Emergency Communications

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Huricane Katrina and other man-made and natural disasters often reveal flaws in emergency communications systems. Here we attempt to chart the effects of disasters on our telecommunications and media communications systems -- and efforts by policymakers to stregthen these systems.

Is a Verizon FirstNet Plan in the Works? FCC Letter Seeks Clarification

When the Commerce Department earlier in 2017 awarded the contract to build the FirstNet nationwide mobile broadband public safety network to AT&T, it wasn’t a done deal for all 50 states. Individual states still must opt in (which at least five already have done) or opt out of AT&T’s plan for the state. And as a Verizon FirstNet letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission July 24 illustrates, there are a lot of questions about what opting out means.

As Verizon notes in the letter, states opting out are permitted to use a different network operator to build and operate the public safety network within the state, as long as the network is interoperable with FirstNet. But there are some major gray areas, according to Verizon, including whether or not an individual state can use their selected carrier’s “network core” to support the state’s public safety network. The “network core” includes “data centers and systems used to interconnect users to each other and to other public networks,” Verizon said.

FirstNet is Developing An Applications Ecosystem With Public Safety

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created to equip America’s first responders with state-of-the-art communications tools, enabled by the first nationwide interoperable, wireless broadband network. But FirstNet is doing much more than building a communications network: the organization is also working to drive continuous innovation over the Network – including the development of an open, integrated applications ecosystem tailored for public safety users.

Through FirstNet’s outreach to public safety, first responders have told them about the advantages of data communications in the field and their growing use of mobile broadband tools and technologies to help save lives. They have heard from responders at station visits, city and state meetings, training opportunities and ride-alongs about the promise of using applications over the FirstNet Network. FirstNet is taking first responders’ feedback and using their ideas to cultivate an open, integrated applications ecosystem on the FirstNet Network, so that public safety personnel will have access to more targeted applications and more timely data than ever before possible.

GAO Report: FirstNet Has Made Progress Establishing the Network, but Should Address Stakeholder Concerns and Workforce Planning

The US Government Accountability Office was asked to review FirstNet’s progress and efforts to ensure the network is reliable, secure, and interoperable. GAO (1) examined FirstNet’s efforts to establish the network; (2) obtained stakeholder views on network reliability, security, and interoperability challenges FirstNet faces and its efforts to address them; and (3) assessed FirstNet’s plans to oversee its network contractor. GAO reviewed FirstNet documentation, key contract oversight practices identified in federal regulations and other sources, tribal communication practices identified by federal agencies, and assessed FirstNet’s efforts and plans against these practices. GAO also interviewed FirstNet officials and a nongeneralizable selection of publicsafety, tribal, and other stakeholders selected to obtain a variety of viewpoints. GAO recommends that FirstNet fully explore tribal stakeholders’ concerns and assess its long-term staffing needs. FirstNet agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

Apple patents way to secretly call 911 using your fingerprint

Apple has patented a process that would allow users to secretly call 911 using only their fingerprint. In a patent published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the tech giant outlined a feature that would allow users to call emergency services "when a conventional method may not be practical." Although it's already possible to call 911 through the lockscreen on iOS devices, this would allow users to reach out for help when an attacker or assailant is watching, the patent said. The company suggests the technology would look for a sequence of fingerprints or applied pressure to trigger a 911 call.

When dialing 9-1-1 doesn’t work and how Kari’s Law helps fix it

Soon after his daughter's funeral, Hank Hunt began reaching out to dozens of resources to make sure his tragedy never happens to anyone else. His mission: to ensure 9-1-1 could be dialed directly from any landline phone from any public building in the US. He names it “Kari’s Law.”

A few state legislatures have passed Kari’s Law and Congress is considering nationwide action. But Verizon didn’t wait for a government mandate. Verizon began updating the network we use in our landline territory to serve multi-line customers and allow for direct dialing of 9-1-1, becoming the industry leader in making the goal of Kari’s Law a reality. The project is 97% complete and by summer’s end it will be at 99% with the final changes scheduled to be finished before the end of 2017.

Virginia is First State to Opt in to AT&T FirstNet Plan

Virginia is expected to be the first state to opt in to AT&T FirstNet plans to build a wireless public safety network that ultimately will interconnect with public safety networks in all 50 states. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe announced the decision at an event July 11.

Why your emergency call might not be answered

Experts and government officials say 911 systems across the country are dangerously outdated and putting lives at risk, while 911 fees consumers pay on monthly phone bills to maintain and upgrade the systems are often diverted by states for other uses. In fact, Scripps found that two dozen states were named “diverters” by the Federal Communications Commission at least once from 2008-2015, and some were repeat offenders. Experts warn that the nation’s antiquated patchwork of 911 systems is an easy target for hackers who want to wreak havoc and criminals who want to hijack 911 and demand a ransom.

Michigan may consider Rivada's bid alongside FirstNet

Rivada Networks said it received the top score among three bidders to build Michigan’s statewide public safety broadband network. But that doesn’t at all mean it will beat out FirstNet for its first statewide win.

Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget recommended that the state analyze Rivada’s bid alongside FirstNet’s proposal “to determine the best value bid for the state,” the company said this morning in a release. Michigan is the second state to select a vendor for a potential alternative to FirstNet, Rivada said, following the lead of New Hampshire, which is also considering Rivada’s offering. “We are honored that our alternative plan for public safety broadband in Michigan will have the chance to be placed side-by-side with the federal government’s offering,” said Declan Ganley, Rivada’s co-CEO, in the announcement. “By putting out this RFP (request for proposal), Michigan has given its governor a real choice, as envisioned in the legislation that created FirstNet.”

Consumer Protection Month at the FCC

Americans are reaping the benefits of rapid and exciting changes in the ways we communicate. But many of the problems that consumers confront stubbornly remain. For too long, Americans have been plagued by unwanted and unlawful robocalls. For too long, they’ve found unauthorized charges and changes to their phone service on their bills—practices commonly known as “slamming” and “cramming.” And for too long, some phone calls that are placed to rural residents have been dropped. Efforts to excommunicate this unholy triad of consumer scourges—unlawful robocalls, slamming/cramming, and rural call completion—headline the FCC’s agenda in July. During Consumer Protection Month, we will take up several public interest initiatives to address problems that too many Americans face.

FCC Acts to Support Deployment of Nationwide Public Safety Network

The Federal Communications Commission took action to support the deployment of a nationwide network for use by first responders. The decision, consistent with duties entrusted to the FCC by Congress, will help ensure that state-built portions of the network are interoperable with the core network so that public safety officials can communicate seamlessly with each other during emergencies.

The FCC established the standards and procedures it will use to review state plans. The decision addresses:

  • The timeline for states to provide notification of their opt-out decisions and file plans with the FCC;
  • Information states should include in their plans to demonstrate compliance with the statutory criteria for interoperability with FirstNet’s network;
  • Some of the technical criteria and standards that the FCC will use in evaluating state plans;
  • The FCC’s review process, including participation by interested parties, treatment of confidential information, and the timing of FCC action; and
  • The FCC’s process for documenting its decisions to approve or disapprove state plans.

In addition, in light of recent filings by FirstNet in the docket, the Report and Order directs the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to issue a Public Notice seeking comment on one remaining element of the FCC’s review standard, after which the FCC will issue an order on that element.