View from the Top

Maximizing the potential of the NPSBN and NG911

Both the next-generation 911 (NG911) and the nationwide public-safety broadband networks (NPSBN) promise to be game-changing public-safety communications networks. They will be even better, if they are integrated properly.

There is ample precedent for this network unification. For example, there was a time not that long ago when each branch of the military had its own communications network. That is no longer the case. Today, the Department of Defense (DOD) operates the Non-Classified IP Router Network, or NIPRNet, which is used by the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard to exchange non-classified information. Similarly, the DOD and the Department of State use the Secret IP Router Network, or SIPRNet, to exchange classified information—again, one shared platform, not two siloed networks.

The same lessons were learned by the business community. Think about a large bank with multiple branches, or a large hospital with multiple campuses. Does each branch or campus have its own communications network? Of course not. In each case, a single communications network serves all of the branches or campuses. The result is the seamless exchange of data, as well as reduced costs associated with network implementation, security, operation and maintenance.

Billions of dollars will be invested in capital and user fees over the next couple of decades to enhance public-safety communications. It makes no sense at all in today’s environment to duplicate efforts by building two separate networks, which is the current approach being applied to the NPSBN and NG911. Why is public safety insisting on pursuing a path that the military and business communities long ago proved to be woefully inefficient? What is needed instead—to maximize the enormous financial investment—is a single public-safety communications platform that serves the public and all of the first-responder communities, including 911.

History tells us that technology is most valuable when it improves the user experience. In the case of the technologies that will be leveraged by the NPSBN and NG911, they ultimately will be measured by their ability to enhance emergency response and to keep first responders safer. Again, this ability will be enhanced by developing a unified communications platform with the NPSBN and NG911 integrated at the core.

The possibilities for leveraging the synergies between the NPSBN and NG911 are virtually endless, if they are integrated. One example is that workgroups could be created in a unified platform, similar to the talkgroups that exist today in 800 MHz trunking systems. All sorts of data files could be dropped into such workgroups, and accessed by members—police, fire, emergency medical services (EMS), 911 and more—on an as-needed basis. That won’t be possible, if the NPSBN and NG911 are implemented as standalone networks.

Yet another benefit of integrating the NPSBN and NG911 at the core of a unified communications platform is that a single set of cybersecurity policies can be developed. An enormous amount of data will pass between these two networks, so it is imperative that they operate under the same requirements to reduce the likelihood of a cybersecurity breach of either system.

Of course, integrating the NPSBN and NG911 is only half the battle; both networks also must be ubiquitous from coast to coast, as one without the other in any given area really doesn’t work—recall that much of the data generated by the NPSBN technology will find its way into the nation’s 911 centers, which will need NG911 technology to process it all. But there are vexing challenges that stand in the way of joint ubiquity. Most of those challenges concern NG911, which has not received anywhere near the level of support from the federal government—particularly from a financial perspective—that the NPSBN has received thus far.

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