Issues Must Be Resolved for Video to Be Part of Emergency Network

Funding, lack of video interoperability standards cited as main obstacles
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Crisis management video needs to be part of the First Responder Network Authority—the planned interoperable broadband network for first responders known as FirstNet—but for that to occur funding issues and interoperability standards for video systems have to be resolved, a Virginia official, who is working to deploy such a network, told Government Video.

Video system interoperability “standards are critical,” Chris McIntosh, Virginia’s statewide interoperability coordinator, said immediately after testifying before the U.S. House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, which on March 14 held a hearing on “Oversight of FirstNet and Emergency Communications.”

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-96) created FirstNet—which is an agency within the National Telecommunications & Information Administration—to establish a single nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network. To facilitate the creation of a first responder network, the Act allocates to FirstNet broadband spectrum and $7 billion.

McIntosh was among several emergency communications experts who testified on the planned network before the subcommittee including, Sam Ginn, FirstNet’s chairman, and James Barnett, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and former chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. However, it was McIntosh who told the committee federal grants that fund emergency communications have been reduced.

“We all agree that we want to share information better and more reliably,” McIntosh said. Video is one source of information, and FirstNet can provide the connection to share that information, “but to pull it all together relies on being able to pay for it,” he said. “Funding levels are the biggest obstacle to all this.”

However, the grants—which state governments have relied on to fund communications and information sharing capabilities—are reducing, McIntosh said. As grants reduce, state and local governments bear the costs, and those entities will determine their priorities and decide from what programs the funding will come from, he said. “It leads to some tough choices on prioritization of spending.”

In addition, vendors need to be aware that interoperability will be a factor state and local governments use to determine which equipment to acquire, according to McIntosh. If a first-responder agency has a visualization platform obtained from one vendor, and the video is being provided from a visualization platform producer by another vendor, that video needs to be interoperable so the agencies can access it without having to purchase new equipment, he said. If an agency has to get rid of its existing investment, that is a financial barrier that is difficult to overcome, he said. “So, interoperable standards are very important.”