National Emergency Communications Plan Update Expected This Year
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | Comments


By Kristen Beckman, Assistant Editor

An updated version of the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP) that addresses technology advances and changes in the regulatory landscape is expected to be released for review by the end of this year.

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) began updating the document at the beginning of this year. Ryan Oremland, branch director of policy and planning for OEC, detailed the process during a Webinar Sept. 4 hosted by the National 911 Program.

OEC was formed following Hurricane Katrina and officially launched in 2007. A major initiative of OEC was the development of the NECP, first released in 2008. Oremland noted much has changed in the interceding five years, including advances in technology; new grant programs; changes in regulation and policy that have reorganized federal roles and responsibilities; new stakeholders; and five years of experience responding to incidents, including the Boston Marathon bombing.

"We have a good framework to get the specifics written for this plan," said Chris Essid, DHS OEC deputy director. "It’s going to focus on LMR, however, there will be a big focus on maintaining mission-critical voice with the new ecosystem, such as social media and broadband. The capabilities we have today, such as tweeting to citizens after the Boston Marathon to give them updates, we didn’t have in 2008. The new national plan talks about all these stakeholders and new technologies."

Other OEC activities include helping states develop emergency communications plans and supporting DHS grant programs to make sure they are reflective of the environment, challenges and solutions for improving emergency communications. In addition, OEC is helping states prepare for the emerging national public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

At the beginning of this year, OEC began a stakeholder-driven approach to update the NECP. OEC staff began soliciting feedback from public-safety agencies and emergency communications groups, amounting to about 30 working sessions to date. In addition, the office conducted breakout sessions at trade shows and exhibitions to gather additional feedback.

“We’ve really been aggressive in trying to get people involved in helping us formulate the plan and keeping everyone and their associations and stakeholder groups updated on where we’re going with the plan,” said Oremland. “We’re going to continue to get input, we’re putting together the draft plan, and we hope to get it out for stakeholder feedback later this fall after we’ve cleared some DHS review hurdles.”

OEC plans to build on the original NECP with focuses on governance and planning, leadership, training and exercises, research and development and new technology.

“We don’t want to start from scratch,” said Oremland. “We acknowledge there are a lot of financial restraints out there, and we need to update what we put in place before and find creative ways to continue to progress down this road.”

The update to NECP revolves around three focus areas:

1. A whole-community approach, which leverages the resources and capabilities from across the community to plan for, respond to and recover from disasters and incidents.

2. The emergence of IP-based technologies that are now used primarily for mission support and administration, but with the deployment of broadband networks, will provide increasing support for mission-critical emergency response voice, video and data. 

3. The modernization of responder communications capabilities and the broader communications environment, including alerts and warnings, text-to-9-1-1 capabilities and eventually next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1), and the increasing importance of citizens using social media and smart devices to report on emergencies.


“The plan will remain focused on government-to-government communications during incident response. This is the core mission of OEC and the charge the Congress has sent to develop the NECP,” said Oremland. “But we’re also broadening the scope with this plan to cover other key emergency communications functions and stakeholders, including communications from government agencies to the public, as well as public communications during an emergency and communications from the public to public-safety answering points (PSAPs) during emergencies.”

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