Schaffer Says Broadband, LMR Must Coexist
Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | Comments
Greg Schaffer, assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has been working on computer law, cybersecurity and telecommunications risk management issues for the past 15 years. Schaffer oversees the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications (CS&C), responsible for enhancing the security, resiliency and reliability of the nation’s cyber and communications infrastructure. CS&C includes the Office of Emergency Communications (OEC), the National Communications System and the National Cybersecurity Division.
Before joining DHS in June 2009, Schaffer served as senior vice president and chief risk officer for Alltel Communications. Before that, he was director of PricewaterhouseCoopers cybercrime prevention and response practice and a computer crime prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
What is the most important policy affecting public-safety communications?
Our nation is at a critical juncture regarding the future of emergency communications. We have an opportunity to change the trajectory of how the United States responds to emergency events. The planned deployment of new fourth-generation (4G) mobile technologies by many carriers during the next several years presents an historic window of opportunity to secure a range of high-speed, cutting-edge, inherently interoperable capabilities for our nation’s emergency response community. These new technologies can be leveraged to augment the existing LMR solutions that the public-safety community uses to perform its vital mission: delivering a robust, operable and interoperable nationwide public-safety network.
These technologies, if employed effectively, could mean faster response times, improved situational awareness and more effective emergency response. I believe that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and we must get it right.
What is the most important technology affecting public-safety?
Both cutting-edge broadband communications and traditional LMR technologies will need to coexist and interoperate for the foreseeable future. OEC is working to build a comprehensive strategy in the form of an updated national emergency communications plan (NECP) to outline a dual-path strategy that will define how to effectively integrate these technologies into the national public-safety communications ecosystem.
Technical and operational standards are absolutely essential to this effort. For continued support of mission-critical technologies, we must continue to emphasize and press forward on Project 25 (P25) and the ongoing Compliance Assessment Program (CAP). These efforts will play an important role in strengthening mission-critical voice communications over LMR today and in the future. However, we must also focus our efforts on 4G standards, prominently including Long Term Evolution (LTE), to ensure that the next generation of public-safety technologies are inherently interoperable, robust and meet the requirements and needs of the community.
What are your goals specific to public-safety communications for the coming year?
Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The vast majority of the public had never heard the term “interoperability” until a full analysis had been done on the response efforts during the days after the attack. Since then, billions of dollars have been provided across the nation to improve emergency communications capabilities. Despite these investments and improvements to date, we know that public-safety communications must improve significantly to meet the needs and expectations of the American people.
DHS, from our secretary down, is focused on ensuring that our nation’s emergency responders have the ability to communicate effectively in the field every day. As outlined in the NECP, we are focusing our efforts on exactly this type of operational communications as we measure capabilities across the nation. This year, DHS is working with the nation’s 60 largest urban areas to measure the effective demonstration of response-level emergency communications in planned events. Next year, we will work with more than 3,000 counties to measure operational communications against established performance metrics. This will be a major undertaking that requires significant partnerships with all levels of government. In completing this effort, we will have an unprecedented national picture of where we are in building on-the-ground communications capabilities.
This coming year is also critical to building a strong framework for the development and deployment of next-generation broadband communications capabilities. By the end of next year, I would like to see significant progress in the waiver jurisdictions’ efforts to deploy broadband pilots, the release of a national strategic plan for integrating current and next-generation communications technologies, and strong models and best practices to support the entire United States, both urban and rural jurisdictions, as additional network elements are deployed.
What has been DHS’ most recent biggest accomplishment related to public-safety communications?
Through the NECP, OEC is developing a framework that will provide guidance to implement sound policy and support the improvement of emergency communications nationwide. This framework is being developed at all levels of government through partnerships with our stakeholder groups. At the federal level, we’ve created the emergency communications preparedness center (ECPC) to bring together federal agencies that have a role in emergency communications and enhanced coordination. The ECPC is coordinating grant guidance for all federal agencies that provide funding for emergency communications. This grant guidance will promote efficiencies at the federal level through resource sharing and align strategic and operational planning. With the ECPC in place, we have a framework for improving coordination among federal agencies and providing additional support for state and local agencies.
Similarly we’ve been supporting the states as they develop a framework to improve emergency communications. Through NECP implementation, states have statewide interoperability coordinators to assist with implementing their state plans. States are also creating state interoperability governing bodies to help develop policy that best supports the need of public safety within states. These are part of the larger national framework to provide input to OEC and support the implementation of the NECP.
OEC continues to strengthen the framework in place to support the needs of local public safety. Through the Safecom program, OEC works with representatives from national associations representing public-safety and government officials. The national framework serves as a forum for all stakeholders to provide input, then work together to find solutions that will keep the nation safe.
The framework we are building is critical to support emergency communications now and in the future. As technologies change, the framework will be in place to implement new policy and develop solutions that will benefit all of our stakeholders.
What do you think will happen with the 700 MHz D block spectrum?
The administration strongly supports building a national public-safety broadband network capable of meeting the mission requirements of public safety. As part of this effort, it has committed to a dedicated funding stream using revenues derived from spectrum initiatives to help the network.
However, there are a number of issues that must be resolved prior to any final decisions on the national public-safety broadband network. These include how to ensure that interoperability is built into the network architecture from the outset, that the network benefits both urban and rural areas, that public safety benefits from the advances and economies of scale seen in the commercial market, and the development of a path for the network to evolve and grow, adding greater capability and providing better mission support.
As of early September, the administration is taking significant steps to address these issues. We are convening multiple forums to engage with and hear the perspectives of representatives from public safety and industry. We are working rapidly to resolve these issues and determine how best to align administration support and resources toward the development of a nationwide, interoperable and sustainable national public-safety broadband plan. 
How did you get your start in the mobile communications industry?
Pure serendipity. I migrated over a period of years from a general civil business litigation attorney into a federal prosecutor on cybercrime and then to a consultant on cybercrime prevention and response. I entered the mobile communications space when I was hired as a chief information security officer at Alltel Communications in 2004. At Alltel, my responsibilities expanded over time to include physical security and risk management in addition to cybersecurity.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
Before coming to government, I built a scull boat and was learning to row, but don’t have time for that now.
What would you be doing if you didn’t have your current job?
Spending time on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Ark.
Editor’s Note: An abbreviated version of this interview is in the October issue of MissionCritical Communications on Page 70.
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