Public safety readies for final push on Capitol Hill
On Tuesday, I shared with our readers highlights of a conversation I had with outgoing APCO President Bill Carrow during the association's conference last week in Philadelphia. Today, it's incoming president Gregory Riddle's turn. He provides insight on where things stand with federal legislation that would reallocate the vital 700 MHz D block spectrum to public safety and provide the funding to build the nationwide broadband network that the sector long has coveted. He also offers insight on how communications have changed dramatically over his four-decade-long career.
As you begin your term as APCO's president, what excites you about public-safety communications?
I always find technology exciting — it always has piqued my interest above and beyond most other things. Today we're moving forward with next-generation 911, which will give us the ability to take a wider variety of information from the public and then push that out to first responders, so that they have a better idea of what they're going to face when they arrive on the scene. And, of course, the next great thing that's coming our way is broadband.
Speaking of broadband, public safety is on the cusp of getting the D Block spectrum and nationwide wireless network it long has coveted — something few thought would happen. What turned the tide?
That drive picked up steam and support when the Public Safety Alliance came together. That was critical to our success. We are where we are today because public safety came together to speak with a unified voice.
Right now, though, the drive seems to be stalled on the 10-yard line, as legislation that would reallocate the D Block and provide funding for the network is bogged down. What happened?
The reason we're stuck in the red zone, unable to move the ball over the goal line, primarily is the debt issue. But it's also a timing issue, with Congress being in recess. But we're prepared, as soon as they come back to Washington, to put on one last push before Sept. 11. We may not make it as we had hoped, but the 10-year anniversary still is a significant deadline.
Staying with the football analogy, is there any fear that if public safety doesn't get into the end zone soon, it might get sacked for a loss?
I don't think so. I think we're all very confident that we're going to win this, especially considering where we started from and how quickly we were able to move the ball down the field. The bottom line is that both the Republicans and Democrats agree that we need this technology. But we still need to educate the House Republicans as to why we need [the D Block] allocated instead of auctioned. They're looking at the dollars and cents, and not the resources we need to be able to leverage this technology.
Didn't the legislation introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) address some of these concerns?
We believe that S.911 is a great win-win. Obviously, this is not a cheap technology — we're looking at $10 billion to $12 billion, which is what was suggested by the FCC to be able to do this nationwide. But Sen. Rockefeller's legislation not only gives us what we need to build this nationwide public safety broadband pipe for data, it also provides significant money — $6.5 billion — that would be generated through incentive auctions of other spectrum and which would go to deficit reduction.
What will it take to convince House Republicans to get on board?
Obviously, we're going to continue to push and try to educate. But what it is going to take is pressure from first responders and telecommunicators. They need to start making calls and sending e-mails. We're still confident. We may not get legislation enacted by Sept. 11, but we are hopeful that S.911 will come to the floor right after they come back, and that will drive the House to come out with matching legislation and we will bring this to a conclusion by the end of the year.
How much different is today's technology compared with when you started your career?
To give you an idea, I was a firefighter and when I came on the job in 1971, we had what was called a pre-fire plan program. Off-duty firefighters would draw building footprints and put in the key elements related to the fire service, such as sprinkler controls, hazardous chemicals that were stored in the building, the exits, sprinkler connections, things like that. Once they did that, they would take a 35 mm slide of their drawing, place the slide in a carousel and the put the carousel on a Lazy Susan device that was constructed by one of the firemen.
How were the slides used?
When we would get a call, the dispatcher would pull out the right tray, put it in a slide projector and then project onto a screen the key bits of information related to that response. They would then communicate that information over the radio to firefighters at the scene. Now we can send the same information electronically in nanoseconds.
Find video of Glenn Bischoff's interview with Greg Riddle on Urgent Communications' Facebook page.
Previous: An interview with outgoing APCO President Bill Carrow.