FirstNet Deputy GM Kennedy discusses outreach, innovation
Public-safety communications veteran TJ Kennedy last month was hired to be FirstNet’s deputy general manager, a post that was attractive to him because of the broader mission to establish an interoperable, nationwide broadband network for first responders.
“Being a former police officer and firefighter, I know how important being able to have additional communications, having reliable and redundant broadband communications and having better information in the hands of police officers, firefighters and paramedics can be,” Kennedy said during an interview with Urgent Communications.
“For me, that’s why it’s so important. … At the end of the day, it’s to give those great tools to first responders in the field, so that police officers, firefighters and paramedics can be safer and do their jobs.”
In his new position, Kennedy supports FirstNet General Manager Bill D’Agostino in managing the organization and helping provide a public-safety perspective to the initiative. To this end, one of Kennedy’s primary tasks is to lead FirstNet’s outreach efforts, which previously was headed by FirstNet board member Jeff Johnson.
During the summer, FirstNet conducted six regional meetings with representatives from 55 of the 56 states and territories that will be covered by the broadband network, and individual meetings with the entities will be conducted as well, beginning this fall. To get the word out to local jurisdictions, FirstNet is participating in events run by a variety of first-responder associations, he said.
“It doesn’t matter which association it is; we’re trying to actively engage them,” Kennedy said. “It’s a great way to get to many cities, many counties, many police departments, many fire departments and many EMS agencies. That’s just another way for us to reach out to many different groups.
“We’re also doing that with some tribal associations, and we’re doing that with others. I think we’re trying to reach out in many cross and diverse ways that will help us reach the broad audience.”
In the meantime, there are things that local first-responder agencies can do to prepare for the day when FirstNet provides dedicated broadband service to their locations, Kennedy said.
“At the simplest level is look at what are ways that you could work in the future to make your operations safer or more effective by using broadband tools as they come online,” he said. “I think, in the very short term, working with your state points of contact and your communication leads to see how you can engage and share information across your department.
“As we move forward, we’re going to set up a tool on our website, so people can opt in to receive messages on status updates and information.”
And the FirstNet system is designed to serve all of public safety, not just personnel in the big cities, Kennedy emphasized.
“In Los Angeles and New York, there are departments that are using a lot of advanced tools in the field and using them over commercial cellular or commercial broadband today—or over their own networks, in some cases,” he said. “Those are pretty impressive—a great array of tablets, computers, handheld devices, applications and all sorts of wireless technology that helps improve public safety.
“I think you’ll see a lot more areas in the country that will now have access to some of that great capability that we’ve seen sometimes only in metro areas. We want to make sure that rural areas, suburban areas and urban areas all can benefit from that great innovation. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Kennedy said he was “pleased” with the equipment and solutions on display during the recent Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) show in Anaheim, Calif. One of the priorities for FirstNet is to help foster innovations within the applications space, he said.
“We’re continuing to encourage everyone—from young students through expert application developers—to continue to innovate in the public-safety arena,” Kennedy said. “One of the things we’re seeing is a great desire by all sorts of groups to be able to create applications that will make a difference to public safety.
“There are already people coming out with applications today—some of them in commercial marketplace, some of them in the public-safety marketplace. And we’re continuing to listen. When we go out and meet with public-safety agencies, we’re asking them what they want to see, and we’re trying to learn from that—that’s been terrific.”
Some of FirstNet’s core value proposition—reliable broadband connectivity and a nationwide footprint—should be attractive to applications developers, Kennedy said.
“I certainly think a more robust network is going to drive better innovation than some of the smaller-bandwidth apps than we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “I also think a much broader base of public-safety users is going to drive a much broader base of applications.”