Public Safety Alliance: Virginia earthquake underscores need for dedicated network
Today's earthquake centered in Charlottesville, Va., highlights the need for public-safety agencies to have a dedicated network during large-scale events, instead of being forced to rely on commercial-carrier networks that struggle to handle increased demand during such scenarios, a public-safety consortium official said.
Reports indicate that the shock was measured as a 5.8- or 5.9-magnitude event, lasting about 30 seconds. Tremors were felt throughout the mid-Atlantic region and extended as far north as Toronto, according to some media.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, CTIA — the trade association for the commercial mobile wireless industry — issued a statement that encouraged users to attempt to communicate via data communications, because networks are so overloaded that it is difficult for voice calls to be completed.
"The industry's infrastructure appears to be intact, but because many wireless consumers are using the networks, we are experiencing higher-than-normal traffic," according to CTIA's statement. "In these high-volume instances, there can be delays. We encourage people to send text messages and e-mails to contact their loved ones until volume returns to normal."
The issues that commercial wireless customers faced during the emergency at this critical time underscores the need for public-safety agencies to operate on a dedicated network when such events occur, said Sean Kirkendall, a spokesman for the Public Safety Alliance (PSA). Some proposals call for public-safety personnel to be able to roam onto commercial networks during times of emergency, but public-safety officials have expressed concern that they would not be able to rely on access to the commercial networks.
"It reminds us why this is a top priority for us," Kirkendall said during an interview. "This is what public safety has been talking about — every single time you have incidents like this, this is exactly what happens. Commercial networks get overloaded and slow down.
"This idea that [public safety is] going to roam onto commercial networks when we need them in critical incidents is ludicrous. It's not going to happen, and we know it."
For the past two years, PSA and other public-safety organizations have lobbied Congress to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block — spectrum slated to be auctioned to commercial operators under current law — to public safety. This spectrum would be combined with 10 MHz of existing 700 MHz to provide the spectral foundation for a proposed nationwide public-safety LTE network.
Legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate that would reallocate the 700 MHz D Block to public safety and provide at least $10 billion in funding for the buildout of a nationwide broadband network for first responders.
While there are differences regarding the details for implementation, Beltway sources indicate that there are enough votes in the Senate to pass such a bill, and the White House has expressed its support. However, these efforts are expected to meet with significant opposition in the House of Representatives when Congress returns from recess next week.
Kirkendall said he is hopeful that today's earthquake will remind lawmakers about the need for a hardened, dedicated broadband network that allow first-responder agencies to operate effectively in times of crisis.
"I know that floor time is difficult [to secure], and they have a lot of issues to deal with," Kirkendall said. "But this is a priority that is way past time for them to bring forward."