December 29, 2014 By Bill Schrier
I’m not very good at either figuring out which recent changes are most significant (I’ll bet the iPhone was one) or predicting what will happen during my day tomorrow, much less 365 days in the future.
But I’m not too bad at looking at the state of technology – especially in government – and wishing for what I’d like to see in the near future.
And here they are:
Government Embracing the Cloud
Cloud services are the “next hot thing” in technology. Or they were the next thing hot thing in 2010.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon – along with a number of other technology leaders – believes that very few private companies and governments will operate their own data centers in the future. This is undeniably true simply because cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) have a tremendous economy of scale. AWS probably has more than five million servers worldwide. Every day – 365 days a year – Amazon Web Services installs more server capacity than the entire Amazon e-tailing enterprise had online in 2004. And AWS has won notable contracts, such as the contract to operate the CIA’s data center.
Seattle has become a hotbed of cloud technology over the past 18 months. The Seattle area has a number of the major players in this space such as Amazon, Microsoft Azure, CenturyLink, Google, and now even Dropbox and Apple. The list includes a number of “niche” companies such as Taser International’s Evidence.com which supports cloud hosting of law enforcement data such as body-worn video data and Socrata, the leading cloud service for government open data.
Yet governments have been slow to adopt cloud technologies. Governments continue to build and operate their own data centers, containing a few hundred servers, and operate much less efficiently than cloud services providers. While some governments use cloud services such as Accela for permitting, Workday for human resources, and Socrata for open data, most applications continue to live in expensive government-owned data centers operated by government employees.
Part of the reason government is slow to adopt the cloud is perceived security concerns: unless the applications data are on disk arrays and servers which government CIOs can touch and feel and see behind the doors of their very own data centers, these officials feel that, somehow, the hackers will get to them. This concern is patently absurd, as cloud providers such as Microsoft and Amazon can afford to employ hundreds of security professionals compared to the handful in most governments.
Another problem is potential loss of jobs for workers who presently staff data centers. These employees are rightly concerned about loss of jobs. However governments also badly need employees who will adapt new technologies for government businesses, who will code new web applications and apps for consumers and businesses to better do business with the government. Government agencies are chronically short of such developers who, by the way, make a lot more money than data center operators and server administrators. A retraining program for such government technology employees coupled with a move to the cloud will benefit everyone – taxpayers, businesses, government officials and tech employees.
It’s long past time for a wholesale move of government technology to cloud services.
>More Women Coders and Women in Technology
I recently had the chance to visit a cloud services development company in the Seattle area. The company had a variety of very leading edge practices, such as small team environments, self-directed teams, and superior compensation. They bragged about their employee interview process: they accepted about 1% of the people who applied or were recruited.
The place was entirely white and Asian-American men. Well, there was a woman at the front desk.
Now, perhaps it is true that only young males have the interest and ambition to pursue coding. But having an all young-white-male environment in any business anywhere is not good, for a whole variety of reasons: all-male business cultures give rise to frat-house-like cultures such as apparently happened at Zillow. With incomes stagnant or dropping for middle-income people, coding and app development are one of the few areas with tremendous growth in skills and wages – it is important this growth be shared by people of all genders. Seattle, in particular, seems to have the widest pay gap between women and men.
There are probably many reasons for this disparity. Perhaps our educational system needs to better emphasize technology careers for girls. Maybe we need more tech savvy teachers in general, so we don’t have to import so much tech talent via the H1B visa program. And we certainly need to embrace programs such as the “hour of code” evangelized by Seattle’s code-dot-org.
In fact, linking this problem back to the one above (governments’ need to embrace the cloud), perhaps we should start with an hour of code for all government workers – not just information technology workers, mind you, but ALL government workers.
Ubiquitous Use of Police Body Cams
President Obama’s December 1 announcementof funding for equipping 50,000 police officers with body-worn video is an innovative approach to improving public safety. This initiative follows several tragic events such as those in Ferguson, Missouri. Certainly the idea of recording most police-citizen interactions is appealing.
In a time of polarization about the role of the police in our communities, the use of body-worn video cameras seems to have universal support. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) dislikes video surveillance in general but likes body-worn cameras because they hold police officers accountable for their actions. Police Unions like them because they hold citizens accountable for their actions – in two small studies, civilian complaints against police officers declined by 60% to 88% after implementation of body-cams. Police officers like them because 98% or 99% of what the police do is overwhelming supportive of people in the community – saving drivers during auto accidents, breaking up domestic violence in homes, helping the homeless. The Department of Justicelikes the cameras, as do elected officials. And they appear to work: one DOJ study found showed use of force by officers declined by 60%, and violence from citizens against police also declined. Prosecutors like video, as it helps establish and support criminal charges.
But, as in everything else, implementing body-worn video is not a panacea for improving policing. I’ve written earlier about the difficulties of implementing such a program, so I won’t rehash those here. And others have written about a variety of other problems such as the potential for “constant on” video cameras to create a surveillance state worse than even George Orwell envisioned.
Video Recognition and Indexing Software
Video video everywhere, underground and in the air.
Video cameras are becoming more and more ubiquitous. Most of the population now carries a video camera on their person with them all the time. Video surveillance cameras are in wide use in both private businesses and by public agencies such as Departments of Transportation. A billion people use YouTube, which has 4 billion views each day and 100 hours of video uploaded each second. And that’s just one video site!
But, like the thousands of unindexed photographs most people have lurking somewhere on hard drives and smart phones, video is hard to index and identify for future use. Content recognition software is still inadequate – basically under development.
Good content recognition software will serve a variety of useful purposes – it could detect unauthorized use of copyrighted material, could recognize individuals and objects thereby indexing the clips, and could form the basis for databases of video metadata. Such databases would useful for a variety of purposes such as indexing all that video of your family gatherings for the past 20 years, or storage and retrieval of police body-worn camera video. Video is quite useful in solving crimes – video from private companies were used to solve the Boston Marathon terrorism and police dashcam video caught Christopher Monfort, alleged killer of Seattle Police Officer Tim Brenton on October 31, 2009.
Like audio or voice-recognition software, which is really still in its infancy, good video recognition software is a two edged sword, presenting privacy concerns as well as the useful purpose.
As always, these technology changes will outstrip the ability of our elected leaders to enact laws to deal with the resulting cultural and legal issues. We demonstrated that this past year with all the controversies surrounding Uber and other car-sharing services in cities across the globe. We see it in the constant struggle between public safety and privacy.
My final “wish” is for elected officials wise enough to embrace the positive power of new technologies, while controlling the negative implications. And having the wisdom to know the difference.
November 5, 2014 By Bill Schrier
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) came to the “other Washington” on October 16, 2014, and officially launched the design process for FirstNet in Washington. We taught FirstNet a few lessons about the public safety needs in Washington State. And we learned a bit about how FirstNet will design a network to serve responders in Washington.
"Consultation" has a special meaning in FirstNet-speak.
We conducted the consultation meeting from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM at the Thurston County Fairgrounds outside of the State Capital, Olympia. About 180 responders and other stakeholders from around the state attended .
The purpose of this “initial” consultation was to launch a design process for FirstNet in Washington. We think this will take about 18 months, but that’s definitely a guesstimate based on a variety of factors, including how rapidly FirstNet can issue its RFP for vendor partners, get responses, and evaluate them.
During this consultation period FirstNet will provide technical expertise and other input to build a State Plan and design for the network in Washington. Responders in Washington will provide information about their needs for coverage, usage, devices, applications and other capabilities in order to improve public safety for the people of Washington. Responders will specify what sort of support they need in this world of rapidly mutating technology including smart phones, tablet computers, apps, wearable computers, tiny video recorders, the “Internet of things” and much more. And by “responder” we’re talking about anyone who has a role in responding to a public safety emergency and disaster: firefighters, cops, paramedics, electric and water utility workers, transportation workers, transit drivers, the Red Cross and Salvation Army and others. Even school teachers, alas, are too often first responders as we found out again at Pilchuck High School in Marysvilleon October 24th.
The end of this consultation process is a State Plan (capital letters) for FirstNet in Washington presented to Governor Jay Inslee, who will, after consulting with our state’s responders, either opt-in or opt-out of the plan. The State Plan, like all State Plans developed for the 56 states and territories, should include elements such as what parts of the state will be covered permanently, who will be authorized to use FirstNet in Washington, how much users will need to pay and many more elements about how the network will operate in our state.
How the Day Proceeded
We started the day by showing the short version of our “FirstNet in Washington” video (see it here), which features Washington State Interoperability Executive Committee(SIEC) members discussing what FirstNet might mean for the State’s responders. This is a fairly dramatic video, with statements from Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste, Pacific County Emergency Management Director Stephanie Fritts (Pacific County is subject to both earthquakes and tsunamis), Quinault Tribe Technology Leader Randell Harris, West Pierce Fire Chief Jim Sharp, Whitcom 911 Director Patti Kelly, and Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan. (Photo at right: watching the video which shows Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste speaking).
We had welcomes from Sandy Mullins, who is Governor Jay Inslee’s advisor for Public Safety, and Michael Cockrill, the State’s Chief Information Officer (CIO). The FirstNet effort in Washington State is managed inside the Office of the CIO.
After the video, FirstNet General Manager T. J. Kennedy took the floor to provide a welcome from FirstNet. He described the significant efforts FirstNet is undertaking to prepare for, design and build this nationwide network, a daunting effort unparalleled in United States history. Kennedy mentioned the Request for Information (RFI) and Public Notice (PN) from which FirstNet hopes to gain input to drive its future plan. The RFI seeks information to guide FirstNet's 2015 RFP for the network. The public notice seeks ideas about who should be able to use the network, among other topics.
Rich Reed, FirstNet’s Director of State Plans talked about some of the recent history of FirstNet, such as the regional meetings conducted in mid-2013. He described what went on at those meetings as “shockingly unimplementable” and that’s definitely true . The FirstNet Board members who led those meetings were far too optimistic on schedule and effort.
Rich Reed characterizes the information presently available as “what we know”, “what we don’t know” and “what we think”, and answers questions within that framework. For example, the law which created FirstNet contains 24 Congressional mandates. As another example, FirstNet’s shelf life is from 2012 to September 30, 2022, when the authority and funds end unless renewed by Congress.
Some other highlights of Reed’s talk:
Needs for FirstNet in Washington
Four senior officials from local government presented practical examples of challenges and disasters they have faced in 2014, some of the communication problems they had, and how a robust wireless data network may be able to improve response and recovery in the future. The slide deck used in these presentations is on the Washington OneNet site here.
Okanogan County Wildfires and Floods
Okanogan County, and other counties in Washington experienced one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. Okanogan County suffered from the largest wildfire in recorded state history, measured in geography, the Carleton Complex fire.This fire raged in July and August 2014 and burned 400 square miles, destroying 237 homes and 55 cabins. The fire was ultimately extinguished partially as a result heavy rains, but those rains caused flooding and torrential stream flows, causing further damage. One death is attributed to the fire.
Okanogan County Senior Deputy Mike Worden discussed the interoperable communications challenges of the event. These included:
After Worden’s presentation, he and the audience discussion extracted several lessons learned from this event:
Snohomish County State Route 530 Landslide
Scott Honaker, the Radio Officer at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management (DEM), discussed the challenges and lessons learned from that event.
The State Route 530 landslide occurred on Saturday, March 22, 2014. It destroyed 36 homes directly and 9 more by flooding. Forty-three people died in the slide. Everyone who could be rescued was rescued in the first 12 hours, but the recovery operations continued for six weeks with up to 1,000 responders deployed in the 1500 foot long, 4400 foot wide landslide area.
Some of the interoperable communications challenges detailed by Honaker included:
Some of the lessons learned for FirstNet discussed by the audience include:
Seattle Seahawks Victory Parade
Captain Dick Reed attended the morning session of the initial consultation, but was called away before he could talk about communications challenges during the Seahawk victory parade. Some of those challenges have been detailed in the public media, such as this Seattle Times article.
The parade on February 5, 2014, drew an estimated 700,000 people to downtown Seattle. Cellular network providers tried to provide additional network capability via cell-on-wheels (COW) and similar apparatus. Nevertheless many cell phone calls and much wireless data communication was unusable for over three hours. Fortunately there were few major incidents. Many responders from multiple agencies came to mutual aid of the City of Seattle to support the event. LMR networks (King County 800 MHz radio) performed flawlessly, and in several cases citizens came to police officers or firefighters along the route to request aid, and those responders were able to use their 800 MHz trunked radio to summon aid. Nevertheless the mobile data computers, smart phones and tablet computers of all responders were affected just like citizens and parade observers.
The Seahawks Victory Parade experience supports the need for a dedicated network for use by responders.
Engaging Washington Responders in the FirstNet State Plan
Finally, as the FirstNet State Point of Contact (SPOC), I discussed how Washington OneNet and Washington’s responders will engage with FirstNet during the consultation process to develop the state plan (slides of the presentation are here).
Washington has engaged the Washington State University (WSU) Division of Governmental Studies & Services and the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) as subcontractors to continue outreach, education and data collections in support of Washington OneNet. WSU will be contacting first responder agencies and elected officials throughout the state to make them aware of the FirstNet design effort and engage them in developing the State Plan. Similarly PNWER will engage public works, utilities and similar responders in the effort. This work will kick off in earnest in January, 2015.
Washington will form three committees – a stakeholder committee, technical committee and operational committee. The Operational Committee will be led by Jim Pryor, retired assistant police chief in Seattle, and will consist of invited individuals who have performed as a public safety incident commander.
The Operational Committee will explore and make recommendations to the SIEC regarding operational aspects of FirstNet’s dedicated Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network in Washington State. The Committee will consider such issues as network management/prioritization during critical incidents and normal use; availability and use of multi-disciplinary applications on the network; establishing operational guidelines when interfacing with local, state, federal, and military entities; and, other topics that might be referred to the Committee to take advantage of the experience, background, and training of its members.
The Stakeholder Committee will be composed of elected officials and senior officials of responder agencies to consider questions such as coverage, where incidents occur, who is a “responder” and should be authorized to use the network, costs and affordability.
The Technical Committee will support FirstNet’s work in technical design - including deployable sites (e.g. sites on fire apparatus, drones, and similar platforms), in-building coverage, distributed antennas, throughput speeds, and micro-cell-sites, implementing priority and similar issues.
The goal of these Washington State efforts is not to “sell” FirstNet, but rather to get a design for Washington State which meets the needs of our responders and citizens.
What FirstNet Needs from Washington
In the afternoon of the initial consultation, Brian Hobson (photo at right, with a coverage map) and Rich Reed of FirstNet described the sorts of information FirstNet needs to design a network and prepare a State Plan for Washington. They discussed:
Next Steps for Washington State
Next Steps for FirstNet
Challenges for a FirstNet State Plan in Washington East and West. While we had a good attendance from around the state, it was hard to get representatives from Eastern Washington. Washington, like most states, has a “divide”, and in our case it is “east of the Cascade Mountains” and “west of the mountains”. When a meeting is held on one side, attendance from the other falls off. We also are using our state-and-local implementation planning grant (SLIGP) funds to pay for travel, lodging and per diem of public officials who attend the meeting, but they still need to be away from their day jobs, a real challenge for smaller cities and rural counties who do not have a lot of staff.
Indian Country. We had 7 representatives from Indian tribes, including Mike Lyall, Vice-Chair of the Cowlitz tribe and Robin Souvenir, Police Chief for the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. The Cowlitz have a huge reservation in the central part of the state and the Shoalwater Bay Tribe is in Pacific County, vulnerable to tsunami and also in the shadow of a cliff, with poor commercial cell coverage. Nevertheless we have 29 federal recognized tribes in the state – and some additional tribes beyond those – so we have more work to do to engage our tribes who are federal governments. Besides the Cowlitz, other tribes in the state cover a large geography and are economically and culturally important to our state. We have much more work to do to engage them all.
Urban, suburban and rural first responders. We had good participation from rural and suburban agencies, including police, fire and emergency medical, plus 911 centers (PSAPs) and emergency managers. We didn’t get a lot of responders from larger cities such as Spokane, Seattle and Tacoma, although we had good participations from their counties – Spokane, King and Pierce.
Washington OneNet offers a number of lessons and suggestions for other states who are going to conduct an initial consultation.
Prepare user stories/case studies. The user stories and case studies are a phenomenal chance to engage Firstnet about the unique challenges of the state and its responders. But it is also helpful for the state’s own responders to hear about the issues faced by other responding agencies in the state. Washington, unfortunately, has had too many disasters, just in 2014, and therefore faces many mobilizations and challenges. Other potential disasters loom, including a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, lahars, volcanic eruption and terrorism due to a long international border and a long coastline.
Hallway conversations are half the event. “Virtual meetings” like WebEx and Go-to-Meeting will never replace meeting people at a live event. T. J. Kennedy and other FirstNet staff really “worked the room” meeting with Washington State responders, as did Washington OneNet staff. Kennedy’s background as a first responder makes him a powerful ambassador for FirstNet and a great person to engage police and fire chiefs, as well as elected officials. These individual and personal touches are the foundation for future engagement to build the State Plan.
If the design, planning, construction and implementation of the First Responder Network in the State of Washington is a 26 mile, 385 yard, marathon, the initial consultation we conducted on October 16th is the first 100 yards. We're off to a running start, but there's a long, sometimes difficult, sometimes enjoyable, 26 mile, 285 yards to go.
The general road map to the final network is in place, but the hills, valleys and curves are yet to be plotted and overcome. Over the next several years responders from throughout Washington will work with FirstNet to create a State Plan and then will see it to implementation. At that point each city, county, police and fire department, electric utility, public works and other responder agency will need to decide if the new FirstNet will meet their specific needs.
Getting to a great design will be a major portion of the effort.
September 25, 2014 By Bill Schrier
McClatchy Newspaper’s Greg Gordon just wrote a well-researched investigative article about procurement problems with the nation’s First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The details in the article correspond almost exactly with my mostly second-hand knowledge of the situation. But I am hoping FirstNet and the nation can, with help, put this episode behind us and proceed to actually building a nationwide wireless broadband network for our brave responders who protect the safety of 320 million Americans.
Greg Gordon’s article has all the details. Again, based on all my knowledge and discussions with individuals involved, these details are correct except for two: First, the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) to FirstNet has at 40 members, not 5 as Gordon mentions. Second, the initial contract for FirstNet staffing was let by a semi-competitive solicitation in late 2012. this is the solicitation published under the authority of the U.S. Census bureau. I say "semi-competitive" because competition was limited to an existing set of GSA-pre-qualified contractors, not open to all bidders. (This paragraph updated from the original post.)
So what’s the truth in this? I think both Sam Ginn and Craig Farrill are honorable people, recruited by Larry Strickling, Director of NTIA. Ginn and Farrill took their mission seriously. They knew they were, essentially, in charge of a start-up company. They knew getting the network operational was the mission. And they set out to do it using every bit of their business skill and acumen. They hired people who they worked with before, and who they knew could do the job. They did not pay much heed to salaries. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”
What Ginn and Farrill did not know was government. They did not know how to run public meetings or how to respond to public disclosure requests. Meetings occurred behind closed doors, begrudgingly televised with 1990s-era video tech. They probably did not keep all the members of the board (e.g. Sheriff Fitzgerald) in the loop about their activities. They either did not know about federal competitive procurement regulations or – worse yet - perhaps didn’t care.
There's also the possibility that Ginn and Farrill were mislead - that they thought the law's statement FirstNet would be an "independent authority" under NTIA truly meant "independent" in the fashion the Tennessee Valley Authority or Bonneville Power Authority are independent. And that's independent from Federal Personnel regulations, the Federal Acquisition regulation (FAR) and similar constraints. And, after they arrived, and tried to be truly independent, the boom was lowered. (This paragraph added to the original post.)
Worst of all, they did not spend much time consulting their constituents, their future users, the cops and firefighters and other responders who need FirstNet. They basically ignored and did not use the Public Safety Advisory Committee.
As one example of this, at the first meeting of the Board, on September 25, 2012, Farrill presented a “conceptual architecture” for FirstNet. Where this architecture originated was a mystery to the hundreds of public safety officials – including me – who had been working on FirstNet and its predecessors for years. Clearly Farrill was clueless about consulting constituents.
As another example, Sam Ginn famously testified in front of Congress that FirstNet would cover “every square meter” of the United States. Mr. Ginn, honorable as he is, didn’t know much about testifying to elected officials or making promises. There are a lot of pretty damned remote, hard-to-reach, “square meters” in the United States, some of them less than 50 miles from my home in Seattle.
Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald finally became fed up with this lack of consultation with public safety, and came out with a damning indictment of it during the April 23, 2013, Board meeting. Fitzgerald, like Ginn and Farrill, is an honorable man, elected multiple times to public office, and well-versed in government.
Fitzgerald’s failing was not involving his fellow public safety Board members – Fire Chief Jeff Johnson, Deputy Police Chief Chuck Dowd, and Kevin McGinnis, a paramedic and director of emergency medical services in Maine – in his concerns prior to the meeting. They were just as startled about his accusations as other Board members. Most elected officials of City and County Councils and State legislatures know they need at least one other person on their side to second their motions.
Where laws broken and is criminal prosecution in the works?
I doubt it. Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser is looking into the allegations of illegal or unethical contracting practices. Perhaps he will find some NTIA or NIST officials bent the law in allowing the high-salary contractors to work on FirstNet. It certainly is odd (and many of us puzzled over it at the time) that the first solicitation for contractors came from the United States Census!
With the IG’s upcoming report there’s another shoe to drop here, but I hope we don’t waste a lot of time waiting for it.
Ginn, Farrill and D’Agostino left of their own volition. Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald and Deputy Chief Chuck Dowd were not reappointed to the board. (To some extent, I think Sheriff Fitzgerald was punished for blowing the whistle). These are all honorable people trying to do their very best to support the public safety of the nation. Like all of us, sometimes they make mistakes. These key players in this drama are gone, and it’s just the mop-up of the Inspector General’s report which remains to put this scandal to bed.
I see great promise in FirstNet, and a new awakening of purpose under new Board Chair Sue Swenson’s and Acting General Manager T. J. Kennedy’s leadership. Let’s let them lead, unburdened by the past.
June 2, 2014 By Bill Schrier
Governments collect a lot of data on citizens. Private companies like Google, Amazon and even Safeway collect even more. In fact, a whole new thriving business of data brokers has emerged. These are companies like Datalogixwhich indexes, mashes, cross-correlates, buys and sells our personal information.
On May 27 the Federal Trade Commission released its report “Data Brokers: a Call for Transparency and Accountability”. The report demonstrated the pervasiveness of the data brokering business. The brokers use billions of data pointsto build profiles – dossiers – on every American. The data comes from both online and offline sources. Online sources include searches you make using Google or Bing, as well as things you buy from Amazon and other e-retailers. Offline sources include purchases you might make with loyalty cards from companies like the grocery chains.
The “billions of data points” include a wide variety of information such as age, religion, interest in gambling and much more. Here is a list of 200 such fields. From this data the brokers make inferences and classify people into affiliations such as “bible lifestyle” or “rural everlasting” (older people with low net worth).
Americans are rightly concerned with the amount of data collected on us by our governments. Government data collection is widely reported in the press. But private companies collect similar vast amounts of information. That fact is not widely reported. Examples:
Who is collecting all this information? What are they using it for? What are we to do?
Perhaps we need to follow the example of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires the credit reporting companies to provide reports to individual citizens, but also allows those citizens to challenge information found in the reports.
Perhaps we need a “Citizen Data Dossier” law and portal – a secure online site or vault where everyone could find the information collected by each data broker andeach government agency about them. In addition, individuals could challenge the information, ask for it to be replaced or removed and allow citizens to “opt out” of how their information is collected and used by the broker.
Governments, of course, represent a somewhat different issue. Clearly convicted sex predators should not be allowed to “opt out” of government collection of their conviction data or have it removed from government records. But certainly those who have false conviction data or other data (e.g. incorrect notice of suspended driver’s license) should be allowed to correct that information.
One thing is for certain: once such data is available, we will discover how much of our information is available, and what private companies infer about us using it (“this guy is a Biker/Hell’s Angels type“). And I suspect we will be scared and upset.
May 22, 2014 By Bill Schrier
Ed Parkinson, Director of Government Affairs for the First Responder Network Authority, visited Washington State (“the other Washington”) and Oregon this week. Mr. Parkinson met with senior officials here in Washington, including the State CIO, Michael Cockrill, and the Director of Emergency Management. He met with Oregon State officials and also gave a talk at the joint meeting of the independent telecommunications companies of Oregon and Washington. His appearance here in the Pacific Northwest gives me some additional hope for this noble effort called FirstNet.
The First Responder Network Authority was created by Congress in February, 2012. It was authorized to use $7 billion in funds obtained from the auction of spectrum to wireless telecommunications companies. FirstNet’s mission is to design and build a nationwide public safety wireless broadband network. Congress broadly defined “Public safety” as not just First Responders like cops and firefighters, but also transportation, utilities, public works and anyone who has a role in responding and fixing the incidents that occur every day, as well as responding to major disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.
I am known as a skeptic of FirstNet’s progress, which I’ve blogged about in the past (Is FirstNet Stalled?).
But I’m also definitely heartened by recent developments in FirstNet’s efforts.
My current weather forecast for FirstNet is “fair and warmer”. Ed’s visit, plus a couple of other recent events contribute to that forecast. There are, however, a few storm clouds still on the horizon.
Here are some factors contributing to my sunnier forecast for FirstNet:
Here are some of the storm clouds or difficult waters which FirstNet still needs to navigate:
Commitment was clear at NASA in the 1960s, where even the janitors knew what they were doing: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
FirstNet staff know they are going to keep 330 million people safe and improve our national and local quality of life: “I’m building the very first nationwide public safety network.”
I see that commitment in Ed Parkinson. I see that in David Buchanan. I see that in T. J. Kennedy. I see it in members of the FirstNet Board. I see that in those of us laboring to engage responders in Oregon and Washington and Florida and Maryland.
The next FirstNet Board meeting is on June 3, 2014 in Colorado.
Will I see that commitment there as well?
I think and I trust that I will.
But we’ll see …
(This version is slightly edited from the original.)