them.
Oh yeah. Read Manjoo’s column and follow his advice.
And don’t answer your security questions like Glenn does!
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.