FirstNet single interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety communications

FirstNet begins to build its ecosystem

The FirstNet contract to build a nationwide public safety broadband network is less than two months old, but government and industry officials alike say they're excited by the work that's already underway.

"FirstNet is in the process of putting together its own ecosystem," FirstNet board member Teri Takai said at a May 17 event in Washington D.C.  "There will be a developer platform, there’ll be testing and certification, there’ll be an app store for distribution of those applications.... That infrastructure is going to be important. "

Takai, who has been the CIO of the Department of Defense and the states of California and Michigan, was particularly excited by the app store's potential.  Speaking at FedScoop's public sector innovation summit, she said it's difficult for innovative solutions to get traction because companies must sell their solutions to each local jurisdiction separately. FirstNet will not only provide the wireless broadband backbone, she said, but it will also give companies the chance to offer their products nationwide.  

"FirstNet is going to be an innovation platform for so many solutions that we cannot even envision today," Takai said. 

The federal government also is priming the pump for those innovations with more than $300 million in grants, which are being administered through the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Public Safety Communications Research Division (PSCR).  A first batch of roughly $30 million will be awarded in June, Takai said.  

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and other Department of Homeland Security components also provide grants aimed and helping first responders. Takai and FEMA's Antwane Johnson, who spoke on the same panel, acknowledged that coordinating those programs remains a work in progress. 

"We're still working on that," Takai said, but stressed that FirstNet's emphasis on standards and interoperability should allow for loose coordination. "If an app meets the FirstNet standards, there’s no restriction about getting into the app store," she said. "Funding could come from FEMA or wherever." 

The same principle applies to hardware, she added.  "You should expect to seen an explosion of different types of devices."

Johnson, who directs FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, agreed.  "We're still early on in the process," he said, "but I'm excited about the app store."  And he stressed the importance of getting both hardware and software advancements into the pipeline. "The technology that we depend on to deliver [public safety information] is not meeting the current needs," he said.

Chris Smith, AT&T's vice president of technology for public sector, noted that nearly 16 years after the 9/11 attacks showed the severity of interoperability and bandwidth problems, shortcomings still persist. "Our first responders deserve these capabilities," he said.  "And when you get out to the rural edge, they don’t have the best tools at their disposal."

The next opportunity for potential FirstNet partners to explore such improvements, Takai said, is at PSCR's annual conference in San Antonio, June 12-14. "If you have public sector kinds of solutions" that could improve the FirstNet ecosystem, she said, "it’s a great place to be."

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.

Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.


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