Any project considered one of the largest national infrastructure developments since the interstate highway system is bound to be a huge undertaking.
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is collaborating with 56 different states, tribal councils and Washington, D.C. to develop a dedicated broadband network for an estimated 7 million emergency responders. Some states are hiring new staff and contracting with the private sector to develop the network, which will cover 3.8 million square miles and stretch across 3,250 counties.
“Perhaps equally daunting, our nation must identify a sustainable business and financial plan for the network that can be agreed upon by FirstNet and stakeholders at the state and local level,” states a report released this month by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). “In addition, it will ultimately require technical support, infrastructure, data, and expertise from the private sector.”
The report, titled “The States and FirstNet: An Early Look from the State CIOs,” notes that planning and implementing FirstNet has been among the top 10 policy priorities for state CIOs for the past two years. In its report, NASCIO includes FirstNet updates from CIOs in 44 states and territories, most of which have made progress in planning for the network.
Creating a FirstNet governance model
More than 70 percent of the CIOs surveyed said they had developed a governance model and the means to support FirstNet planning and outreach initiatives and had organized activities with other key stakeholders in their states and potentially with other states. That’s good news for the independent authority charged with leading development of the network.
“FirstNet is pleased that the report shows the states and territories are making measurable progress in key areas, such as governance and planning, which are critical at this stage of developing the network,” says FirstNet spokesman Ryan Oremland.
Of the CIOs included in the survey, none has drafted a final state plan for implementing FirstNet. Different states have different expectations of what the final product will look like, NASCIO says in the report. “There will need to be significant discussion and negotiation before a final shared vision exists.”
Some states have more mature methods for collecting planning data that will be used to build the public safety network in their states. “Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin have been working in concert to collect common data with an eye toward regional collaboration,” the report notes.
Outreach and education challenges
Nearly 23 percent of those surveyed said their states “are not actively conducting FirstNet outreach and education activities.” Some respondents said they were waiting for funds, planning or material from FirstNet before conducting extensive education activities. Others halted outreach until they had more collaboration with FirstNet.
The NASCIO survey was conducted between April and May 2014, before every state received its consultation packages from FirstNet to kick off outreach planning.
As of mid-June, five states have completed readiness checklists and submitted them to FirstNet, and many more are being developed, Oremland says. These checklists are a key step in the initial consultation process with states in order to assess their needs. FirstNet will use NASCIO’s findings to enhance its outreach activities across states and territories.
"It is still early in the network development process, and we recognize that states and territories are at different stages of outreach, planning, and analysis,” Oremland says. “As NASCIO points out, outreach and coordination are critical, and FirstNet will be working with all 56 states and territories on their outreach strategies. We will continue to put out more outreach materials and information on our website and to the state Single Points of Contacts (SPOC) over the next couple of months."
Read NASCIO’s full report here.