Tech decisions driving Michigan's public safety expansion

In the last decade, the state of Michigan has achieved near blanket coverage of its Public Safety Communications System, a digital voice IP network of federal, state, tribal and private public safety agencies and police departments across the state.

Previous:  How Michigan set the pace for state public safety networking

In the last decade, the state of Michigan has achieved near blanket coverage of its Public Safety Communications System (MPSCS), a digital voice IP network of federal, state, tribal and private public safety agencies and police departments across the state.

Today, 1,460 agencies are knitted together via the network, an order of magnitude more than the 152 linked in 2002, according to  MPSCS director Bradley Stoddard, who attributes the growth to three primary factors: economies of scale, increased equipment interoperability and resiliency in the network.

As for economies of scale, the cost of joining the MPSCS network backbone is generally lower than what it would cost a local jurisdiction to acquire a system separately, according to Stoddard.

"We've seen gradually over the years that as systems came to end-of-life for local agencies they went through the comparison process of what it would be from a cost standpoint, from an interoperability standpoint, of building their own system in lieu of joining the MPSCS," said Stoddard. 

"In many of those cases, it was a hands-down decision to join." 

Interoperability pains

The benefits of interoperability of radio equipment are obvious.  When an event occurs that involves multiple jurisdictions or agencies, it's clearly important that responders be able to talk with each other.

Those advantages were enhanced significantly in 1989 by the launch of Project 25, a set of standards for networking digital radios. According to Stoddard, however, while Project 25 was an important step in making statewide coverage feasible, it was not fully sufficient to handle the boom in radio devices and wide-area networks.

"Vendors would sell us radios and say that they're ‘25’ capable, but they wouldn't work," Stoddard said. "They weren't interoperable.  So we had to develop our own process early on within the state to test radios.  We built our own standards process that we have subsequently shared with the 40 other states that constructed statewide systems."

The program has spurred adoption by jurisdictions because it has both ensured greater interoperability and helped drive down the cost of equipment. 

"Over the past handful of years, we've seen a greater number of radios come in from the vendor community that are Project 25 compatible," Stoddard said.  "We let communities that are trying to replace equipment know that there are multiple vendors that are available in that space.  More importantly it potentially drives prices of radios down because now vendors are competing for that business."

Stoddard acknowledges that there are still pockets in the state with incompatible equipment, but he expects those to largely disappear as the equipment reaches the end of its lifecycle and is replaced.

Reliability and resiliency

Another advantage of MPSCS that has convinced many communities and agencies to join is its greater reliability. 

"It is not uncommon for a T-1 circuit or copper-based circuits or even fiber-based circuits that are buried to somehow be cut," Stoddard said.  Accordingly, the state built its network using microwave transmitters on towers.  And, when commercial power goes down, generators on the towers kick in.  "The microwave backhaul [minimized] that risk of downtime in communications."

Beyond that, trunking of the system was designed to ensure ongoing local communications in the event of network interruptions.  "If one major zone, let's say an area of about 30 tower sites, were to lose connection to a neighboring zone, zone trunking kicks in," Stoddard said.  "So everyone who has a radio that is on within that zone will still be operating as if nothing occurred, though they wouldn't be able to talk to the adjoining zones.

Bringing in data and geospatial awareness

In 2008, when the Department of Homeland Security's SAFECOM program redefined interoperability to include not only voice but also data, Michigan was again already ahead of the pack. 

"We already had a mobile data client, as part of the integrated voice and data system we had in place across the state," Stoddard said.  What MPSCS didn't have, he said, was a way to integrate that data with its dispatching system.   

To address that issue, the state turned to its primary system vendor – Motorola – and brought in a computer-aided dispatch application, Motorola CAD.  Motorola CAD uses ESRI geographic data tools along with Microsoft SQL Server databases to tie incoming communications to dispatching centers.

The next piece of the puzzle Stoddard's team is tackling is to integrate asset management into the system.  "We are still working to finalize an automatic vehicle locator system that would be on the network statewide, so whether you're in an urban area or rural area, those dispatch centers would at least know where you are," Stoddard said. 

"What fire rig has the oxygen tank on it?  What law enforcement vehicle has the stop stick?  Now we can track which of our support vehicles has what, so when we're dispatching someone out in the middle of the night to respond we know who has the right equipment."

Currently, that data is manually entered into the CAD program.  But Stoddard is already looking farther down the road.  "You can clearly see where the future is going in utilizing [radio frequency ID], not only from implementing CAD but also from asset inventory aspect," he said.

Waiting for FirstNet

The other major step forward for MPSCS, said Stoddard, will be eventual integration of the network with FirstNet, the nationwide broadband network for emergency responders. The advantages of FirstNet are clear.  Even though Michigan’s system has voice coverage in most of the state, there are places – such as national parks and state parks – where voice and data coverage is not available. 

“That's where we see a partnership between the state and FirstNet,” Stoddard said. “FirstNet's data capabilities can augment our voice information out there.” He explained that FirstNet’s data capabilities could provide access to fingerprint or picture identification from the roadside, which could greatly help police improve public safety.

But Stoddard warned that there are significant challenges ahead for FirstNet. “There is already an understanding in the public safety community about how data can augment voice activity,” he said.  “The challenge is going to be in the application arena.”

Specifically, Stoddard cautioned it will be a challenge to ensure that applications written by vendors for different operating systems and devices work on the full range of devices connecting to FirstNet, including smartphones.

Another potential snag to adoption of FirstNet is cost. “If you build a network it doesn't necessarily mean everyone is going to come, nor does it mean that everyone can afford it,” Stoddard said. 

Noting that connecting smartphones to existing services cost between $60 and $100 a month, not counting the cost of the equipment itself, he said, FirstNet may be too expensive for some communities to take advantage of.  “Your monthly fee, your device cost – even if you drive both of those low, that still doesn't necessarily mean that the first responders can afford that technology.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.