Agencies Put Federal Funding to Use
November 11, 2008
Photo by Anjanette Stayton
By Lindsay A. Gross
In 2007, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security awarded almost $1.2 billion in grants, paving the way for public-safety and law-enforcement communications projects in 2008. A recent report by the Governor’s Homeland Security Advisors Council (GHSAC) found that developing interoperable communications is a top homeland-security priority in all 50 states.
“Interoperable communications upgrades and replacements have been at the top of many governors’ homeland-security initiatives since 2001,” said Jeff Webster, justice/public-safety and homeland-security analyst for market-research firm Input and author of a recent report highlighting several top interoperability projects across the country. “All of this, of course, is backed by the state and local responders who have voiced their need for new and improved voice and data communications opportunities for 2008 as many state and local agencies are beginning to transition to interoperable systems.” Interoperability projects using federal funds are under way in Los Angeles, Maryland and Pima County, Ariz.
Federal funding has been valuable in making interoperable projects happen all over the country, said Tom Gray, vice president and general manager of the western region for RCC Consultants. Specifically, the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) is an integrated wireless voice and data communications system currently in the planning stages. The system will support more than 34,000 first responders and local mission-critical personnel within the region. By pooling frequencies and using existing infrastructure from the city and county of Los Angeles, Interagency Communications Interoperability System (ICIS), Long Beach and others, LA-RICS will provide instantaneous voice and data communications to all first responders in the region, said Deputy Chief Dennis Keane, Los Angeles City Fire Department.
Currently, the LA-RICS project, expected to take at least five years to complete, is progressing on several fronts. The LA-RICS Authority, the body overseeing the project, recently finalized an agreement that created a Joint Powers Authority (JPA), responsible for constructing and managing the regional system. The JPA board includes a cross section of first-responder stakeholders who all share in the decision-making process.
The system engineering and design occurring in 2008 is expected to cost $100 million; system buildout in 2009 is estimated at $175 million; further system buildout and acceptance testing in 2010 is estimated to have a $175 million price tag; system migration and user training in 2011 will require $100 million; and complete migration and training is expected in 2012 with the grand total for the project at about $600 million. Since 2007, the project has received more than $72 million in federal grants, Keane said.
Despite the high price tag, the system is expected to ultimately eliminate the duplication of costs and effort involved in maintaining separate systems. “The new system will eliminate redundancies and improve coverage,” Keane said. “It just makes sense for us to all work together and share the cost, rather than own and operate our own systems that don’t make it easy for us to talk to each other. In the Los Angeles region, there is dire need for interoperability; everyone operates on their own voice and data networks. Currently, fire uses 800 MHz for voice and UHF for data; whereas the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) uses UHF for voice and 800 MHz for data.”
LA-RICS will provide instantaneous communications among the participating agencies and will support interoperability with state and federal agencies such as the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The system will incorporate the recommended best practices of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Keane said.
The main challenges for LA-RICS include the size and length of the project, according to RCC’s Gray, who is working with regional officials on the project. “The project size and scope provides numerous hurdles, including governance; there are a large amount of agencies that must cooperate with each other in order to make progress,” Keane said. “The price of the project also presents a challenge and could even reach the $800 million mark.”
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley recently signed an executive order for a statewide communications interoperability plan, the Maryland State Communications Interoperability Program. “As we work to improve homeland security and public safety in every region of our state, it is critical that our emergency managers and first responders are working together and sharing information,” O’Malley said. “Ensuring the dependability of radio connectivity between all public-safety agencies is vital for the protection of our citizens and to Maryland’s emergency personnel.”
The new statewide 700 MHz communications system will link several large state agency users such as the Maryland State Police, Department of Transportation (DOT), Transportation Authority and the Department of Natural Resources, as well as multiple smaller agencies such as the departments of environment, juvenile services, and public-safety and correctional services. Local jurisdictions will also be able to link into the interoperable system. The state’s solution for interoperability among agencies currently relies on three regionalized systems: the Central Maryland Area Regional Communications (CMARC) system, the Maryland Eastern Shore Interoperability Network (MESIN) and Maryland State Police’s Maryland Incident Management Interoperable Communications System (MIMICS), according to Webster.
Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, will chair a statewide communications interoperability governance structure comprised of state, local and legislative representatives. This year, the governor will move ahead with a three-point solution to provide statewide communications interoperability for Maryland’s first responders.
• The appropriate state agency will issue a request for proposals (RFP) for the new systems. The winning vendor must propose on both the phase-one costs and the ultimate buildout cost, which will provide a clearer understanding of the total funding required.
• The executive order established a project management office to oversee the construction of the statewide 700 MHz system, a statewide CAD/records management system (RMS) for statewide law-enforcement and public-safety use, and a project to connect disparate closed-circuit TV (CCTV) systems across the state to improve public safety.
• The system will use a $22.9 million Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) grant to help fund critical state and local communications interoperability projects. This includes constructing 12 towers, two fiber-optic connectivity projects and five regional interoperability projects, as well as connecting all jurisdictional 9-1-1 centers and hospitals.
In June 2006, the state of Maryland contracted with RCC Consultants for $1.3 million to provide statewide wireless interoperability requirements and proof of concept. In fiscal year 2007, the Maryland Board of Public Works estimated the total project cost to be $108.5 million. However, the director of the DOT office of engineering, procurement and emergency services said the network will reach nearly $300 million based on a similar system implemented in the commonwealth of Virginia.
Construction of the new system will take place in phases during the next five to eight years. The DOT, Transportation Authority and State Police will fund the initial phases and construction will be in phases by region.
Pima County, Ariz.
In December 2003, the Pima County (Ariz.) Sheriff’s Office, along with 31 other public-safety entities, joined forces to identify and establish a regional, interoperable communications network. The voters of Pima County approved a $105 million bond for the construction of the network; the county also received $6 million in grants, with $3.3 million from the PSIC grant program. The estimated cost for the entire project is $117 million, said Capt. Paul Wilson, Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
The network will include an 800 MHz trunked radio system and a 700 MHz data system. Pima County will use existing infrastructure such as antennas, microwave and other communications network resources and facilities to minimize costs and lessen environmental impact. The county also wants to deploy a standards-based system that will provide for compatibility with other standards-based systems in the state.
According to Wilson, funding has been the project’s Achilles’ heel. “Even though we are lucky to have been approved the $105 million, it’s also been to our disadvantage. I think those who would grant us federal funds see that we already have that money and pass us up for communities who have little to no money. Problem is, we still need more funds to implement the system,” he said.
Wilson also mentioned that the FCC’s lack of decision regarding the D block has been a huge disadvantage. “We are planning on putting together our data network, but the current status narrows our options considerably,” he said.
Lindsay A. Gross is managing editor of MissionCritical Communications. E-mail comments to lgross@RRMediaGroup.com.