Emergency response

FirstNet seeking Northern Virginia home

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A senior leader of the $7 billion federally managed nationwide wireless communications system for first responders said the group is in the market for office space in the Washington, D.C., area and in Colorado.

"We're ramping up quickly," FirstNet Deputy General Manager TJ Kennedy told FCW in an interview during Politico's Nov. 19 conference on emergency preparedness.

Kennedy said FirstNet is working with the General Services Administration to find space for support staff in Northern Virginia and technical staff in Colorado. Kennedy said he is also working to set up staff that will communicate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's regional operations.

FirstNet was envisioned by the 9/11 Commission, which recommended creation of an interoperable, nationwide, wireless network for emergency responders in the wake of communications failures that crippled response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.

Despite the lack of such a network, the September attack by a gunman at the Washington Navy Yard showed how coordination in communications among local and federal emergency responders has improved in recent years, Paul Quander Jr., D.C.'s deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said at the Politico event. New techniques, such as establishing a unified command center for D.C. Metropolitan Police and other local and federal law enforcement, contributed to what he called a "seamless" response to the crisis.

Dismissing criticism that DHS and U.S. Capitol Police responders got mixed results with communications that day, Quander asserted that there may have been too much talk, leading to information overload. He said finding ways to limit who can participate in critical communications in future events will be a crucial challenge for FirstNet.

As personal-device technology evolves, the ability to create and disseminate subnetworks will offer some control over who can communicate and when, suggested Michael Saylor, chairman and CEO of MicroStrategy.

The Federal Communications Commission said in September that it would auction off 10 megahertz of spectrum for commercial use as part of a longstanding effort to raise funds for the system. The FCC said it expects to raise a minimum of $1.56 billion with the auction – the first of several designed to make 65 Mhz available to commercial users and fund FirstNet activities by February 2015. Congress provided $2 billion in upfront funding. The other $5 billion is supposed to come from spectrum sales, although some critics have suggested that will not be enough to complete the project.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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