Accelerate Illinois’ Modernization: Determining the State's FirstNet Strategy

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has created a 120-person multi-discipline, multi-jurisdictional membership forum to review and contemplate usage and deployment of FirstNet.

by Joe Galvin, Statewide Interoperability Coordinator, Illinois Terrorism Taskforce / March 28, 2016

Editor's note: This 30-day blog focused on Illinois' IT modernization was originally published on LinkedIn, and is republished here with permission.

Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission recommended the establishment of a nationwide, interoperable public safety communications network to resolve communications challenges faced by emergency responders. FirstNet will be a dedicated, wireless, interoperable communications network that will allow the public safety community to securely and reliably gain situational awareness and share information with their counterparts in other locations and agencies.

Building the a nationwide public safety interoperable wireless broadband network presents an opportunity to bring commercial technologies to the public safety community, allowing them access to needed and reliable wireless data services. As envisioned, the network would allow first responders to send and receive voice, video and other information in real time; enable communications across agencies and jurisdictions; and improve the safety and effectiveness of operations by changing the way public safety personnel are notified about, gain information on, and respond to emergencies and natural disasters. FirstNet is responsible for the design, building and ongoing operation of the network.

FirstNet has issued a national RFP to award to a single vendor the responsibility of building out a nationwide broadband data and voice network. Within 90 days of receiving the FirstNet plan (estimated to be presented in 2017), the governor of each state must make the decision about whether to opt-in and participate in the FirstNet recommended nationwide network build-out, or opt-out and deploy a state-specific Radio Access Network (RAN). If the governor elects to opt-out, the state must develop and submit to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a plan within 180 days for RAN construction and operation that meets the technical requirements of, and interoperates with, the National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), i.e., the FirstNet network. The state must also apply for spectrum through the National Telecommunications and Information Authority (NTIA) and pay the associated spectrum fees. If the FCC or NTIA disapproves the state’s plan, FirstNet will build the network in the state as an opt-in project at their cost.

Because Illinois will need to make a very informed decision, the state has issued an RFI (responses due May 31) contemplating opting out and building our own FirstNet network.

This does not mean we have decided to opt out and build our own network. Illinois remains neutral on the opt-in/opt-out decision. The purpose is to develop planning information we can compare against the federal FirstNet plan that will be presented to Illinois in 2017. As per the law, FirstNet must consult with state, local and regional jurisdictions regarding a range of activities, including construction or access to the network, assignment of priority to local users, and training. The more knowledgeable we become of our own needs, as well as the various construction and implementation scenarios, the better we can guide FirstNet as it designs the network.

The governor has chosen the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) as the designee to prepare all statutory deliverables to the federal government, as well as be the focal point for planning and education in Illinois. In turn, IEMA has created a 120-person multi-discipline, multi-jurisdictional membership forum to review and contemplate usage and deployment of FirstNet. The Illinois team's primary focus will be to create an open dialogue and connection with state and local emergency responders to foster an environment for them to learn more about FirstNet. The Illinois FirstNet team is focused on completing all statutory requirements, engaging and educating our emergency responders so they better understand what FirstNet will deliver, holding sessions with our public safety stakeholders so we can better convey their unique needs to FirstNet, and ultimately making a recommendation to state leadership about whether Illinois should opt in and allow FirstNet to build this network in Illinois or opt out, with Illinois constructing its own network linking to the federal program.

Keep in mind: No decisions have been made, and no recommendations have been written. Today this FirstNet network only exists in concept and Illinois has a blank canvas ... now is our opportunity to provide critical input from our public safety practitioners.

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