APCO conference highlights public safety communications problems
(Pictured: Glen Nash, newly installed APCO president)
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International’s 67th national conference and exposition conducted Aug. 5–9 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City boasted a long list of committee meetings, educational sessions and featured speakers. MRT’s editorial director, Don Bishop, filed this summary of several speeches and sessions.
Incoming president — Newly installed APCO President Glen S. Nash said that the association would continue its efforts to speed the availability of wireless E9-1-1. “We will continue that fight until it becomes a reality because we know the role in protecting life and property,” he said.
The new president wants to improve APCO’s automatic frequency coordination service and to help the FCC with its universal licensing service. He identified resolution of 800MHz interference, improved frequency coordination with Canada and Mexico, and securing spectrum for future needs as goals for the association. Nash also said there was little evidence of progress in spectrum refarming, and he urged members to make plans to use more spectrum-efficient systems using Project 25-compliant equipment or other technologies.
Outgoing president — Lyle V. Gallagher, who completed his one-year term as APCO president, praised Executive Director John Ramsey for leading the association staff in a way that allowed the board of officers to focus on policy.
Wireless E9-1-1 — Joe L. Hanna, president of Directions, a Dallas consulting company that has been assisting PSAPs in wireless E9-1-1 Phase II implementation, said that the APCO board of directors had passed a resolution during the week of the conference that may increase carrier motivation on the subject. “The resolution asks that local governments procuring wireless services consider offering preferential points to carriers who are providing Phase II service,” he said.
Hanna cautioned carriers and PSAPs about their potential liability after the Oct. 1 Phase II deadline, suggesting that carriers who have been asked to provide service but don’t, and that PSAPS receiving cost recovery money without asking carriers for wireless E9-1-1 service, might face lawsuits. “When someone dies, someone wants someone to blame …. I would not want to be PSAP manager, police or fire chief, mayor or city manager explaining why I’m getting the money and I didn’t ask for wireless E9-1-1,” Hanna said.
Motorola ‘Greenhouse’ — Pinellas County, FL, has been testing high-speed data on a 150kHz-wide 700MHz channel using equipment provided by Motorola in a project dubbed “Greenhouse” to signify “planting” the equipment in a public safety environment to see what application ideas would grow.
“Greenhouse is enabling users to do in the field what they previously could only do at their desks,” said Pam Montanari, radio systems manager for the county’s emergency communications. “The project is giving our users input to these applications and providing decision-makers in the county the benefit of seeing how these technologies are applied.”
David P. Byrum, a communications engineer with the county sheriff’s communications maintenance division added: “We are interested in implementing mobile data in the sheriff’s department, and the county transportation department is interested in intelligent transportation systems. The county commission wants all departments to work together. Motorola’s project is heading the direction of integration that would tie everything together.”
Pinellas County is ready to upgrade from its third mobile data system since its first installation in 1975.
“Old technology can’t keep up with our needs. This project gives us an opportunity to meet our expectations. We want the 700MHz digital standards to be set soon,” Byrum said.
700MHz pre-coordination database — David Funk, deputy director at the National Correctional Law Enforcement Technology Center, a national support office of the National Institute of Justice in Denver, spoke about 700MHz Regional Planning Committee support funding and the center’s pre-coordination database.
“One criticism of the previous 800MHz NPSPAC band planning was that it was a mandate without funding. NPSTC went to NIJ and was successful in promoting a $2,500 fund for each regional planning committee. So far, we’ve funded 14 regional committees that have convened,” Funk said.
The center’s pre-coordination database offers substantial support to RPCs in allotting FCC-allocated frequencies for assignment to city, county and state agencies in their regions. The database is programmed to avoid a problem that came up with the 800MHz frequencies: depletion of allotments before the last-in RPCs got around to convening.
800MHz interferenceRoxAnn Brown, chairman of APCO’s Project 39 initiative to resolve interference from commercial carriers to public safety radio communications systems, explained what APCO wants the project to accomplish.
“We want to provide multiple, reality-based and, where possible, tested short-term (less than 12 months), mid-term (less than 24 months) and long-term solutions for 800MHz interference issues involving wireless and cellular providers and public safety that can be applied to eliminate life-safety communications interference within the United States,” she said.
Brown detailed the following goals: “Within six months, have all public safety 800MHz interference issues cataloged. Within 12 months, have all potential short-term interference solutions identified, tested and, where applicable, applied. Within 18 months, have all mid-term and long-term solutions identified and, where possible, tested. These solutions should be applied to at least two identified public safety agencies with interference issues to make sure they are doable.”
Morgan O’Brien, vice chairman of Nextel Communications, addressed the closing banquet and explained his company’s desire to resolve 800MHz interference. His remarks appear elsewhere on this Web site.
138MHz–144MHz sharing — Members of the APCO task force, charged with advancing shared use by public safety agencies of VHF highband frequencies allocated to the Department of Defense for military use, expressed frustration at a lack of progress.
“The sense I got from the military is they didn’t know what we meant by sharing,” said Vincent Stile, APCO’s first vice president, who chairs the task force.
APCO wants long-term sharing in geographic areas lacking military use; the military apparently favors short-term sharing where a large emergency or disaster may occur.
Also, discussion at the task force meeting indicated that agreements with the military seem to work out best at lower levels, such as state National Guard units, rather than with Washington officials. The Wisconsin use of 20 VHF frequency pairs assigned to the army was cited as an example where the initial request was approved at the state level, and a follow-up request for more frequency pairs to complete a statewide system was denied at the federal level.
John Powell of the UC Berkeley police commented: “The military has been put on notice that they have to share.”
Ali Shanami, president of ACD Telecom, replied: “They can come up with reasons to say no.”
Harlin R. McEwan of HRM Associates urged the task force to complete an anticipated white paper that would detail APCO’s concept of frequency sharing for use in negotiations with military officials.
Telematics — Robert W. Thompson, director of government affairs for ATX Technologies, Irving, TX, explained that, from the telematics service providers’ point of view, “Our job is to be a helping hand for drivers of vehicles we support. We don’t build nor do we install the hardware that we service. That is taken care of mostly by Motorola, Bosch and the automakers. By the time we’re involved, we have a vehicle equipped with hardware and a range of capabilities, and we negotiate the services to be provided.”
Services are provided to vehicle drivers and occupants on request and based on their location given by GPS information.
Thompson said that emergency calls always come to the telematics call center, never to the PSAP, to avoid ever having an emergency call interrupted with a request for a personal identification number or credit card number.
“We contracted with a large cellular provider who bonded our calls with every other carrier to ensure our calls never were interrupted for PIN or credit card. If you do that, the car can only dial one number and can only receive calls from one trunk group. With that, we can’t provide the PSAP with the capability to receive the call or to call back,” Thompson said.
Project MESA — A joint effort between U.S. and European standards-setting bodies, Project MESA (Mobility for Emergency Safety Applications) looks ahead to wideband data transmission that might boast data rates of 2Mbps or higher in frequency bands as high as 4.9GHz.
Andy MacFarlane, director of telecommunications for the Phoenix Fire Department, said that wideband data may help fire departments to increase personnel safety, improve the commander’s situational awareness, reduce the commander’s information overload and facilitate flexible on-site operational control by allowing assets to be repositioned.
“Key pieces include personal data for tracking firefighters’ physiological condition and environmental data for tracking equipment condition and smoke,” MacFarlane said.
John Powell, the communications coordinator for the University of California Police Department in Berkeley, CA, said that the ability to couple real-time video to link applications together would to give officers in the field the ability to see alternative views of an incident directly on a handset.
He also cited graffiti abatement as an application, “not for cleaning up, but for catching vandals in the act. We spend millions every year in this country abating graffiti.”
Powell said that the ability to send live video would allow dispatching officers to catch graffiti vandals where motion-sensitive cameras have been positioned in parking structures. “It’s difficult to win a case at court when you’re captured on video with a spray can doing your work. Where we do that it’s almost a 100% conviction rate,” he said.
Powell said that another application for live video is ordnance disposal.
“We need video, and command and control, of robots for disposing of large car bombs ad a broader category of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.