California Planning Statewide Public Safety Interoperable Communications Network

California Public Safety Communications (CAPSCOM) Strategic Plan expected in May 2010.

by / July 15, 2009

On Monday, California's Public Safety Radio Strategic Planning Committee (PSRSPC), that's composed of state emergency responders, held a public meeting to kick off the strategic planning process for a statewide interoperable communications network to connect emergency responders. California's goal is to build a statewide interoperable communications network over the next 10 years that allows PSRSPC members to communicate between themselves as well as with local, tribal and federal partners.

To assist them in achieving this goal, the state tapped Gartner to develop the strategic plan, which should be completed by May 2010, according to Steven Buckley, a Gartner consultant who is the initiative's engagement manager.

Officials at the meeting stressed the importance of partnerships with local first responders and the need to build the network from the bottom up. "We have to understand while we at times are first responders, mostly we are also there to coordinate, cooperate and work with our local partners," said Matthew Bettenhausen, acting secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency.

The state is engaged in a major IT consolidation and officials want to ensure that the network is built with a view toward sharing resources and assets. "It's ... important from a technology perspective that my organization is working to really look at those technologies that go across the state, that go across all of your state agencies and the way that those are delivered," said Teri Takai, the state's CIO. "Then looking at the way that we do it at a state level to set an example for the way that we want the rest of the state to operate and the way that we want to interact with the locals."

The state also plans to leverage the planning that has gone into achieving the level of interoperability it enjoys already, Buckley said. In fact, the project team is building an electronic library of all relevant planning documentation that already exists. Buckley asked the PSRSPC members to provide existing documentation that might exist within their organizations such as inventories, architectural renderings of their solutions, needs and requirements, existing plans, financial status reports that may have been written over the last five years and past consulting studies. Buckley expects to have that documentation collected by July 24.

As far as getting the planning process rolling, he hoped to name the executive sponsors from each of the PSRSPC components, the agency project leads and subject matter experts from the agencies by July 17.

Buckley would like to hold the initial meetings with the agency project leads and subject matter experts by August 10.

Bridging the CASM

One major hurdle first responders face in trying to achieve interoperability is knowing where all their communications infrastructure are -- including radios, towers and dispatch centers. To help with that, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security developed the Communication Assets Survey and Mapping (CASM) tool that represents the locations of these assets on a map.

California plans to use the strategic plan to inventory assets, such as radios and radio towers, and local first responders may get some help with this task from the state. "We suspect that part of this process is getting CASM fully populated," Bettenhausen said. "You can't make some of these decisions until you understand, not only the assets that we own as a state and state agencies, but more importantly what our local partners own and how we tap in and leverage those resources and to some extent the private sector as well."

Tapping the Broadband Stimulus

In the current communications environment where incident commanders and first responders need situational awareness, the ability to exchange images, video and

geospatial information is much needed. Transmitting that information requires a fair amount of bandwidth, and broadband pipes have become a potential conduit for voice traffic.

That's why California is trying to determine whether it can apply for funds under the broadband stimulus provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The current window for applications, which opened Tuesday, provides $4.7 billion for broadband projects in unserved and underserved communities. "There is a public sector -- a public safety -- part of looking at how can we maximize and utilize those dollars. And how can we help that be a way of expanding broadband in the state," Takai said.

Bettenhausen noted that while much of the broadband stimulus money will be focused on bringing broadband to communities to spur educational opportunities, the state needs to see how it can tap into those projects even if it doesn't get its public safety grant applications approved.

Funding for broadband expansion projects from ARRA is being awarded in three phases. The first was from April to June. The current window is open from July 14 to August 14, with awards expected in November. The last of the funding is expected to be awarded by June 2010. Takai said California plans to apply in the current application period as well as the final one, which will begin at the end of the year.