Tom Sorley, chairman of FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) and a leading technical voice for public-safety communications, died unexpectedly on Saturday at his home after suffering an apparent cardiac event. He was 53.

Sorley was the deputy chief information officer (CIO) and deputy director IT for public safety for city of Houston, where he had worked for the last decade. Sorley led the deployment of Houston’s $130 million P25 system, led a city-county interoperability initiative, and played a key role in the city’s communications efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey hitting the city last fall.

Sorley began his public-safety-communication career more than 30 years ago, working in the 911 center for the city of Orlando, according to Marilyn Ward, who worked in the Orlando 911 center at the time and is now the executive director of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC). Sorley’s natural technical savvy quickly became obvious, and “was instrumental” in writing requirements for the center’s first computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, Ward said.

“It was natural; this guy was brilliant,” Ward said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “He was off-the-charts smart.”

Sorley was promoted to the 911 center’s shift supervisor, but he was moved to the radio-manager position as the city of Orlando built its 800 MHz LMR system. In 2000, Sorley became the radio manager for Orange County, Fla., where he improved and regionalized the county’s LMR network prior to moving to Houston just over a decade ago, Ward said.

Although not an engineer, Sorley was known for his technology expertise, which he coupled with a quick wit and the ability to explain even difficult concepts to non-technical people.

“That was his biggest strength: explaining to people the most technical things, so that you understood what it was about,” Ward said. “That was, to me, one of his absolutely best qualities. He could take the most difficult situations—technology or whatever—and make it so anybody could understand it. It served us all very well over the years.”

On a national level, Sorley became a leading advocate for public-safety communications, serving as the longtime chairman of the NPSTC technology committee. Sorley stepped down from that NPSTC position last year after being named chairman of the FirstNet PSAC.

“Tom was a long-time participant of NPSTC and chaired the Technology and Broadband Committee for many years,” NPSTC said in a prepared statement. “His presence and wisdom will be greatly missed in our community. We benefited from knowing him, being challenged by his intellect, and enjoying his humor. We are all profoundly impacted by this loss. His contributions to public safety will be felt for decades.”

In 2015, NPSTC selected Sorley as the recipient of the Radio Club of America’s Richard DeMello Award, which “recognizes an individual in public safety communications who has demonstrated the highest levels of personal and professional conduct and performance in local, state and national public-safety communications.”

Sorley was selected as the FirstNet PSAC chairman last spring after serving as a PSAC vice chairman since the organization’s establishment in 2013. As PSAC chairman, Sorley succeeded Harlin McEwen, who retired after FirstNet awarded its nationwide contract to AT&T last spring.