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As those in public safety have long known and many official reports have codified, there are five key issues that hamper public safety wireless telecommunications today. There is a serious need for more radio spectrum, technologies to enhance the use of that spectrum, funding for planning and coordination, standards to enable equipment that can communicate across jurisdictions and disciplines, all of which will support the fifth key issue — the critical interoperable communications capability that saves lives and property in major disasters and in every day incidents.
The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) reflects the key elements required to provide mission-critical public safety telecommunications in the makeup of its four standing committees — the Interoperability, Spectrum Management, Technology and Regional Planning Committees. The final component — that all-important human factor needed for planning, governance and coordination — is inherent in the way NPSTC develops its positions and recommendations to support public safety telecommunications through the consensus of its 14 member organizations, derived by discussion, research and more discussion.
Who is NPSTC? NPSTC represents the collective voices of law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, transportation, radio folks — from in-the-field first responders to techies to the amateur radio community. NPSTC is frequency coordinators, telecommunication directors, and forest, fish and wildlife administrators.
"Our work has never been more important as the breakdown in communications experienced during Hurricane Katrina so poignantly illustrates. Hurricane Katrina graphically illustrated what emergency responders have known for a long time," says NPSTC Chair Vincent Stile. "We need to explore new technologies to bring about interoperability and to provide redundancy to public safety telecommunications. We need to work together across disciplines and promote and use common nomenclatures before catastrophic events occur. We need more radio spectrum to communicate with each other and to utilize life-saving technologies. We need to plan wisely and utilize the valuable resources that exist in the Regional Planning Committees (RPCs) and the State Interoperability Executive Committees (SIECs)."What NPSTC Does
NPSTC serves as a standing forum for the exchange of ideas and information, and works to identify and promote methods for funding development of public safety communications systems. NPSTC also performs research, conducting studies of public safety communications, and uses research to stay abreast of user needs. NPSTC communicates information on technology, research and policy issues to the field through its website at www.npstc.org and through its quarterly newsletter, npstc spectrum, and its online publication, What you need to know today, and through informational panels at public safety meetings.
As representatives of the public safety community, NPSTC has prepared a number of filings to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). NPSTC's first filing was in response to FCC Docket 96-86 concerning the initial rules for the 700 MHz public safety band. "This NPSTC filing was the largest and most detailed filing ever made to the FCC by the public safety community," says McEwen, "and that filing laid the groundwork for many of the FCC's later decisions on the 700 MHz band."
In 2004, the FCC adopted a Memorandum Opinion and Order (MO&O) on issues surrounding the 50 MHz allotted to support the broadband wireless needs of local and state public safety agencies in the 4.9 GHz band. When the FCC indicated that it wanted more technical detail on the issue of interference under a looser emission mask, NPSTC created a very detailed simulation of a public safety communications scenario that clearly demonstrated to the FCC that public safety can use this spectrum very effectively without the need to go to a stricter mask, placing constraints on current equipment.