Once an outspoken skeptic of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Technology Officer Bill Schrier will join the organization Aug. 8, he recently announced on his blog.
As FirstNet develops an interoperable nationwide communications network for first responders, Schrier explained his role will be to help the federal agency build a set of services and functions that public safety agencies need and to convince those agencies to use the network.
A few years back, Schrier questioned whether FirstNet's raison d'etre had stalled, and compared the project's future to that of the HealthCare.gov launch. But appointments like Sue Swenson as chair of the board and T.J. Kennedy as president swayed Schrier, he wrote in his announcement blog, saying they're "on the road to a complete success."
"'The federal government' conjures visions of vast unfeeling bureaucracy, giant buildings with endless cubicles, and waste of taxpayer money," Schrier wrote. "Perhaps some federal agencies are like that. But also consider this: Federal government employees are National Park Rangers, NASA scientists and astronauts, people who efficiently deliver the mail, serve in our Coast Guard and other armed services, and fight the wild fires which ravage National Forests. And some agencies are very innovative, like the United States Digital Service and the lean startup 18F."
The success of FirstNet will depend heavily on the agency's ability to communicate with and offer the services desired by the nation's first responder agencies, a task that's been ongoing since FirstNet began meeting with states in 2014. Schrier will assist with that mission as the agency decides on the vendor for a potentially $100 billion communications network.
Through his role assisting with products and services, Schrier said he hopes to bring unique functionality to first responders who are considering adopting the network.
"The big question for a first responder network is, 'What does a first responder need that a normal person doesn't need for a smartphone app?' And specifically those things that would entice or encourage departments and agencies to actually use FirstNet," he told Government Technology.
Situational awareness apps that show the location and status of first responders are the kinds of things they want to deliver via the network, Schrier said. Security is also a huge issue as first responders will have access to private citizen health and criminal records via their devices, he said, so it's critical that that information remain safely in the hands of officials. And continued interviews with first responder agencies, Schrier said, will help inform what types of services they deliver.
Schrier is leaving behind his interim position with the Seattle Police Department where he assisted with the department's participation in the national debate on use of force through its data analytics program.
"There's a question nationally of what officers are involved in shootings, what officers are involved in use of force, who are officers using force on and what kind of force and is it legitimate or not?" he said. "The data analytics project was building a database of all the uses of force in the Seattle Police Department, the officer-involved shootings, the training that officers have received when there's crisis intervention training or de-escalation training, and that will serve as a reporting engine so that the Seattle Police Department can tell the community and elected officials how it uses force and for what purposes."
The first phase of that project was launched last week, Schrier said, and the next two phases are scheduled for launch this year.
Other projects upcoming for SPD include a possible revamp of its records management system, which is outdated and has data quality problems, Schrier said. The department also made headway on its body-worn camera program, an RFP for which is expected to be issued in September.
Editor's Note: Minor changes were made to this article on Aug. 2, 2016 to better reflect Schrier's role with FirstNet.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.