Public-Safety Leaders Endorse New National Emergency Communications Plan
By Ken Bradley, CISA External Affairs
Tuesday, May 28, 2019 | Comments
Leadership from SAFECOM and the National Council of Statewide Interoperability Coordinators (NCSWIC) signed and endorsed the draft 2019 National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP) at a joint meeting last month.

“There have been numerous advances in the world of communications and interoperability that have been created or advanced by SAFECOM,” said SAFECOM Chair Gerald Reardon. “The NECP has been, in my opinion, one of the most significant events, as it was responsible for several major changes across the country that are a direct result of its implementation. The NECP, coupled with the Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) grant program assisted in promoting permanent changes to the governance and the interoperability structure for the states and territories. The NECP was responsible for the SWIC (statewide interoperability coordinators) program, mandating official state governance, creation of the SEICs (statewide interoperable executive committees) tactical communications plans, as well as the validation and verification of the plans through required exercises.”

The NECP is in its third iteration — the first was in 2008, and the second was in 2014. The revised NECP includes a new emergency communications ecosystem graphic, which includes an expanded concept of the public-safety communications community to include supporting organizations, decision makers and citizens. Feedback was collected and incorporated into the revised NECP by members of public safety, including SAFECOM and NCSWIC, a public comment period, and stakeholder adjudication in early April. The plan is set to be publicly available later this year.

CISA is required to update the NECP periodically and the nationwide baseline assessment every five years. The newest update incorporates feedback and data from the 2018 SAFECOM nationwide survey and addresses the benefits and challenges of integrating new technologies into legacy systems, such as expanded capabilities as a result of broadband and next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1), as well as cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities.

“NCSWIC drives innovation by unifying efforts for all 56 statewide interoperability coordinators in a singular organization,” said Joe Galvin, NCSWIC chair and Illinois SWIC. “Through NCSWIC leadership, structure and collaboration the nation strengthens its coordinated interoperability effort through the individualized yet connected statewide interoperability coordinators all unified under a common set of goals aligned with the NECP. The NECP is a whole community culmination from NCSWIC and SAFECOM members representing all states, public-safety groups, associations and interested parties to advance and improve public-safety communications for our nation’s first responders.”  

The plan was endorsed during a joint meeting of the NCSWIC and SAFECOM in Pittsburgh April 23 – 25. During the meeting, Ron Hewitt, assistant director for emergency communications, briefed the group on the depth of CISA’s expanded services to assist public safety with cyber and critical infrastructure in addition to emergency communications.

"As our public safety and SWIC stakeholders respond to increasingly complex hazards, including cybersecurity threats, every minute matters to save lives and protect property,” Hewitt said. “CISA is committed to continue delivering products and services that respond to the rapidly changing technology landscape including LMR; broadband; 9-1-1/NG 9-1-1; and alerts, warnings and notifications."

CISA was joined by federal partners from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), National 911 Program and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), as well as local academic partners from Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh. The three-day event covered interactive panels; working sessions; and committee, working group and executive committee meetings. The agendas covered topics such as NG 9-1-1, broadband, cybersecurity, drones, encryption and smart cities.

Dusty Rhoads, CISA, opened up a cybersecurity session by discussing the importance of cybersecurity in the public-safety community and the inclusion of cybersecurity initiatives in the NECP. Michael Ogata, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Public Safety Communications Research Program, discussed how to leverage the NIST Cybersecurity Framework for improving critical infrastructure and cybersecurity. The goal of the framework is to provide a common language for cybersecurity policies and initiatives and guidance on how an organization can create their own cybersecurity initiatives. 

Mark Hogan, director of asset management, city of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Richard Jackson, information security manager, asset management, city of Tulsa; and Capt. George Perera, Miami-Dade (Florida) Police Department, provided real-world examples of cybersecurity attacks on local systems and their large-scale effects on surrounding organizations and response. Speakers emphasized using the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as a first step and tool when developing cybersecurity policies and plans.

Chief Jonathan Lewin, Chicago Police Department; Rob Dew, CISA; and John Contestabile, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory proposed engaging members of the two groups to establish a working group to further develop and implement an interoperability framework that addresses the need for users to access standardized, interoperable and consumable information at the scene. Lewin provided examples of data and information technology the city of Chicago has integrated to assist law enforcement in responding to incidents. Lewin’s examples showed a need for public safety to address this issue. 

Several SWICs provided updates on the NCSWIC State Interoperability Markers Program. The 25 interoperability markers, aligned to the SAFECOM Interoperability Continuum, are designed to collect key data about a state’s interoperability capabilities, in an effort to enable states to use data to drive strategic planning and funding and technical assistance requests. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia attended workshops in February and March to provide feedback and further refine the markers. All 14 workshop states/territories have now completed a pilot process to develop their baseline data collection, and their input is being aggregated and analyzed. CISA will begin collecting marker data from all states and territories during a set of regional meetings scheduled to begin this summer. It is anticipated that all marker data will be collected, aggregated and reported back to states by the end of the year.

“The public-safety strategic collaboration meeting with SAFECOM and NCSWIC was an invaluable opportunity for us to convene public-safety response and officials from across the nation to share best practices and resources around current technologies, discuss approaches for managing emerging technologies, and evaluate continued progress toward the seamless flow of voice, video and data communications,” said Chris Lombard, SAFECOM vice chair with Seattle Fire. “By working collaboratively to drive critical emergency communications interoperability goals, while addressing risks to implementation, the SAFECOM, NCSWIC and CISA partnership has the potential to vastly improve emergency responder capabilities both now and in the future.”

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