Broadband Communications Network for Disaster Preparedness
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One of the more interesting break-out sessions from this year’s UASI Homeland Security Conference was the discussion of a nation-wide broadband communications network to be used exclusively for disaster preparedness, mitigation and response. This topic has so much buy in because it calls into play the hot-button issues of modern emergency management: public-private partnerships, whole community response and encouraging information sharing and interoperability.
This broadband network, known as FirstNet, is already strengthening ties between the public and private sector. This is because government organizations are looking to private wireless carriers like Sprint, Verizon and AT&T to help implement FirstNet’s infrastructure, especially in rural areas.
However, before Government agencies like the Office of Emergency Communications or the FCC can begin coordinating with the private sector they must first get on the same page with other federal divisions. Issues like defining the operations infrastructure by determining which government offices control which parts of the network, or taking inventory of radio coverage needs must be accomplished on the state level. State and local governments must audit their their current assets and resources, before the network can be fully implemented.
This type of interoperability is not just about technology. Coordination through partnerships on the state, local and tribal levels must be established if a broadband communications network like FirstNet is going to have any real chance at success. The vision is simple: to build a nationwide wireless broadband network that encourages public safety and resiliency through reliable and accurate information sharing.
In theory this will work, but according to Dusty Rhoads of the Office of Emergency Communications, the country lacked a framework or plan for national emergency communication prior to July of 2008. Again this is why the extent of information sharing across not only through the different levels of government but also between the public and private sectors, will determine the efectiveness of FirstNet.
This brings the discussion back to the core issue of information sharing. Shared intelligence is the key to effective response efforts. The decisions made in the first moments of an incident determine the outcome of the overall response effort. Accordingly, a reliable, high-speed broadband network like FirstNet could greatly improve emergency management agencies’ ability to share such information and respond effectively to a range of incidents.
It seems as if every topic in emergency management comes back to information sharing, and FirstNet is no different. The network’s main purpose to facilitate this type of intelligence sharing will only come into practice if our nation’s emergency managers continue to discuss their realistic needs, capabilities and limitations.