PSCR Workshop Prioritizes Public-Safety Broadband Needs
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 | Comments

A workshop to define and prioritize public-safety broadband needs was hosted by the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) lab in Boulder, Colo., in mid-November. It marked the first step in a long process, said Dereck Orr, program manger at PSCR. One of the workshop’s goals was to ensure that public-safety officials have a voice in defining future technologies.

Public safety’s interaction with technology has typically been reactionary, said several attendees. Attendees were asked how often public-safety operations change technology versus how often new technology forces changes in public-safety operations. The three-day workshop was presented as public safety’s opportunity to do the former, rather than the typical latter.

To pinpoint key areas for PSCR to invest future research time and money, attendees were instructed to think 10 years out. They were told not to worry about particular technological solutions to address those needs, but rather to look at the big picture public-safety needs.

“What are the things public safety wants to do?” asked Orr. “And what are the technological options to achieve those? Then down the road, we’ll look at how to solve those issues via a specific technology. Right now, we’re just looking at first level: public-safety needs.”

During the first day breakouts, attendees were divided into working groups based on first responder disciplines — police, fire and EMS. Within that, smaller groups examined scenarios pulled from the Safecom statement of requirements. Attendees were asked to recognize every discrete action described in the scenario and identify a “new enabling technology” to address that action.

For example, the EMS groups went line by line through the Safecom heart attack scenario identifying different tasks, from the most basic of reporting for duty and assignment, to traffic light adjustment en route, to monitoring the patient’s vitals and contacting the cardiologist. Enabling technologies ranged from new sensors to smart analytics to integrated, ubiquitous data and more. The groups were then asked to define whether the new enabling technology related to the network, applications and/or software, or a device.

Commonalities were found among all disciplines. For example, the typical initial tasks — reporting for duty, assignments, inventory preparation, traffic routes, etc. — were discovered to be similar across the board. They were also recognized as tasks that could be combined and expedited by performing them in parallel rather than sequentially, as they are performed now.

Whenever concerns regarding legal and policy issues or technological feasibility were mentioned, PSCR staff encouraged the groups to stay on track and not worry about those details yet. They reiterated that the purpose of the event was to examine all the big picture issues before they could dive deep into a few particular items.

The PSCR team created each group to include public-safety professionals, representatives with technical backgrounds, as well as industry and vendor representatives to ensure there was a diverse dynamic within each group. The entire workshop was capped at 150 attendees with about 20 percent representing public safety, Orr said. Although public-safety representation was the minority in terms of numbers, their voices were heard loudly through the three days.

Day two organized the attendees into new groups that examined the scenarios from one of three system perspectives — software/applications, networks or devices. PSCR staff combined all three disciplines’ enabling technology lists to make one comprehensive list for each perspective. For example, the software/applications group was given a list that had every new technology envisioned and defined by the police, fire and EMS groups.

From there, the groups were asked to “bucket” those technologies into larger areas of commonality. The software/applications’ new technologies list contained 94 items, from biometric identification to smart vehicles to database synchronization. The group identified nine buckets that addressed all 94 of the listed tasks. The buckets included analytics, location-based services, security, identity management, intelligent transportation system (ITS) and more. The network group identified eight buckets, and the devices group identified 15 buckets.

Next came the biggest challenge of the workshop. The groups were asked to prioritize the top three buckets within each perspective. This ultimately was the point of the entire three-day workshop — identifying where PSCR should invest its finite amount of research dollars for public-safety broadband.

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Deputy Director General Manager TJ Kennedy outlined FirstNet’s thoughts for research and development (R&D) broadband investment. The five criteria outlined by Kennedy were tweaked to create the groups’ starting point.

Each larger group then prioritized the buckets based on these factors:

1. Leverage — By addressing one item, you actually tackle several items. This would help eliminate silos where a technology can only be used for one specific need.

2. Effect on current public-safety processes

3. Feasibility/risk — What is the risk of failure if we invest in item X? If the outcome is high, it might be worth the risk; if the outcome is low, it might not be worth the risk.

4. Cost of ownership and cost of investment — The lower the cost, the better.

5. Rewards/results — What will make the community and first responders safer?

6. Unique to public safety — How likely is it that the commercial side will pick these features up and use them? And if it’s important to public safety, how likely is it that someone else will invest in it if PSCR doesn’t?

The top three priorities for each group were as follows:


1. User interface/user experience (UI/UX)

2. Operations support/resource management

3. Analytics (tied)

4. Location services (tied)


1. Location

2. Device usability

3. Networking (personal network, extended range and peer-to-peer)


1. Information sharing

2. Network integration/operability

3. Analytics

Using this information, PSCR plans to identify elements that the lab can address, most likely two or three of the top-prioritized buckets. Then PSCR will start focused road mapping, said Orr. “We need to figure out which elements we can focus on, and then we have to take a deep dive,” he said.

It is PSCR’s hope that once a high-level summary of all the information gathered from the workshop is published, others will take the initiative to focus on other top-priority needs.

“We hope that this leads to a collaborative environment, because there are way too many things to tackle than anyone has the money to deal with,” Orr said. “But first we needed to have a conversation to piecemeal out this very difficult, complex task ahead of us.”

For more information on the meeting, visit the PSCR project website.

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