SOLiD and the Safer Buildings Coalition returned to APCO’s annual conference to engage the industry to advance strategies for applying wireless technology to ensure in-building communications for the public and first responders. It’s a topic we initiated in earnest in 2012 in front an FCC Panel and spoke about at APCO 2012.
In contrast to our panel presentation last year which drew audience members who were mainly curious, this year our roundtable attracted myriad stakeholders actively engaging, debating and seeking solutions.
With a nod to the importance of the topic, APCO scheduled us to kick off the week of education sessions.
Our elite group of panelists included Jonathan Adelstein (President & CEO of PCIA and former Commissioner of the FCC), Robert LeGrande (Founder of The Digital Decision and former CTO for the District of Columbia) and James Teel (Director of Business Development at Harris Corporation) who all brought their A-games and great perspectives.
What’s notable is that industry interest in solving for the Public Safety “last mile” – enabling coverage inside buildings – appears to be tracking with momentum fueled by the advances of FirstNet.
(Remember that only a year ago, FirstNet board members were announced)
One of the key questions we’re exploring is whether in-building will be a topic FirstNet will wrestle with or whether it will be left to the local jurisdictions to solve.
What is Public-Safety?
We believe public-safety coverage inside buildings means three things:
- People are notified when there is an emergency
- People can communicate during the emergency
- First responder radio systems work when they show up at the emergency
First responder radios – today as narrowband Land Mobile Radios (LMR) and in the future as wideband LTE-based radios – suffer from the same problem as cellular smartphones: reflective glass and heavy construction obstruct outdoor wireless radio frequencies from penetrating into the building. Which is exacerbated for fire fighters and emergency personnel in stairwells and underground parking areas.
Put simply, communication for both the general public and first responders is mission-critical.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think that public-safety radios should work indoors.
But a key reality is that both cellular and public-safety are two radically different worlds. Curiously, in-building is a rare intersection of the two.
DAS has long been deployed to enable in-building cellular service. And industry experts increasingly consider DAS to be a effective platform to enable public-safety.
(Check out our video on the Bellevue Collection where the DAS supports cellular and public-safety communications)
Yet industry stakeholders cite objections to an unfunded mandate to provide indoor public-safety including technical, liability, cost and management.
As a result, for every 100 cellular DAS deployments, there are only one or two in-building public-safety installations.
Nearly everyone agrees that now is the time to be having these conversations because without leadership and action, we stand to lose the opportunity to ensure that infrastructure being deployed for cellular can also help first responders protect others and themselves.
These in-building networks must possess technical characteristics to be “public-safety grade” with reliability, survivability, capacity, coverage and LTE capability.
While just about anyone can get litigated, provisions and incentives should be made – perhaps as a good Samaritan law or safe harbor – to protect stakeholders who deploy networks that meet appropriate standards to enable public-safety communications indoors.
A business model must be created to service FirstNet and the vision of public-safety. The addition of public-safety to a cellular DAS is an incremental cost. An insightful question from an audience member was whether insurance incentives offset the network investment?
Lastly, best-practices need to be created and required for those who design, install, manage and maintain these mission-critical unified in-building networks.
Inspire & Require
Perhaps the best summation of how to achieve the vision of in-building public-safety came from Rob LeGrande who, in his tenure as CTO of the District of Columbia, navigated the challenges of deploying a public-safety network throughout city’s Metro subway system.
Reminiscent of the Teddy Roosevelt “Big Stick Ideology” (speak softly, and carry a big stick), he observed that balancing need, technology, cost and policy demand the right mix of inspiration and requirement.
Multiple resources – including APCO, PCIA and Safer Buildings Coalition – are and must continue to collaborate to lead this initiative because a great idea poorly implemented simply dies on the vine.
Did you attend APCO – what captured your attention this year?
APCO, DAS, In-Building Wireless, Public Safety, Public Safety Radio, Safer Buildings Coalition