One big step for public safety; one small step toward the ultimate goal
My favorite movie is Pulp Fiction. My favorite scene occurs late in Quentin Tarantino’s film noir, when Vincent accidentally shoots a fellow hoodlum, creating quite the mess in Jules’s car. A master troubleshooter named Winston Wolfe is dispatched to help the boys clean up the mess, a task that is handled admirably by Vincent and Jules, who — understandably, given the circumstances — are quite pleased with themselves. At this point, Mr. Wolfe, ever the stern taskmaster, cautions Vincent and Jules against, ahem, celebrating too prematurely or enthusiastically, as there still remains the not-so-small matter of getting rid of the body without being caught doing so.
I think this scene is analogous to the situation in which the public-safety sector currently finds itself. As Senior Writer Donny Jackson reported last week, the tide seems to have turned regarding the D Block, as several influential members of the U.S. Senate now support the reallocation of these vital airwaves to public safety, rather than auctioning them to commercial interests. This by itself is a huge victory, given the power of the commercial wireless companies lobbying for the spectrum to be auctioned. Did anyone think as recently as three months ago that this remotely was possible? I know I didn’t. If public safety is able to pull this off and defeat the commercial wireless lobby on this matter, it will rank alongside Jets vs. Colts and David vs. Goliath as one of the greatest upsets of all time.
Without question, getting its hands on the D Block would be a huge leap forward for public safety in terms of the nationwide broadband network it covets. But it also is the first step in a very long journey that will follow along a path pocked with myriad potholes and speed bumps. Funding for the network has to be secured, years of installation work has to be done, individual agencies have to somehow find the cash to purchase the equipment that will let them leverage the network and Long-Term Evolution — the chosen next-generation technology for this network — has to evolve from its current data-centric form to one that also accommodates voice. All of this needs to occur for this network to fully realize its potential. In the meantime, to paraphrase Winston Wolfe, the public-safety sector will need to guard against getting too far ahead of itself.
Chris Essid, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications, said something similar last month during an Urgent Communications webinar on interoperable communications. (Click here to access the archived event.) Essid wasn’t addressing the D Block specifically, but rather the network itself.
“The dangerous thing, in my opinion, is that there’s a lot of misinformation out there and unrealistic expectations that, three years from now, everybody in public safety is going to leave whatever frequency band they’re using and they’re going to migrate to this [network] and they’re going to be on there with a Blackberry-type device. … That’s a scary thing. We have to set realistic expectations that this is a data network to begin with, with the potential to move to mission-critical voice,” Essid said.
Accordingly, the DHS’s National Emergency Communications plan will be updated to reflect a dual-path approach to first-responder communications, Essid said. “We want to ensure that the current land-mobile-radio communications are available for mission-critical voice, while also pursuing and standardizing the next-generation technologies like broadband,” he said. “We want to show that these next-generation technologies aren’t going to replace current mission-critical voice systems, but maybe they will tomorrow, and we have to figure out how to migrate to that point when [the technology] is ready.”
The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once opined that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s a philosophy that public safety would do well to embrace.
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