Greathouse Outlines APCO’s 2017 Focus Areas
Tuesday, January 31, 2017 | Comments
Cheryl J. Greathouse, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International, offers her 2017 outlook. Greathouse began her career as a jailer/dispatcher in 1983 and is in her 27th year with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, serving as director of instructional services. She has been a member of APCO since 1990, is an APCO life member and has served on many committees. Greathouse has 33 years of public-safety communications experience.

What are APCO’s main focus areas in 2017?
Project 43: Broadband Implications for the PSAP will help telecommunicators, public-safety answering points (PSAPs) and others in the public-safety community embrace existing and prepare for evolving broadband communications technologies that will impact PSAP operations and support emergency responders. APCO established Project 43 because a number of major, broadband-based developments, including next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1), the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), and other broadband-enabled technologies, such as smart cities, the internet of things (IoT) and intelligent highways, are leading to a paradigm shift in the role of the PSAP. Project 43’s volunteers are taking a comprehensive approach toward analyzing broadband implications for PSAPs. Six working groups are focused on governance, cybersecurity, operations, technical, workforce and training issues. These groups plan to contribute to the final report, which will be released at APCO’s annual conference in August in Denver.

In addition, APCO since 2014 has been engaged in a formal process to change the way the federal government classifies public-safety telecommunicators. The standard occupational classification (SOC) catalogs all U.S. occupations used by federal agencies for statistical purposes and is managed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The SOC categorizes “police, fire and ambulance dispatchers” as “office and administrative support occupations,” a category that includes secretaries, office clerks and taxicab dispatchers. APCO recommended that OMB use the term “public-safety telecommunicators” and categorize them as “protective service” occupations, which include lifeguards, fish and game wardens, parking enforcement workers and firefighters, among others. This is a matter of recognition and respect for 9-1-1 professionals. Last year, OMB issued an interim decision that rejected APCO’s recommendations. APCO then spearheaded a significant and highly successful grassroots effort that included having its members file formal comments with OMB and asking members of Congress for assistance. OMB plans to announce its final recommendations in spring 2017. This will remain a priority until the federal officials get it right.

APCO has also long championed the development of a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) and looks forward to FirstNet’s vendor partner selection. One issue is the option for states to opt out and propose an alternative to FirstNet’s radio access network (RAN) plan for the state. APCO opposes the state opt-out option and has consistently said opt out is a false choice. States should accept FirstNet’s plans and can always augment the RAN consistent with FirstNet’s network policies at their own expense. Opting out entails an arduous process that involves rigorous, multiagency approvals in addition to negotiating a spectrum leasing agreement with FirstNet. Further, compared to any state, FirstNet has significant advantages provided by Congress to achieve the best overall solution for the country. APCO is also highly concerned that a state-built RAN could fail for many reasons, and if that happens, there is no recourse for the state’s first responders, and nationwide interoperability fails.

What regulatory issues are at the forefront for APCO?
In 2015, the FCC adopted new rules for wireless 9-1-1 location accuracy. The rules substantially adopted a voluntary agreement APCO negotiated with the four largest carriers and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). A key goal is to deliver a “dispatchable location,” the gold standard for public safety. This means PSAPs would know the specific apartment number, office, floor — whatever information is needed to get first responders to the caller. Other notable features include use of an objective test bed to evaluate existing and proposed location technologies, including both dispatchable location and vertical or “z-axis” technologies, and assessing compliance based on actual 9-1-1 call data. As data starts rolling in from the test bed and actual 9-1-1 calls, APCO will be actively reviewing which technologies are working well and how often they are used. Additionally, APCO will remain engaged and involved in all related standards development activities for wireless location accuracy.

In May 2015, APCO created a 4.9 GHz task force that found frequency coordination would increase public-safety use of dedicated spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band by giving users confidence that communications will be free from interference. As APCO awaits further action by the FCC, which we understand is imminent, we hope that this band remains available for interference-free public-safety use with added tools to promote innovation and investment in the band.

What issues affect your members?
One issue is an aging workforce in a workplace that is becoming more complex and technical and can include constantly changing shift work. With the transition to NG 9-1-1 and the implementation of a national broadband network, telecommunicators will continue to see a more technically complex work environment. We have established a member task force that is reviewing these issues and will be bringing recommendations forth in 2017.

Post-traumatic stress from incidents as well as cumulative from years of traumatic calls are taking their toll on our members, some of whom may not have been provided the proper resources to recognize and address the impact of their daily exposure to the high-stress PSAP environment. This is not a new issue and is continuing to be addressed through our Professional Communications Human Resources Taskforce (ProCHRT) committee, which provides a variety of tools on the APCO website.

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