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.

Text to 911 Poses Technology, Funding and Political Challenges

The ability to send text messages to 911 anywhere in the US could enhance public safety answering points’ (PSAPs’) ability to respond to emergency situations – and could be particularly important when the person contacting the PSAP is unable to place a traditional phone call. But although some PSAPs already support text to 911 capability, the capability is far from ubiquitous, and achieving it more broadly will require addressing technology, funding and political issues.

Telecompetitor learned more about those issues in a recent interview with executives from NGA911, one of several companies that has developed technology to support text to 911. “911 is a national brand implemented at the municipal level — in most cases, with no state coordinating agency,” said NGA911 CEO Don Ferguson.People “have the perception that it’s consistent but that’s very far from the truth,” he said.

NIST Awards $38.5 Million to Accelerate Public Safety Communications Technologies

The US Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded $38.5 million to 33 research and development (R&D) projects aimed at advancing broadband communications technologies for first responders. The multiyear grants are intended to help modernize public safety communications and operations by supporting the migration of data, video and voice communications from mobile radio to a nationwide public safety broadband network, as well as accelerating critical technologies related to indoor location tracking and public safety analytics.

Rivada fights on, aims to provide states with alternative to AT&T’s FirstNet

Rivada Networks might have lost the FirstNet contract to AT&T, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still in the game. Led by co-CEOs Declan Ganley and former Sprint CFO Joe Euteneuer, Rivada Networks continues to respond to states that issue RFPs seeking input from vendors willing to build and maintain a statewide public safety LTE radio access network (RAN) that would be interoperable with FirstNet’s network. While FirstNet as an organization wants to see all the states opt in to the network it’s creating with AT&T, the law said states must be given the option to opt out. According to Ganley, that’s an important piece of the entire FirstNet endeavor. Spectrum was specifically allocated to FirstNet in part because public safety wanted to move away from the “stove piping” of the past where one vendor dominated. Moving to the inherently open LTE standard provided a way to do that.

After bomb threats, FCC proposes letting police unveil anonymous callers

Police should be allowed to unmask anonymous callers who have made serious threats over the phone, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed. The proposal would allow law enforcement, and potentially the person who’s been called, to learn the phone number of an anonymous caller if they receive a “serious and imminent” threat that poses “substantial risk to property, life, safety, or health.” Specifics are still up in the air. The FCC is asking, for instance, whether unveiled caller ID information should only be provided to law enforcement officials investigating a threat, to ensure that this exemption isn’t abused.

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for June Open Meeting

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the June Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 22, 2017:

New Emergency Alert System Event Code For Blue Alerts – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would amend the Commission’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules to add a dedicated event code, “BLU,” for Blue Alerts, so that EAS alerts can deliver actionable information to the public when a law enforcement officer is killed, seriously injured, missing in connection with his or her official duties, or if there is an imminent and credible threat to a law enforcement officer. (PS Docket No. 15-94)

First Responder Network Authority – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that establishes the procedures and standards the Commission will use to review alternative plans submitted by states seeking to "opt-out" of the FirstNet network and to build their own Radio
Access Networks that are interoperable with FirstNet. (PS Docket No. 16-269)

Exemption to Calling Number Identification Service – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would amend the Caller ID rules to allow disclosure of blocked Caller ID information to aid law enforcement in investigating threatening calls and continue the
waiver of those rules that is currently in effect for Jewish Community Centers. (CG Docket No. 91-281)

OneWeb Market Access Request – The Commission will consider an Order and Declaratory Ruling that recommends granting OneWeb’s request to be permitted to access the U.S. market using its proposed global non-geostationary satellite constellation for the provision of broadband communications services in the United States. (IBFS SAT-LOI-20160428-0041)

Improving Competitive Broadband Access to Multiple Tenant Environments – The Commission will consider a Notice of Inquiry that seeks comment on ways to facilitate greater consumer choice and enhance broadband deployment in multiple tenant environments such as
apartment buildings, condominium buildings, shopping malls, or cooperatives. The Notice of Inquiry further seeks comment on the current state of broadband competition in such locations and whether additional Commission action in this area is warranted to eliminate or reduce barriers faced by broadband providers that seek to serve the occupants of multiple tenant environments. (GN Docket No. 17-142)

Electronic Annual Notice Declaratory Ruling – The Commission will consider a Declaratory Ruling which would clarify that the “written information” that cable operators must provide to their subscribers via annual notices pursuant to Section 76.1602(b) of the Commission’s rules may be provided via e-mail. (MB Docket No. 16-126)

Modernization of Payphone Compensation Rules – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order that (1) proposes to eliminate the requirement that carriers that complete payphone calls conduct an annual audit of their payphone call tracking systems and file an associated annual audit report with the Commission, and (2) waives the annual audit and associated reporting requirement for 2017. (WC Docket Nos. 17- 141 and 16-132; CC Docket No. 96-128).

Enforcement Bureau Action
- The Commission will consider an enforcement action.

Supporting our Public Safety Heroes

One of the reasons why Congress created the Federal Communications Commission—a reason it embedded in the very first section of the Communications Act of 1934—was “for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.” At our next public meeting on June 22, the FCC will aim to meet this charge by considering three ways to help law enforcement and first responders do their jobs. We will recognize and support these often-unsung heroes during Public Safety Month at the Commission.