Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mesmerized by Technology Department: "Hoping to solve problems fingered by a 9/11 commission, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted a Third Report and Order (Order) and Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) drafted to advance communications interoperability for U.S. first responders."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Critical Stewardship

A friend recently wondered why so many large radio projects for public safety are on the skids. The answer is many-faceted, but the common characteristic of successful projects is simple: Critical stewardship.

Fiscal discipline is the heart of critical stewardship. Stewards include not only the users of such systems, but elected representatives and, ultimately, the public that pays for them. Costs - all costs - are examined from the beginning. Sources of funding are closely examined, with conservative assumptions taken with fiscal questions. Funding is assumed to come directly from the affected jurisdictions rather than taxpayers in others who are already paying for their own needs. Cautious practicality serves best, avoiding emotional appeals and purveyors of glittering generalities.

The simple question can be asked, "Is this sustainable?" Sustainability includes operation, maintenance, and life cycle replacement of systems. If those costs, alone, are prohibitive, some other "solution" is in order. The features and promised benefits may be attractive, but "Field of Dreams" projects are generally irresponsible - unless they are funded by individuals, companies, or directly-accountable officials who will bear the costs if failure befalls.
Emergency Support Function #2 - The United States' National Response Framework (NRF) defines a series of emergency support functions or ESFs. The second of these is communications. According to the NRF, "[c]ommunications supports the restoration of the communications infrastructure, facilitates the recovery of systems and applications from cyber attacks, and coordinates Federal communications support to response efforts during incidents requiring a coordinated Federal response." The National Communications System, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), coordinates doctrine and implementation of ESF #2. It also has the primary Federal responsibility for support of restoration of common carrier capabilities following disasters, while the DHS Federal Emergency Management Agency has primary Federal responsibility for assisting restoration of public safety communications capabilities.

While ESF #2 activations outside of major emergencies or disasters are rare, the concept of ESFs is useful in discussing the functional centers of necessary capabilities and support during emergencies.
All-Hazards ICS COML Website - The website linked here provides official information on the all-hazards Communications Leader (COML) position under the Incident Command System (ICS) of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) developed the training and conducted a series of classes nationwide that had over 2,000 participants. There is an unofficial Yahoo Group where many ongoing questions are asked and answered by practitioners.
All-Hazards ICS Communications Unit Leader (COML) - The State of Tennessee has been a leader in using the Incident Command System (ICS) to improve communications during emergencies. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has adopted standardized training for all-hazards ICS Communications Unit Leaders (COMLs) and procedures for credentialing at three levels, starting at the local level. There's even a Yahoo group for Tennessee COMLs.

Combined with ongoing support of state officials, these steps make Tennessee one of the best prepared states in the nation to assure response-level emergency communications needs are met.
Communications Technician (COMT) Training Courses: "Communications Technician (COMT) Training Courses" - All-hazards ICS Communications Technician training is ramping up. This week-long course, developed by the DHS Office of Emergency Communications, is designed to provide individuals who will serve in the role of a COMT during incident response with skills and resources. This is the official, all-hazards training for the ICS position.