Michigan Interoperability Board Makes Encryption, In-Building Recommendations
Tuesday, January 21, 2020 | Comments

The Michigan Public Safety Communications Interoperability Board (MPSCIB) released two new recommendations for the more than 100,000 mission-critical communications radio users on Michigan’s Public Safety Communications System (MPSCS).

The first recommendation involves encryption best practices for the Project 25 (P25) statewide network. The board said nonstandardized implementation of encryption across Michigan has demonstrated a risk to public safety due to the loss of interoperability between responding agencies. The MPSCIB issued a moratorium Dec. 10 on all new encryption programming on the MPSCS until further notice.

“As most of you may be aware, encryption has been implemented in various communities across the state of Michigan in multiple configurations with varying degrees of success,” a letter to users said. “Through this adoption, it has become clear to the MPSCIB that greater planning and oversight is necessary to ensure the integrity of public-safety interoperable communications across disciplines and geographical coverage areas for mutual-aid efforts.”

The MPSCIB requested comment on the two policies — a draft LMR encryption policy and a connected device management policy — by Feb. 19.

A separate encryption recommendations and best practices document outlines three types of encryption used on the network, including ADP (Motorola's proprietary encryption) and Digital Encryption Standard Output Feed Back (DES-OFB), neither of which are P25 compliant. The third type of encryption, Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)-256, is the P25 standard and to qualify for federal grants, a device must be P25 compliant, the board said.

Motorola Solutions chose to remove the ADP encryption feature as an included option from all subscriber models in 2017. 

The recommendations process began in 2018 when a county made the decision to implement encryption because of valid concerns that news stations were arriving at incidents before law enforcement, said Brad Stoddard, director of the Office of MPSCS and Michigan’s statewide interoperability coordinator (SWIC). He said a local mobile communications firm sold the county radios with built-in encryption that wasn’t P25 compliant.

“We’ve seen mutual aid impacted, so the board created a task force to develop the guidelines,” Stoddard said.

He said the problem was compounded when the radios with the noncompliant encryption could only handle one encryption type or key, but the users may not have been aware of that limitation. “The users are public-safety officials; they are not expected to be radio experts,” Stoddard said.

The board is seeking comments and recommendations from the user community to modify the current encryption process to ensure interoperability continues to be the priority for all first responders. "We are expecting the community to provide use cases and examples that will be used to define the new process that will be used by the Office of MPSCS staff as they work with the communities around the state to implement encryption going forward," Stoddard said.

The second recommendation involved in-building communications. The board recommends applying International Fire Code (IFC) Chapter 11, specifically 1103.2, which addresses emergency responder radio coverage in existing buildings.

“We want to ensure our communities across all 83 Michigan counties understand the impacts of zoning and building materials on public-safety communications,” a letter to users said. “We highly encourage distribution and application of International Fire Code (IFC) Section 510 and MBC (IBC) Section 916.1 which references IFC Section 510. These require approved radio coverage for emergency first responders within new buildings including signal strength, installation requirements and acceptance testing.

Stoddard said Chief Greg Janik, a fire chief on the MPSCIB board, brought up the in-building requirements last year, and Janik and Chief Mike O'Brian, past president of the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs, have been communicating the message that local officials should leverage the IFC codes for new builds in their communities.

The MPSCIB is responsible for advising the governor on all interoperability aspects of current and future technology in the state. About 1,900 agencies across Michigan use MPSCS.

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