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More communications-related activity than ever is impacting public safety. There are a number of reasons for this. First is the continued development and implementation of P25 standards for land-mobile-radio (LMR) systems.
Next, the 800-MHz rebanding process involving public safety, Sprint Nextel and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to move forward. Additionally, the looming FCC Narrowband Mandate takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.
The most recent and regularly publicized initiative involves legislation for additional 700-MHz public safety spectrum (D Block) and funding for the build-out of a nationwide public safety broadband wireless network. Lastly, new smartphone/tablet technology is transforming how we access data through a plethora of applications.
• Narrowband update. The FCC Narrowband Mandate was enacted more than 20 years ago to enhance radio spectrum efficiency. The FCC mandate requires all VHF and UHF public safety and industrial/business licensees using 25-kHz LMR systems to move to 12.5-kHz radio technology by Jan. 1, 2013. All agencies and organizations should be planning to meet this mandate. Meet with representatives from your organization’s radio service shop or visit manufacturer websites to ensure that base station transmitters, mobile and portable radios meet the requirement.
During the narrowbanding process, departments have learned that on occasion, there have been radio coverage changes that must be addressed. Additionally, localities involved in mutual aid agreements must coordinate the rebanding process to ensure that all radios are compatible.
At this writing, there was mention of possible legislation to extend the narrowband mandate for two years, but no assurance this would be enacted. Even if it requires additional funding and/or an extension, the FCC will look to see who is making a concerted effort to meet the mandate. For more information, see http://www.iafc.org/Operations/LegacyArticleDetail.cfm?ItemNumber=3421.
• Public safety communications evolution. By now, you have heard about public safety broadband communications from many viewpoints. Some even suggest that broadband systems will replace mission-critical LMR. This is not true for the near future because the technology that could make it possible does not exist. Those interested in understanding more about the future of public safety communications may look at the Public Safety Communications Evolution Brochure (http://www.safecomprogram.gov/library/lists/library/DispForm.aspx?ID=330), just released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications and the SAFECOM Program. This brochure is one of the best sources to see the path forward for public safety communications. It can be used to educate members of public safety and appointed and elected officials.
• Nationwide public safety broadband wireless network. The movement of legislation through Congress has been slow and challenging. Currently, there is legislation in both the Senate and the House of Representatives for building a nationwide public safety broadband wireless network and allocating additional radio spectrum (the D Block) along with funding. The primary bill that has unanimous national public safety support is S. 911. At the time of this article, the Jobs Act of 2011 was moving forward. The Jobs Act has several issues concerning public safety and the two most significant items involve a required giveback of 700-MHz narrowband spectrum and the proposed administrator governance model. These issues and others are being addressed by all of the major national public safety organizations through the Public Safety Alliance. For additional information, see www.psafirst.org.